Journal

  • NOVEMBER 2018

    Before our monthly update, it seems like time to think about the world in which we live. I am writing this a few hours before heading to JFK for my six-week European tour. October will seem like a distant memory in a few days, but how far can we go to be away from the hatred and enmity that exists on this horrifically troubled earth?

    Predictions of the impending catastrophe of global warming started fueling the fire of divisive rhetoric and indecision this past month. Then there was the ugly spectacle of seeing victims being torn down because they told their stories of harassment and attack. The #MeToo movement appeared to be gaining momentum, but this moved to the back burner quickly.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • OCTOBER 2018

    It feels like forever since I wrote a regular monthly piece for my website, but now that I am conducting again, we can get back to normality.

    There was just a bit of trepidation as I approached the podium in Indianapolis to conduct the finals of their violin competition. Almost four months had passed since I last picked up a baton and waved my arms. This was certainly the longest period I had gone without using this set of physical skills. Would there be any strain on my musculature? Did I have adequate strength to get through the rehearsals and concerts? Would the tuxedo still fit after I had lost twenty-five pounds?

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • Small-Town Gal

    Bonnie, over at Kirk’s Pharmacy, has seen it all. Of course, she wasn’t around when the building was the town hospital, founded 113 years ago. She is not in touch with any of the Nisqually Tribe, the original settlers of the region. But she did see the logging town go through its ups and downs. More than likely, she was here when my wife was born. 

    Nestled in the northwest of the state of Washington, Eatonville is the very definition of an America that, to most big-city folks, has disappeared. With a population of around 3,000, and sort-of in between the big towns of Seattle and Tacoma, it is one of the last places that you would expect me to have visited often. But for the past eight years, I have come here to spend time with Cindy’s parents, Charles and Jaquelin McTee, who were born at the old hospital almost 90 years ago. They have  resided in the same house for more than 60 of those years.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • In Praise of the Seconds in Command

    It all looks so easy. The door opens, the music director enters, the orchestra stands, then they sit, and the conductor starts the concert. Granted, there is a lot of study, preparation and rehearsal before the audience hears one note. But even the members of the band often do not realize the importance of the music director’s assistant in making this all come together.

    I am not speaking of an assistant conductor, the one desperately waiting for the boss to come down with something nasty enough to put him or her out of commission for at least one program. That hope of jumping in at the last minute is a dream of so many who have mounted the podium. I should know. In 1974, I took over for three maestri, albeit in different cities. Mostly, at least in the early days, it was my job to learn all the music, observe the rehearsals and give relevant comments about balance to the person conducting.

    No, the assistant I am referring to is the one whose job it is to take care of most everything besides the actual music making.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • AUGUST 2018

    Ah, the sun, surf and sand. Whether vacationing on the Left Coast, scuba diving in the clear waters of the South Pacific or sipping rum punches on the beaches of Mexico, this time of year is mostly about getting as out-of-shape as possible. Sounds good; no?

    No!

    Until this summer, I usually could be found at music festivals—leading orchestras, teaching or diving into opera. But, after fifty years of doing exactly that, I decided that it was time for a break. Upon wrapping up my music director tenure in Detroit in June, which was to be followed by finishing the last week of the season in Lyon, I would take a few months off with no plan in place.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • A Day at the DMV

    Changing residence is always complicated. You must inform friends and family about your new digs. Account information needs to be updated. Finding the best grocery store requires a lot of shopping around. But perhaps the most difficult task to accomplish is the one that involves your automobile.

    On a hot, steamy day in my new hometown of Clayton, Missouri, I thought that I had it all figured out. There were, at least so I was led to believe, two places to visit. One was the department that registers your car, and the other was the one where you transfer your license. After a preliminary check, it seemed that all the proper steps had been taken to ensure a trouble-free exchange of information.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • JULY 2018

    After several weeks devoted to health and personal matters, I decided it was time to get back to regular writing. By that I don’t mean just the usual diary entries, as there really is nothing much to talk about, other than changing residence.

    That is a big deal, of course. Cindy and I are now ensconced in our new home in St. Louis. Yes, it is back to the scene of my family history, as four generations of Slatkins have lived here. Many people wondered where we would end up. Looking at various sites in California, where the major plus would be access to my son on a more regular basis, we determined that it was not the best choice for us. Taxes are steep, and the state seems quite high up on Mother Nature’s watch list when it comes to earthquakes and fires.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • Notes from the Heart, Part 4: An Incredible Moment, Suspended in Time

    There are times in life when your heartstrings are pulled so tightly that it is impossible to contain your emotion. When that occurs, you transition from one plane of existence into another dimension. Such was the case on June 23rd.

    For the past eight years, the Detroit Symphony has paid homage to individual benefactors during its annual Heroes Gala. On the occasion of my ten-year anniversary at the helm of the orchestra, the board decided that I should now receive this honor, along with two wonderful souls, Harold and Penny Blumenstein. They have been among the strongest advocates for our educational initiatives and certainly deserved this recognition.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • Notes from the Heart, Part 3: A Welcome Diversion

    A hospital is not supposed to be a place you go for thoughts and reflection. Everyone is there to make you better. But sometimes a question can come up from one of the staff that causes you to think outside the box.

    After a couple days, I was told that it was time to take a little walk in the hallway. This was not easy, considering that I was hooked up to various medical devices, not to mention the pain from the surgery. There were others doing the same thing, all of us moving at the speed of the zombies in Night of the Living Dead. Most were accompanied by nurses and sometimes a friend or relative.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • Notes from the Heart, Part 2: The Procedure

    Musicians hate, really hate, getting up early in the morning. That is why orchestra rehearsals don’t start until around 10 a.m. So I felt both lethargy and anxiety when I arrived at the University of Michigan Medical Center at 5:30 a.m. to begin preparations for the day’s events.

    After the tests that were given the day before, I received clearance to move forward with the procedure. It struck me as odd that I had to pass tests to determine if I was well enough to fix a major disease. What would have happened if I had a cold, or worse? Knowing that the blockage in my arteries was above 90%, it was not impossible to envision another heart attack while waiting to recover from an unrelated illness.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN