August 1, 2009 leonard slatkin

This month’s installment will be quite a bit shorter than most. The reason is simple: I took most of July off.

As with last summer, my son Daniel and I took three weeks to visit various baseball parks around the country. Our time was divided into the West Coast stadiums and then Chicago and St. Louis. It was at the latter that I attended my first All-Star Game. We had a terrific time and are trying to figure out what we will do next summer to top this trip.

Then it was back to Detroit, but really spending a bit more vacation time to go to the lake region in the “Up North” region of Michigan. This is a part of the country that I had never been to, and it’s lovely, dotted with small, almost New England-style houses. The season is only about three months long, perhaps even shorter, but people still flock to the area. It would be ideal if the Detroit Symphony could spend some of its summer weeks playing in these communities.

Finally it was back to conducting, with two concerts at Meadowbrook. After all the time off, my muscles took a bit of time to get back in shape. Traditional summer fare was presented, with a Tchaikovsky program the first night and Gershwin the next. Karen Gomyo played the violin concerto, exhibiting the same growth she had shown when we did the Bruch in Nashville just before my vacation.

The Gershwin reunited me with my long time friend Jeffrey Siegel. We recounted the time 35 years ago when we recorded all of the composer’s music for orchestra with and without piano. Hard to believe this much time has passed, but it is amazing to note that the recordings have never gone out of the catalog and continue to sell. We played both of the Rhapsodies as well as the Robert Russell Bennett Porgy and Bess Symphonic Picture. When it ended, and the audience was cheering, one man in the crowd yelled out “You guys rock!” I was inclined to agree.

The next stop on the summer tour was Tanglewood, home of the Boston Symphony. Last year I jumped in for an ailing James Levine, as well as doing a program that had been planned on my own. This time I was a participant in an event called “Tanglewood on Parade.” For most of one day, all the musicians, professional and student alike, take part in celebrating the festival, playing to mostly local audiences.

The culmination is a concert that utilized the services of five conductors and three orchestras. Jimmy started off with the BSO and then I did the West Side Story dances with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra. This is an outstanding collection of young talent and they managed the complexities of the Bernstein score with great skill and lots of energy. John Williams, Keith Lockhart and Raphael Frubeck de Burgos filled out the second half, with all three orchestras playing together in the finale, the 1812 Overture.

There has been a steady rain here, causing some major power outages and taking its toll on the ability to hear some softer passages in a few pieces. But the sense of history is always in the air. Serge Koussevitsky was truly a visionary, whose dream became a reality. Despite the current economic slump, Tanglewood remains a unique forum of musical culture.

No complaints this month. Maybe a couple will surface in August. See you then.