President Giorgio Napolitano also chose Carlo Rubbia, a Nobel -winning physicist, and Elena Cattaneo, a pharmacologist and noted researcher on brain stem cells, to hold one of the nation's highest honors.
Italy's head of state is allowed to nominate five Italians who have distinguished themselves for social, scientific, artistic or literary contributions that enhance the nation's prestige in the world. Napolitano's first pick was Mario Monti, an economist, whom he made a lifetime senator in late 2011, shortly before asking him to head a government tasked with keeping Italy from succumbing to a worsening sovereign bond crisis.
Senators-for-life have voting rights in Parliament's upper house and do not have to stand for election. They traditionally aren't exponents of any political party, although Italy's politicians have sometimes counted on them to cast ballots at crucial moments, such as confidence votes linked to a government's survival.
Senators-for-life are usually elderly and selected after a lifetime of work. Other such recipients have included Giovanni Agnelli, the late Fiat auto empire patriarch, and Giulio Andreotti, the late former seven-time premier.
Napolitano said he made an exception in choosing the 50-year-old Cattaneo to give a ''sign of encouragement to that vast array of Italian women and men from new generations who dedicate themselves with passion, despite difficulties, to scientific research." Many of Italy's most promising inventors, scientists and other researchers end up going abroad in Western Europe and the United States because of an entrenched system in Italy where connections frequently trump talent in the search for work in academia and private laboratories.
The many famed designs by Piano, 75, include the Pompidou Center, the modern art mecca in Paris; London's the Shard; the New York Times building; and Rome's Music Park Auditorium.
Abbado, 80, has served as music director of the Vienna State Opera, the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra.
The 79-year-old Rubbia, a pioneer in nuclear research, was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1984.