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Swan Songs: Classical Musicians We Lost In 2014

Conductor Claudio Abbado was one of the many great classical musicians we bid farewell to in 2014.
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Conductor Claudio Abbado was one of the many great classical musicians we bid farewell to in 2014.

Farewells are never easy, especially when you're saying goodbye to a favorite musician. From conductors and composers to pianists, singers and critics, the classical music world lost many masterful musicians in 2014.

Through their performances and recordings, we grow into strong relationships with our favorites. Some, like the conductor and early music evangelist Christopher Hogwood, left us suddenly and too early. Others, such as sopranos Madga Olivero and Licia Albanese, both well over 100, offered fascinating glimpses into earlier eras. And still others, like 29-year-old pianist Christopher Falzone, had entire careers yet to come.

Here is a list of many of the musical personalities whose art made the world better and brighter.

Claudio Abbado June 26, 1933 – Jan. 20, 2014

A masterful conductor of symphonies and operas, Abbado cultivated his own personal style by letting the music — anything from Mozart to modernists — speak vividly for itself. He ruled, self-effacingly, over some the world's premier musical institutions, including the Berlin Philharmonic and La Scala.

Robert Ashley March 28, 1930 – March 3, 2014

In the 1970s, this trailblazer was rethinking opera. His rigorously intellectual works, laced with sly humor, were composed not for the opera house but for the medium he thought Americans could best relate to — television. His mesmerizing song-like recitations mused on everything from The Wall Street Journal to Renaissance philosophers.

Joseph Kerman April 3, 1924 – March 17, 2014

Dismissing Puccini's Tosca as a "shabby little shocker" was just one of the vibrant bon mots from a musicologist and critic who helped bring more than a little sparkle, and clear-eyed observations, into the often fusty realm of classical music criticism.

John Shirley-Quirk Aug. 28, 1931 – April 7, 2014

The lab's loss was our gain. The Liverpool native began his career as a science teacher but ended up as a gifted bass-baritone, singing opera, oratorio and recitals. He was closely associated with music by Benjamin Britten, singing in the premieres of the composer's last five operas.

Lee Hyla Aug. 31, 1952 – June 6, 2014

In his youth, the composer played in a funk band, and that spirit of melding rock and jazz continued to shine in his own highly accomplished pieces, which have been described as "sagely controlled chaos."

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos Sept. 15, 1933 – June 11, 2014

Although he directed orchestras of his own — including, until just before his death, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra — he was perhaps the world's best-loved guest conductor. Revered for his wide-ranging repertoire and relationships with orchestras the world over, Frühbeck truly shined when conducting music from his native Spain by composers such as Manuel De Falla and Isaac Albéniz.

Julius Rudel March 6, 1921 – June 26, 2014

The general director and principal conductor of the New York City Opera for more than 20 years, Rudel was a tireless champion for American opera, while nurturing the careers of major artists including Plácido Domingo and Beverly Sills.

Lorin Maazel March 6, 1930 – July 13, 2014

Maazel was a prodigy, conducting many major American orchestras before he was 15. He led a busy life directing the world's top orchestras (the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic) and opera houses (Vienna State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin) while finding time to compose and to build his own summer music festival and school.

Carlo Bergonzi July 13, 1924 – July 25, 2014

Not as loud or intimidating as some of his Italian rivals, Bergonzi outlasted them all with a voice of velvet and bronze that rang out at New York's Metropolitan Opera for more than 30 years and at La Scala for 20. His intensity and elegance were a perfect fit in most of Verdi's heroic roles.

Peter Sculthorpe April 29, 1929 – Aug. 8, 2014

Possibly the most Australian of Australian composers, Sculthorpe provided a virtual soundtrack to the Outback. By incorporating aboriginal sounds and instruments (several of his string quartets include the didgeridoo) in his music, as well as socio-political themes, the Tasmanian-born composer gave his compatriots a sense of themselves.

Franz Brüggen Oct. 30, 1934 – Aug. 13, 2014

Once called the John Lennon of classical music in his Dutch homeland, Brüggen was a charismatic and free-thinking recorder player who blossomed into a champion of the historically informed performance movement. He founded the Orchestra of the 18th Century, conducting music from Bach to Beethoven in the style of the composers' lifetimes.

Licia Albanese July 23, 1909 – Aug. 15, 2014

Born in Italy, Albanese spent the bulk of her lengthy career in the United States, especially at the Metropolitan Opera, where she sang more than 400 times from 1940 to 1966. The soprano excelled as a consummate singing actress, specializing in Puccini.

Magda Olivero March 25, 1910 – Sept. 8, 2014

A soprano who knew how to emote, Olivero could spin the finest threads of vocal silver to the farthest reaches of the opera house while thrilling audiences (for more than seven decades) with her passionate portrayals.

Christopher Hogwood Sept. 10, 1941 – Sept. 24, 2014

Hogwood founded the Academy of Ancient Music in 1973, an orchestra devoted to performing music of the Baroque (and beyond) as the composers might have heard it. He became a leading light in the historically informed performance movement, which has also influenced the performance practices of modern symphony orchestras.

Anita Cerquetti April 13, 1931 – Oct. 11, 2014

Her star rose immediately when she stepped in for an ailing Maria Callas in Rome in 1958. But the career of this gifted, voluptuous-voiced soprano came to a mysterious close when just three years later she quit singing.

Stephen Paulus Aug. 24, 1949 – Oct. 19, 2014

The Minnesota composer was masterful when it came to the human voice, with nearly 200 choral works, plus operas and oratorios to his credit. Pilgrim's Hymn, perhaps his best-known piece, was sung at the funerals of both Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.

Christopher Falzone April 14, 1985 – Oct. 21, 2014

By all accounts, including those of his fans like Martha Argerich and teachers like Leon Fleisher, the prizewinning Richmond, Va. native was a brilliant pianist whose international career was on the rise.

Mark Sokol July 16, 1946 – Nov. 28, 2014

Violinist and chamber music master Sokol played his first Beethoven string quartet at 9 years old and never looked back. He co-founded the adventurous Concord String Quartet, specializing in American music. Later he became an important teacher and mentor to such musicians as the Kronos Quartet's David Harrington.

José Feghali March 28, 1961 – Dec. 9, 2014

After winning the 1985 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the Brazilian-born pianist played concertos with the world's finest orchestras, settling in Fort Worth, Texas, where he served as artist-in-residence and taught at Texas Christian University.

Claude Frank Dec. 24, 1925 – Dec. 27, 2014

The German-born American pianist may not have strayed far from his beloved Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms, but his solid interpretations were well respected, especially his cycle of all 32 Beethoven sonatas in the 1970s. He also made lovely recordings with his daughter, violinist Pamela Frank.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.