COMMENTARY

COMMENTARY

Now readers can collaborate with Leonard Slatkin on the development of his third book, Musical Chairs: The Changing Landscape of Classical Music in the Twenty-first Century. A new theme will be posted here every week, along with a prompt inviting readers to post queries on the subject and suggest avenues he might explore within that chapter. Several of these questions will be included in the book, thereby expanding his area of focus and provoking a more in-depth examination of the material.

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    On Rehearsing

    6 Comments

    At one time, the method used by conductors to prepare the orchestra was simple. You just asked or yelled for what you wanted. Autocracy ruled the day. Today, authoritarianism is simply not permitted. You can get fired for it.

    I have always tried to imagine my own role as the same as the members of the ensemble, at least in terms of how I wished to be treated. Still, someone has to determine how any given piece should go, regardless of what the players, either individually or collectively, think. Maybe we have lost something in the process of turning the orchestra into a more democratic institution. What do you think? How would your ideal orchestral rehearsal go?

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    On Performance Practice

    5 Comments

    The second half of the 20th century gave rise to the historically informed performance movement, which took hold in the recording industry before moving into the concert hall. It caused me to put a halt to performing Baroque music. I simply could not abide the new/old way of playing these works. The same could be said of our orchestras. Aside from the yearly Messiah and perhaps a piece or two from the 18th century, so much of this music has disappeared from our orchestral repertoire.

    What would you like to ask regarding the way we play not just the music from the golden era but all music? Do we need to obey the rules, or can we break them? Let me hear from you.

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    On Orchestral Identity

    7 Comments

    When I was young, certain combinations of orchestras and their music directors had a unique sound. Whether it was Toscanini and NBC, Ormandy and Philadelphia, or Karajan and Berlin, these partnerships were celebrated for how distinct they were.

    Times have changed. Period performance practice is becoming more regular on recordings and in the concert hall. Orchestras comprise musicians from more diverse cultural backgrounds than ever before. I believe that we are losing some of the individual personality that made the great orchestras, well—great. What questions do you have about how things have changed or if we are going in the right direction?

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    On Nationalism

    1 Comment

    As of this writing, and starting with next season, few Americans will be leading the nation’s top twenty orchestras as music directors. Does it matter where someone is from when it comes to heading our largest musical institutions? This is not about American composers, a topic I will explore in another chapter.

    I have come to realize that until the late 1940s, most, but not all, of our orchestras were led by conductors from other lands. They were the ones who championed the music of this country and premiered many pieces that became standards. What do you think? Is there still a difference in style as we continue into this century?

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    On Music Directors

    1 Comment

    Over the course of more than forty years, I have been the head of three orchestras in the U.S. Being a music director is very different from just coming in for a week or two and leading programs as a guest.

    The art of running a musical organization has changed dramatically over the last half-century. In the past, the music director was an autocrat, given to outbursts that were considered part of the job. In this chapter, I discuss how things are today, with the musicians themselves taking on more responsibility for decision-making. What do you think the role of the music director in our times should be?

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    On Media

    2 Comments

    This chapter looks at how music has changed from the advent of the electronic age. In particular, I try and sort out why the American marketplace abandoned classical music in the latter part of the twentieth century. There was a time when I was making six or seven discs a year. Now it is often just one and sometimes none.

    Perhaps we have not figured out how to fully harness new technologies. Or maybe the repetition of the same pieces has taken us to the point of saturation. What will be the next platform that musicians use to get their messages out? Please feel free to ask questions or comment.

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  • commentary

    On Health

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    Each of us has been affected in one way or another by COVID-19. In this chapter, I write about how the decision to shut down was put in place in Detroit and for several conducting dates I had going forward. But health issues for musicians have existed long before 2020.

    Hearing loss, various injuries to muscles and nerves, and even mental health disorders are part of life for many musicians. At times one wonders, knowing that these perils exist, why they enter the profession in the first place. Do you have questions about health concerns for those onstage and even in the audience?

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    On Forgotten Masters

    6 Comments

    Copland, Stravinsky, Harris, and others were part of my childhood musical experience. What happened to the other composers of that time? I bet that each of you can think of someone who made an impression on you but has been overlooked today.

