August 1, 2013 leonard slatkin


This is a word that I have not had in my vocabulary for quite a while. After an extremely busy season, winter, spring and summer, I am taking several weeks off to recharge the batteries.

July provided some more than pleasant musical experiences. First up was a series of concerts at Greenfield Village. This is a property that tries to replicate early American society, with period costumes and customs. It is also the site where the Detroit Symphony Orchestra plays an annual set of concerts celebrating the Independence of the United States.

I have done these types of concerts all over the world. Mostly, they consist of Americana but these days the repertoire has expanded. It is impossible to think of the Fourth of July celebrations these days without music by John Williams. We played an excerpt from his score to Lincoln as well as other popular fare.

What still remains a curiosity for me is the inclusion of the “1812” Overture of Tchaikovsky. Arthur Fiedler introduced this work into the holiday in 1973 and ever since then, the canons and fireworks have become a tradition. Never mind that the piece celebrates the French retreat from Russia and includes no American references. Still it is a crowd pleaser, and we would be stoned if we did not include it during these performances.

Next it was off to Santa Barbara and the Music Academy of the West. I have enjoyed my two prior visits to this summer school and this year was no exception. Our repertoire included works by Sierra, Beethoven and Shostakovich. The orchestra, entirely made up of students, dispatched these works with aplomb and everyone seemed satisfied at the mid festival level of the performance.

Finally it was off to Aspen. 49 years have elapsed since I first came to this haven. Of course things have changed but I was quite satisfied with the level of the Festival Orchestra this year. A new symphony by Steven Stucky was on the program and it proved to be a terrific piece, one which I will add to my repertoire.

Alisa Weilerstein was soloist in the Elgar Concerto. She brought her usual passion to every note and achieved degrees of soft playing not often heard in the tent. This piece is still one of the most difficult for conductors and orchestras. Coordination between soloist and ensemble is not easy, especially in an acoustic environment that makes it hard to hear each other. But the performance went well and I do not think we covered the soloist at any point.

After the intermission, two contrasting works were presented. The Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten by Arvo Part is a piece for strings and one single chime note. Part really wanted to meet Britten but the latter composer died just a year after Part emigrated to the West. His piece is solemn and intense, very moving at the conclusion.

To round out the program, Janacek’s Sinfonietta was performed. With its nine additional trumpets this is a work not often heard live. But what an amazing piece it is. I have known it ever since I was a child but for most of the orchestra and audience, the piece was new. The advantage of doing it at the Aspen Festival is that one can utilize the services of the students to play the additional parts. We worked very hard on this difficult score and I think that everyone was captivated with the extraordinary power of the piece. I loved every minute of it.

At 6:00 in the evening I was officially on vacation with no conducting for almost five weeks. Cindy and I will travel a little bit, mostly going to places that offer peace and quiet. My brain cannot handle one more piece of music right now.

In the meantime I wish all of my readers a very nice remainder of this summer.

Oh, there is that little problem in Detroit. Having worked hard trying to regroup the orchestra, I think it best to leave the politics of finance to those who know better.

See you in a few weeks,