APRIL 2011

APRIL 2011
April 1, 2011 leonard slatkin

Although several conductors cancelled, and one tragically passed away in March, I was not needed as a fill in and simply stayed on my planned schedule. Of course that still meant no concerts with the Detroit Symphony, as the strike went into the half-year mark.

More and more people are asking me how I am doing with all this and I certainly appreciate the concern. It is frustrating, disappointing and often depressing. Just as much as the musicians and public, I am more than anxious to get back on the Orchestra Hall stage, but I am equally anxious to know under what conditions that will be. It is sometimes forgotten that the music director is still the person who formulates artistic policy, but at the same time must adhere to the rules.

Therein lies the crux of the dilemma.

In some ways, this is similar to what managers of baseball teams must have gone through when the League opted to bring in the “designated hitter” rule in 1973. For those of you who do not follow the sport, all you need to know is that one half of the teams follow this rule and one half do not. The point is that the managers, the ones who tell the players what to do, had no say in the decision. That was left to the owners.

It is much the same in the case of any negotiations with orchestras. The conductor must wait until the time when both sides have come up with a set of regulations that cover the day to day operations of the organization. When those conditions are known, then the music director can plan accordingly, but until that time, he or she cannot step foot into the muddy waters.

Most of the musical population in Madrid had no idea that such problems were facing the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The Orchestra Nacional d’Espana is an ensemble I have been working with for the past several seasons. Each year they seem to get better and better. Their music director, Josep Pons, has done a fine job and what used to be a chore has turned into a pleasure.

For this visit, I had been told that Osvaldo Golijov would be the featured composer. Surprisingly, I had not conducted any of his music before this appearance. Osvaldo’s music certainly is filled with wonderful sounds and colors. Two of his works were presented on this occasion. First up was The Dreams and Prayers of Issac the Blind. This piece is a reworking of an earlier work of the same name. It is scored for Solo Klezmer Clarinet and Strings. During the 33 minutes, the soloist, in this case the incredible David Krakauer, plays in various styles, with the wailing sound of his instrument taking everyone through an incredible journey. The piece is quite difficult for all concerned but has a very powerful effect on both musicians and audience.

Following that was She Was Here, an orchestra setting of four Schubert songs with soprano. Dawn Upshaw, for whom the transcription was written, joined us for these performances. One would not call the orchestration Schubertian, but it did underline the poignancy of the texts and, of course, Dawn was superb.

The program concluded with the Fourth Symphony by Mahler. When the Golijov idea was first presented to me, I wondered why we would have Dawn for just a 12-minute work. Having her sing the child’s song in the symphony made sense. This short trip to Madrid was most pleasant.

After a number of gate changes and one flight cancellation, I made it to Nashville. This was the first time I had appeared there since leaving the post of artistic advisor. The Schermerhorn Center was one of the victims of the recent flood, and had only been reopened a couple months earlier.

It was as I had left it. A fine hall with excellent acoustics. Giancarlo Guerrero is doing a great job with the orchestra and everyone seems very pleased and happy to be making music.

The chief attraction in this program was Phillip Glass’s Second Violin Concerto. The solo part was played by the violinist who commissioned the work, Robert McDuffie. Unlike the first concerto, this one is scored only for strings, with a synthesizer taking the place of the harpsichord continuo. Subtitled “The American Four Seasons,” it is about 40 minutes long but never seems too long. Flashy where it needs to be and lyric in the poignant slow movement, I found the work a fine entry into the solo canon for violin. And Bobby was outstanding.

Also on the program were Rossini’s Gazza Ladra Overture and the Second Symphony by Tchaikovsky. The latter is a piece I have conducted quite often but for reasons unknown, I had not performed in quite some time. We often forget the charms of the first three symphonies in favor of the drama of the later three. The composer’s penchant for dance is clearly evident. It has its virtuoso moments and is always a delight to listen to.

After this trip, I spent the remainder of the month checking out colleges with my son Daniel. We went to five different campus sites and I found it a wonderfully bonding experience. A day after one of our visits, my assistant received an e-mail from one of the professors we saw, containing the following. “At the time I didn’t realize that he was the conductor Leonard Slatkin.”

This made me wonder what the other Leonard Slatkin does.

I thought it might be nice to do something different this month. Many of you know that my parents were incredible musicians, but it is possible that you have not heard them. Of course there are recordings that are available, particularly of the Hollywood String Quartet, but here is a true rarity.

My mother was the first cellist at Warner Brothers. In 1946, Erich Wolfgang Korngold wrote his final film score for that company, Deception. For the movie, a cello concerto was the music used in the film’s climactic scene.

Coinciding with the movie’s premiere, Korngold put together a version for concert use. Here is a link to the first performance, with my mother as soloist, as she was in the film. Thanks to Brendon Carroll for putting this up.

Enjoy and see you next month,