    For this chapter, I consider how we might resurrect the works of these composers and place them back into the repertoire. This is not to be dismissive of the new, but to broaden the spectrum of what is presented. We tend to be comfortable with the familiar and even accept more easily the new. But how do we preserve what came before but is little known?

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    On Education

    1 Comment

    Throughout my time as a student of the Los Angeles Public Schools, I was the beneficiary of a great system that included a rigorous arts curriculum. However, for more than two generations, there has been a steady deterioration of arts programs and a decline in how young people are taught about the creative process.

    How did we lose this valuable aspect of education? As we raced to get to the moon, we slowed down in regard to the culture. I ask you to consider how we might change the current thinking and implement true change in our educational institutions. Please submit any questions or comments.

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    On Diversity

    1 Comment

    Musicians onstage do not look the same as they once did. More women have entered the orchestral workforce as have players of Asian heritage. The use of a screen to isolate candidates from those judging their auditions has certainly been responsible for some of these changes. However, the number of black and Latino orchestra members is disproportionately low.

    In this chapter, I analyze the pros and cons of using the screen and offer a new method for the audition process itself. Please submit questions that address finding solutions that would increase diversity as well as keep artistic integrity high.

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    On Conducting

    3 Comments

    On the surface, this might seem like the most obvious chapter in the book. I plan to consider a set of Ten Golden Rules by Richard Strauss. Many are sarcastic, but some are right on the mark. I have added twenty more rules, ranging in scope from physical gestures to stage deportment.

    I focus on communication between the orchestra and the maestro. How far can the conductor get using words to convey ideas? What do conductors show to the orchestra if they truly don’t like the piece or soloist they are working with? Let me know what questions or comments you have regarding the job of the conductor.

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    On Composers

    4 Comments

    There is a big difference between those who create and those who recreate. Pulling those notes, chords, rhythms and harmonies out of thin air requires skills that are both learned as well as instinctive. In this chapter, I examine the relationship between the composer and the performer.

    How do they work together, especially if the person who wrote the piece of music is no longer alive? What responsibility does the conductor have when presenting new or unfamiliar music to the audience? How can a composer have a direct relationship with the public outside of the concert hall?

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    On Audiences

    3 Comments

    During this period when COVID-19 is shutting down theaters and concert halls, many institutions are grappling with how to maintain and build relationships with their subscribers, donors and single-ticket buyers. But changes to audience development have been in the air for many years.

    Who constitutes the audience and how is an audience defined? What does the public expect from performing institutions, and furthermore, what do we as artists expect from those who see and hear us? Clearly it is important for arts organizations to expand their audience. How do they achieve that?

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    On Agents

    3 Comments

    One of the questions I am most often asked has to do with managers. What do they do? Do I need one? How do I get one?

    In this chapter I look back at my own history with those who have overseen and shaped my career. One’s relationship with that individual can make or break even an established artist. Finding the right fit can be difficult, and I offer a few suggestions in terms of what to look for in the person who will take care of your business life.

    Please ask questions relevant to the role of music agents today.

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    On Age

    4 Comments

    We all get older. For musicians, aging brings a host of physical challenges and a set of decisions to make. Among them is figuring out what to do about retirement. When should I stop what I am doing, or is it better to keep going? Some conductors would just as soon collapse on the podium, while others determine that they no longer have the stamina to continue.

    This chapter is about understanding the choices available as we move along in the profession. Please weigh in with questions about the general subject of aging and how it impacts the individual musician as well as the organizations they work for.

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    On the Theater

    6 Comments

    I invite you to participate in the writing of my third book, Musical Chairs: The Changing Landscape of Classical Music in the Twenty-first Century. In each chapter, I discuss a topic of interest to those who follow the world of music. I hope you will submit questions and suggestions based on a summary of what I intend to cover.

    After I have received your input, several of your questions will be included in the final product. I will post a new chapter summary every week. Just so you have an idea of how a chapter will look and feel, I am including full text of the first topic, “On the Theater.”

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