December 1, 2011 leonard slatkin

Just when I think things are beginning to slow down, a month such as the last one occurs. Granted, much of the news was not related to travel or even conducting outright. Nevertheless it was a wonderfully busy time.

Let’s start with the best part. Cindy and I got married on November 20th. The small ceremony was held in our house and about 18 guests attended. It was a huge effort to get the place ready in time, as we had only moved in a few weeks prior. Most of my job was to unload the wine, CD’s and DVD’s. I had no idea how much those boxes weighed and the day after the wedding, my back paid the price.

Our guests came from Dallas, Saint Louis, New York and of course, Detroit. Our home has a lovely living area with many windows. The day was slightly cloudy but every so often the sun would peek though and shine upon us. A judge from the Federal court presided over the ceremony. Gerald Rosen was gracious in his remarks and Cindy and I said a few words as well. It was a wonderful beginning to this chapter in our lives.

Speaking of chapters, my book is now in the editing phase. There are many things that need to be taken care of, such as photo credits, indexing, punctuation and grammar, and of course fact checking. I believe the target is to release it in April or May. If it is possible, I will try to include excerpts here in the coming months.

Just three days before the wedding, it was announced that I had my DSO contract extended through the 2015-16 season. This was an easy decision for me, however many people kept asking me why I chose to do this. The answer is virtually the same one I gave when I accepted the music director position four years ago. The orchestra is great, the hall is great and it represents the kind of challenge that I desire at this point in my life. I am truly happy in Detroit and want to be part of this city’s growth.

Going back a bit, there was still the matter of rehearsals and concerts. First up was a visit to Pittsburgh, where I am in my fourth year as principal guest conductor. Part of my responsibility is to include works that are not really in the province of either the music director or most of the guests. For the first of the two weeks, I included Mysterious Mountain, by Alan Hovhaness. This work was quite popular in the 50’s and early 60’s, including a legendary recording by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony. In some ways, the material seems a bit dated and a few musicians in the orchestra were not too sure it would go over with the audience. However, for three nights, it received not only fine performances, but also ecstatic applause from the public.

Jimmy Galway joined us for the second half, delivering Mozart, Bourne’s “Carmen” Fantasy and a few light encores. At 72 he continues to amaze and I was pleased that he would be in Detroit two weeks later.

The second of the two weeks of subscription concerts was a bit of a hodge podge but with a reason. It is always good when an orchestra can feature its own members front and center. Two of them played with me, both with lesser-known works. Principal Violist Randy Kelly brought the Piston Concerto and oboist Cynthia deAlmeida performed Francaix’s charming L’Horloge de Flore. I consider it quite important to allow extra time in rehearsal for the musicians who do not normally stand next to me.

Also on the program was Cindy’s Double Play, Vaughn-Williams’s Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus and the Britten Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. This last work was presented in a slightly different manner than usual. It can be performed either with or without narration. We chose to include it, but rather than just one person reciting the text, we had children standing near the sections they were describing. For the most part, I thought this worked well but some were not sure that this was appropriate for a subscription concert. Bah, Humbug.

Some of you might be interested to learn that the BBC Symphony has a nickname for the “War Requiem.” It is referred to as, “The Dead Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”

The next stop was Washington D.C. and a visit with my former orchestra. It had been almost two years since we had worked together, the last time being the return to conducting after my heart attack. In some ways I was surprised at being able to remember everyone’s names, but knowing and hiring many of them made it easier.

Over the twelve years I spent in the nation’s capital, many friends were made. This was a fine opportunity to reconnect with some of them. Dinners abounded and it seemed to me that not much had changed. The names of the big players in town may be different, but essentially Washington is the same as I left it.

For these concerts, I chose music by three varied composers. A recent work by Anna Clyne, Rewind, was an effective opener, with a sort of high-energy minimalism combined with both static and motor driven rhythms. The fine cellist, Gautier Capucon, delighted everyone with his fresh take on the Saint-Saens concerto. As an encore, he had an arrangement of the “Meditation” from Thais.

