Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra performed at Royal Festival Hall in October as part of Southbank Centre’s orchestral series Shell Classic International. Michael Haefliger, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the Lucerne Festival, answers questions about this extraordinary conductor and orchestra.
The visit by Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra was universally acclaimed by the critics as “the concert of the decade, possibly of a lifetime” (Observer.) How was this orchestra created and what do you think makes it so special?
This orchestra is, I think, every conductor’s fantasy! In 2003 Claudio Abbado and I decided to create an orchestra based on his dream team – players from around the world whom he knew personally who were currently working with other orchestras, as chamber music musicians or as professors in distinguished conservatoires. The core of the orchestra would be the Mahler Chamber Orchestra which, of course, he founded. And so the result is this extraordinary orchestra filled with the elite of the musical world.
At our Royal Festival Hall concerts the Lucerne Festival Orchestra included 8 leaders and 18 section leaders of international orchestras. Claudio personally chooses the players and they all return to Lucerne each summer to work with him. As Claudio said in a recent interview for the Today programme, it is an orchestra founded on love.
How often do the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and Abbado perform together?
Our Summer Festival in Lucerne begins in mid-August, so the orchestra and Claudio meet up early in the month to begin rehearsals. There is a tremendous atmosphere when they all return to Lucerne. It is a very beautiful city, framed by mountains, with a magnificent concert hall, designed by Jean Nouvel built right on the edge of the lake. Claudio opens the Festival with two programmes and then, in early October, we reassemble and go on a one week tour.
What do you think was so special about these London concerts?
The Lucerne Festival Orchestra and Claudio Abbado have only visited London once before, in 2007, for a BBC Proms’ performance, so this was a first for us in the Royal Festival Hall. We were not sure how the Hall would cope with this huge symphony but we need not have worried and I know Claudio was very happy with the results. What we did all feel, very acutely, was the enormous warmth of the audience. We are used to ecstatic receptions, but this was, I think, something very special.
Will Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival orchestra return to London?
At the moment we have no plans to come back, but who knows what may happen? All I can say for sure is that we have very limited opportunities because we only tour for one week each year.
How, then, can London audiences repeat this experience and see Claudio Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra?
By coming to Lucerne. It is a one hour flight from London to Zurich and then a further hour by train to Lucerne. For more information visit: www.lucernefestival.ch/ukfriends
The Lucerne Festival Orchestra performed as part of the Shell Classic International season. For more information and dates to watch out for click here
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