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Musical Artists Clash Over a Tiny Musical Piece

In October, 2011, The New York Times ran an article about two musical giants whose longtime relationship unraveled over a tiny piece of music. Helene Grimaud, a brilliant and magnetic pianist, and Claudio Abbado, a revered conductor, have performed together at least a dozen times since 1995. They were supposed to perform in Switzerland and London, but organizers cancelled their concerts due to "artistic differences."

There was only one issue at the heart of their conflict—a 1 minute and 20 second cadenza from Mozart's concerto No. 23 in A. (The article defines a cadenza as "unaccompanied flights in a concerto that play on its themes and show off a virtuoso's mettle.") The conductor Abbado prefers Mozart's original cadenza, but the pianist Grimaud feels that Mozart's original work is "not the most inspired." Instead, she prefers another cadenza for No. 23 based on the later work of an Italian pianist named Busoni.

Ms. Grimaud said it was her prerogative to choose the cadenza. Anything else would have been "a sellout." But Mr. Addabo contends that it's his "territory." According to another colleague, Mr. Addabo "is very strong and probably, like most conductors, used to dominating the artistic process." Neither side was willing to compromise. An official for one of the cancelled concerts said, "[Their musical relationship] was just somehow sort of dead. I guess they didn't relate to one another."

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