Surprisingly, I had never done the Third Rachmaninov Symphony with the NSO. It is always a pleasure to return to this work and we were all reminded of how masterful an orchestrator he was. The orchestra is in good shape but the hall remains a bit of a problem.

During that week, an unusual set of articles appeared in the press, chiding orchestral managements and guest conductors for bringing what the critics perceived as “routine” programs. I was criticized for this as well. One journalist in D.C. thought my concert in Pittsburgh the week before would have been better than what I presented, although the press in that city thought that the works chosen were weak. For me, bringing a new work by a young English composer, a lesser-played symphony by a Russian master and an outstanding talent with a fresh approach to a standard work was just fine.

Is it possible that writers on music have forgotten that there remain large numbers of audience members who are hearing these pieces for the first time? For them, it is hardly routine. And, as we get older, most of my colleagues tend to slim down their own repertoire, focusing on what truly appeals to them after years and years of experience on the podium. We know what we do well and what we do not.

In any event, the NSO seemed happy to see me again and both they and the audiences roundly applauded the performances.

Now it was back to Detroit and that very busy week. The first program was titled “Festival of Flutes,” and for good reason. Two years earlier, Sir James Galway had to cancel his appearances with us because he had fallen down a set of stairs and broken both his hands. It was amazing that he recovered in just a few months time, but we all felt that his return to Detroit was important.

Marina Piccinni had jumped in before and I invited her to participate in this concert. In addition, our piccoloist, Jeffrey Zook and the acting principal flute, Sharon Sparrow, were also soloists. Vivaldi, Bach, Paquito d’Rivera and Mozart were the showcase works. Marina and I had premiered the “Gran Danzon” in Washington eight years ago and it was nice to see this piece again. It has been trimmed down and in her hands, was an extraordinary showcase for what the flute can do.

Jimmy continued to amaze. His wife, Lady Jeanne, joined in to play a pastiche of Mozart’s greatest hits and then Jimmy told the audience the news that I had renewed my contract with the DSO through 2016. He also announced that Cindy and I would be married on Sunday. Then he and Jeanne played a McTee arrangement of Shenandoah, which she had written a few months earlier. It was all very nice.

We also had 60 young flutists join us for a couple of pieces with the Galways. If ever one concert could be called a Festival, this was it. Jimmy and Jeanne also played a duet, with yours truly at the piano, for the wedding. The judge remarked that he could now say he was on the same program as the Galways.

The final concert followed the wedding and after, we had invited our guests, board members and the orchestra for a reception in the Music Box of Orchestra Hall. The two persons responsible for arranging everything that day were from the DSO staff. Aja Stephens and Anne Wilczak did an amazing job and the whole day went without a hitch.

After the reception, Judge Rosen invited some of us to view his courtroom, one of the most historic in the country. Then there was dinner, although none of us knew if we could put anything more into our already full stomachs. Once again, great stories and conversation abounded. It was quite a day and both Cindy and I felt very blessed at this time.

Fortunately there was a day off and everyone at Orchestra Hall promised to leave us alone. That did not mean the work stopped. The program for the week coming up was demanding and I needed to refresh myself and study. The Rachmaninov Third Symphony would surface again and I was glad to have done it just two weeks earlier, especially since we are recording it this time around. Schubert’s “Unfinished” opened the concert and there was a wonderful composition by Mason Bates, The B Sides, before intermission.

Mason is that rare talent who truly brings something different to the musical table. Combining elements of electronica and the symphony is not really new, but actually performing live on a laptop and drum pad is. The piece is highly effective and at the rehearsals, it was clear that the orchestra had great respect for this young composer. The performances were greeted with cheers and several audience members asked when Mason would return. I could already assure them that it would be soon.

We spent Thanksgiving at home, with me cooking up a storm in my new kitchen. There was much to be thankful for. Cindy and I are married, health issues are being taken care of, the orchestra is back and the Cardinals won the World Series.

See you next month,