I have wonderful personal memories of working with Maestro Abbado at the Salzburg Easter Festival in 2001. I was a young artist and had the privilege of being given a very small solo in Beethoven’s ‘Choral Fantasy,’ accompanied by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra with Maurizio Pollini at the piano. It is true to say that I was somewhat mesmerised to be among such musical greats, and night after night I would stand side stage and watch whatever programme was being performed. I remember Abbado as somewhat quiet and kind off stage but rather sprightly and energized on the podium. After the performances we would often go to a local pub where a group of brass and woodwind players from the orchestra would jam jazz standards. Abbado would join us and seemed to enjoy the camaraderie and spontaneous music making as much as the rest of us.
It was with sadness that I heard of his death this week in Italy. He is now lying in a simple coffin surrounded by yellow sunflowers in a dimly lit side chapel at Santuario Santo Stefano in Bologna. I paid my respects yesterday. Along with a steady stream of visitors, some well known musicians amongst them, I approached the chapel on a red carpet. Many people stood by the coffin and wept. Some just lingered for a time and listened to the piped recordings. Others knelt and prayed.
There was a queue to write a last message in a series of guest books by the exit. I found myself wanting to write something profound; something about providing me with one of the most definitive and memorable musical experiences of my life. But I couldn’t find the words. Then I saw what the woman before me had written and realized that simple words are sometimes enough. “Thank you,” she had put. “Thank you for the music.”