Guido Ajmone-Marsan obituary

Other lives: Conductor with a deep affinity for the great Italian operas of Verdi and Puccini

My colleague and friend Guido Ajmone-Marsan, who has died aged 67 from cancer, was an Italian-American conductor who excelled in a wide range of repertoire. He had a particular affinity with the great operas of Verdi and Puccini.

He was born in Turin, Italy, to Cosimo, a neurologist, and Rosetta (nee Pesatori). From the age of four or five he wanted to be a conductor. His grandparents were close friends of Arturo Toscanini and instead of playing with his friends he would spend his time listening to the famous conductor’s recordings. The story goes that once when his parents visited Toscanini, Guido, still a little boy and totally mesmerised, would follow the maestro around to the point of irritation.

The family moved first to Montreal, Quebec, then to Washington DC, where Guido grew up. He went to school in Bethesda, Maryland, and from there to the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, from where he graduated in conducting in 1968. His talent brought him to the attention of Franco Ferrara, who considered Guido to be one of his most outstanding students.

From the age of 22 he won several conducting competitions. His big international break came in 1973, when he won both the Rupert Foundation competition in London and the International Conductors’ Competition Sir Georg Solti in Chicago one month later. Following Guido’s success, Solti took a keen interest in the development of his career.

He was soon in demand worldwide, appearing with leading orchestras such as the Orchestre de Paris, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras, and in London with the Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic, BBC Symphony and London Symphony Orchestras. In 1982 he shared the conducting of a concert to mark the centenary of the birth of Stravinsky with Leonard Bernstein; it was given in Venice by the orchestra of La Scala, Milan. His Covent Garden debut came the following year, and in 1990 he made a triumphant debut at the Met with Rigoletto.

He was also music director of the Essen Opera in Germany (1986-90) and was responsible for a great revival of that company’s fortunes. For many years, he was a regular conductor at the New York City Opera, where, in 1996, he conducted a memorable performance of Falstaff with Sherrill Milnes.

Guido was a delight to be with, both on and offstage, his gently introverted nature giving way to unexpected bouts of laughter and he invariably displayed a generosity of spirit towards his colleagues.

He conducted his final concert with the Nuremberg Symphony in November 2013.

He is survived by his wife, Helle, their three children and two grandchildren.

Michael Roll

The GuardianTramp

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