APRIL 2008

APRIL 2008
April 1, 2008 leonard slatkin

Life on the road is tough. A different orchestra each week, travel difficulties, strange accommodations. But when it goes well, all the travails get put behind.

March started off in Milan, where I have conducted four times over the past year or so. Having gotten through the three-week stint in Germany, a change of language seemed in order. No, I do not really speak either German or Italian particularly well, but enough to get through rehearsals and to order properly in the restaurants. Almost all the cities and orchestras that I conduct have plenty of English speaking citizens and musicians. But it is nice to be able to communicate in the tongue of the country I am visiting.

It was not so easy, though, trying to explain that the hotel where I was put up in Milan was simply not for me. The weather was still brisk and cold, so I could not see myself going out much, other than for the rehearsals and concerts. This would be a problem, as the residence did not have a restaurant. And there was a train station across the street, with an awful lot of noisy folks milling about all day and night. I do not require much, but quiet and a place to eat in the establishment I am staying are important.

So I had to do something unusual for me—change hotels. The orchestra arranged to put me where I had been for the past three visits, something I thought should have happened in the first place. Now everything was fine. The rehearsals and concerts went smoothly. One of the performances was in a town called Lecco. It is an old city surrounded by craggy mountains, near the lake region. Sadly, there was not much time to see the place. That is one of the problems of concert life—so much to see and little time to do it.

Then it was the final leg of this European jaunt. The Royal Phil but this time with Nigel Kennedy—yes, he is back to the two names. Nigel is now 51, a father and has been away from the concert stage for the past few years. He decided to return with a piece closely associated with him, the Elgar Violin Concerto. He still has the spiky hair, but with flecks of gray, and he has, shall we say, an unusual command of the English language at rehearsals. But behind all that, or maybe in front, is a commanding presence and undeniable talent.

The day prior to our first performance, he was interviewed in the London Times. As usual, he did not mince words and pretty much trashed most of us in the conducting profession. I got off the hook, maybe because we work well together, and I understand where he is coming from. His father actually used to be the first cellist of the RPO. Our performances were sold out, and he played stunningly. The only problem was that I was not sure if we were going to shake hands at the end, or, as it turned out, bump knuckles.

Then it was back to the States and a week at Indiana University. I enjoy teaching and this is certainly a wonderful school. My friend, the pianist and composer Michel Camilo, was the soloist in his own concerto. A lot of people at the school had never heard of him. Now, no one can ever forget him. Such a display of soul, technique and musicianship. I was proud to have introduced him to the school.

For the first time in almost 10 years, I stood in front of the Philadelphia Orchestra. During the period when Eugene Ormandy led the orchestra, I was a regular on the guest roster. It is not clear why this changed, but it did not seem to matter. Those who remembered me from earlier times were most kind, and all the new kids on the block worked very hard for this older maestro.

In a truly ironic touch, I programmed a piece that was commissioned by the orchestra about 30 years ago, Alberto Ginastera’s final work, Popul Vuh. The composer died, supposedly not completing the piece. Mr. Ormandy would pass away soon after and the work went unperformed. I saw the sketches a few years later and believed that the work was essentially complete. The world premiere took place in St. Louis. But now, after all this time, it was finally coming back to its home, for the first performances by the ensemble that initiated the creation of the piece.

And the orchestra was a pleasure to work with. It took a bit of adjusting to get used to the Kimmel Center. All of my past experiences with the orchestra were in the Academy of Music. But when it comes down to it, a great orchestra is a great orchestra, no matter where it plays. And the sense of tradition, musical integrity and sense of purpose remain at the highest level with this wonderful ensemble.

Four more weeks of suitcase living to go.

See you next month,