The great Italian maestro, whose death was announced today, was principal guest conductor in Chicago from 1982 to 1986. Solti looked upon him as a likely successor but the cards never fell that way, nor did subsequent interest from the New York Philharmonic lead Abbado to take up what America regarded as the summit of a conductor’s career – music director of a Big Five orchestra.
Abbado was managed by Ronald Wilford at CAMI but never showed the requisite ambition. Wilford reacted with astonishment when the Berlin Philharmonic players elected Abbado as Karajan’s successor (he had been pushing James Levine). In the music business, Abbado was often talked of as a maverick. What managers failed to understand was his fundamental idealism.
Abbado, the son of anti-Fascist resistants, was politically on the Left. He had friends in the Italian Communist Party and was no fan of the market economy. Not short of ego, he disdained the commercial trappings of celebrity and refused to promote his many recordings with media appearances. He was a misfit in America, a man who gave nothing away to the myth-making industry, preserving his integrity and thereby missing every available opportunity. He showed no sign of regret.
UPDATE: Andrew Patner has more here on Abbado and Chicago.