He was the music director of La Scala from 1968 to 1986. He founded the Orchestra della Scala for the performance of orchestral repertoire in concert.
He was principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1979 to 1987. In the US, he was principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1982 to 1986.
In 1989, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra elected Abbado as their chief conductor, to succeed Herbert von Karajan. Abbado held this post until 2002.
In 2003, he formed the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.
He is also founder and music director of the European Union Youth Orchestra (1978) and the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester (1986).
In 1988, Abbado founded the music festival <i>Wien Modern</i>, which has since expanded to include all aspects of contemporary art.
He has recorded a wide range of Romantic works, in particular Gustav Mahler, as well as modern works such as Arnold Schoenberg, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luigi Nono.