Journal

  • NOVEMBER 2017

    A quick glance at my calendar showed me that there was not going to be very much time to rest during the first couple months of the new season. Fortunately, all the conducting was going to be done with institutions I know well, so at least a degree of familiarity lent some cohesion to the whirlwind of rehearsals and concerts. My schedule would include the three orchestras where my career had developed over the past 50 years.

    First up was St. Louis. It is hard to believe that it was 49 years ago that a young man first stood on that podium at Powell Symphony Hall. There will be celebrations to come next season, but this year it was a return to one of the pieces that helped put the orchestra on the map. I did not count how many times we performed Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, but it was probably the work we played the most often.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • OCTOBER 2017

    About a two-hour train ride from Paris to the east lies a city that even many French people don’t know about. But for seventy years, Besançon has been the home to a two-week music festival that attracts a good number of listeners. Every other year there is a conducting competition that has produced a number of outstanding winners, including Seiji Ozawa.

    When I began my conducting studies at Juilliard, we were only a class of four students. One of them was Catherine Comet, a French woman who had won first prize in 1963. She would go on to be the first female to ever head up an American orchestra and served as my assistant in St. Louis for two seasons. When Cindy and I met up with some of the people who would assist during the week, we were given the full festival brochure. And in it was Catherine’s picture from more than fifty years ago. I understand that she retired and now lives in Wyoming.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • SEPTEMBER 2017

    Finally, a relatively quiet month. I did not conduct one note, write a piece of music or play anything on the piano. Okay, there was some studying, as a few new works are on the horizon, but a real vacation was in order, and I took advantage of this rare occurrence.

    After the success of the DSO’s Asia Tour, Cindy and I headed out to California. My wife was one of the featured composers at this year’s adventurous Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. Their new music director, Cristian Măcelaru, scheduled one of her works in each of the festival’s two weeks. It was strange being in the audience, as I had never before heard any of her music conducted by anyone other than myself.

    Happily, there was no feeling of jealousy, and it was instructive to hear some different ideas coming from another conductor.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • AUGUST 2017

    What a way to end my concert calendar for the 16-17 season! A three-week Asian tour with the DSO.

    This trip was a long time coming. When I began my tenure in Detroit, one of my mantras was that we would not go on the road until we had funding in place. The strike that occurred six years ago meant that we would certainly not hit the tour circuit for a while. But everyone believed that we could meet our goals, and finally, the DSO embarked on an international trip, the first in a very long time.

    Preparations were swift, with four rehearsals and a sendoff concert before we departed. As has been my mission with all tours, I featured American music, something most orchestras from the States do not do. With works by McTee, Gershwin, Barber, Bernstein, Copland and Anderson, the homeland was well represented.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • JULY 2017

    It is very likely that those of you reading this want to know all about the Cliburn competition. Normally, I would have led with that, but on a more personal, as well as musical level, there was a more important day that took place for me.

    After six successful years, I led my final concert as music director of the ONL. That is not meant as a boast, but is simply a fact. When I first arrived in Lyon, the orchestra and its administration were facing a great deal of unrest. There was a controversy regarding a cancelled Japanese tour. The management was changing personnel, and the entire institution was under the threat of severe budget cuts.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • JUNE 2017

    YEE-HAW!!!

    Greetings from Fort Worth, Texas, where I am serving as Chairman of the Jury for the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. But that opening yell was not just about yellow roses. As you will read later, it became the calling cry for my French orchestra.

    May started off with my next-to-last trip as music director of the ONL. It hardly feels as if six years have passed since I began my post in France’s second city. The time has flown by, and we have all accomplished a great deal together. Even with regime changes in our administration, we have all grown, and we enjoy a great reputation throughout the world.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • MAY 2017

    Extremely intense three weeks in the States, with a lot of hard work and results that made it all worthwhile.

    With only one day to recover from jet lag, I launched into Mahler’s 10th Symphony with the DSO. Most of you probably know that this is the work that was left incomplete, as the composer died while writing the piece. Never mind that he was superstitious about Beethoven’s death following the German master’s 9th; Mahler left enough information via sketches for several editors to try their hands at conjecturing what this last work might have sounded like.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • Mahlerian Madness

    I have a confession. Pretty much throughout my years as a student at the Juilliard School, I hated Gustav Mahler. The symphonies were too long, too loud, derivative and, at least to me, boring. One morning a friend spotted me in the cafeteria and said he had an extra ticket to a concert that night by the Philadelphia Orchestra. I asked what they were playing and he said, “The New York premiere of the Tenth Mahler.”

    “Why would I want to hear a work by a composer I don’t like, much less one that he did not finish?”

    “Because it is the Philadelphia Orchestra,” my friend replied.

    That was good enough for me. And that night, I was not only captivated by the incredible playing but also moved by the piece. Thus started my relationship with the Austrian master.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • APRIL 2017

    Following the successful tour of the ONL in the States and a few free days at Disney World, it was time to get back to Europe. But in this case, it was to work with two orchestras I had not seen for almost ten years and another that was a debut.

    Milan may be the fashion capital of the world, but it is likewise notable when it comes to music and food, two of my passions. La Scala is obviously the drawing card, but the city also has a very good symphony orchestra, known simply as La Verdi. Having made several visits there over the years, I knew what to expect, even though there are many new musicians in the orchestra.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • MARCH 2017

    YEE-HAW!

    That was the oft-quoted word that characterized my very first trip to the U.S. with an orchestra from another land. February was devoted to the ONL, with a week in Lyon and then a two-week, eight-concert trip to the States.

    Taking a full symphony orchestra on a lengthy trip is, literally, always risky business. The promoters in most cities do not want to pay the full fee, and much of the burden falls on the orchestra itself in terms of dealing with the fiscal consequences. But the final result, if most everything goes as planned, can turn out to be a boon for not only the organization, but also the city it represents.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN