Journal

  • Notes from the Heart, Part 1

    On November 1, 2009, my heart attacked me.

    It was a sneak attack, as six weeks prior I was informed by my general practitioner that a physical exam showed me to be in good health. Over the succeeding years I modified my diet but never really followed anything strict.

    Eight-and-a-half years later, I entered the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center for a triple bypass coronary procedure, an attempt to prevent any further disease. The problem was spotted a few days prior to the surgery, thankfully caught in time before another heart attack.

    The next few months are now devoid of conducting activities. So instead of the usual music diary, I will be writing about many different topics, most related to health but also a few things that swirled around in my mind during convalescence. Perhaps my tale might help others in recognizing the signs and preventing problems in the future. If not, I hope this makes a decent story.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • MAY 2018

    It seemed to take forever, but spring finally arrived. With snow on the ground right through the middle of the month, Detroit was poised for a continuing winter. However, the chill disappeared in Orchestra Hall with a program that warmed the soul.

    The star was our concertmaster, Yoonshin Song, who delivered a magnificent reading of the Second Bartok Concerto. In complete command of this fiendishly difficult work, she made it seem less a virtuoso vehicle and more of a rhapsodic carriage. With her wide command of dynamics, expressive approach to the lyrical passages and faultless intonation, it was one of the best collaborations I have ever experienced in this amazing piece.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • APRIL 2018

    The groundhog was right. No signs of spring at all during my four-week trip to Europe. Maybe they should try Katowice Katy instead of Punxsutawney Phil.

    I am not exactly sure why we did it, but in Lyon it was decided that we would undertake a two-week Scandinavian Festival. This provided an opportunity to revisit a couple of symphonies that I dearly love as well as one new piece that was most enjoyable to conduct and play. Sibelius seems to go in and out of fashion, and today we have a number of Finnish conductors who have brought him back to life.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • MARCH 2018

    Even though my music directorship in Lyon has ended, the six-year tenure stayed very much in the forefront during the month of February. At this time, during the usually bitterly cold weather in Michigan, we put on a festival, in the past devoted to a single composer. With Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Mozart represented in previous seasons, it was time to try something different.

    What could be more natural than bringing some of the repertoire from France back to Detroit? After all, the Motor City was founded in 1701 by the explorer and adventurer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. It also happens that I drive one of his automobiles. Okay, so he really was from what is now part of Canada, but still, he did create this bustling town and give it a French moniker.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • FEBRUARY 2018

    It is not often that I get a relatively calm month in the middle of the concert season, so January turned out to be a nice breather before the heavyweight demands of the next months. With the DSO French Festival on the horizon, as well as assorted dates in Europe, Cindy and I thought that we could couple concert-giving with R&R.

    The first week of January had us wrapping up our Arizona getaway. I had never been to Sedona. Just staring at the majesty of the rock formations was enough to take one’s breath away. It is not difficult to understand why so many artists have been drawn to this part of the United States. Inspiration is visible throughout the region.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • JANUARY 2018

    “… and a Happy New Year!”

    Wasn’t 2017 fun? There was certainly no shortage of mind-numbing events and statements coming from all over the world. There are many days when I am grateful to be able to immerse myself in music, as if seeking refuge from elements of society that have gone off track.

    What better piece to convey the conflicts that emerged in 2017 than the Ninth Symphony by Gustav Mahler? This work was the final one I would lead before heading off to vacation. There are so many theories as to the meaning of the final completed symphony, it is impossible to state them all.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • DECEMBER 2017

    What a month! November may be the time to give thanks but, at least this year, it was also the time to visit some old friends.

    It all started in Washington with the NSO. I had not been back to my old orchestra for several years. There are many fresh faces but still a majority of musicians whom I hired over my twelve-year tenure. Most everyone seems to be doing very well, and I actually remembered most of their names. A few members have passed away, and some others have retired, but by the time the first rehearsal ended, we all seemed to be comfortable with each other.

    The program began a two-year survey of the life and times of Leonard Bernstein. He would have been 100 years old this coming August, and the world is celebrating. The nation’s capital was involved in an important part of the Bernstein legacy, including his conducting at the inauguration of President Kennedy. My parents were invited to participate at the invitation of one of the performers, Frank Sinatra. In my work space at home, I have photos of my folks with the Maestro taken during the festivities.

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    LEONARD SLATKIN
  • 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