February 1, 2008 leonard slatkin

The New Year has gotten off to a quick start, hampered by a severe cold.

Beethoven 9’s in Milan were great fun, a term one does not usually associate with this piece. But it seemed appropriate for the audience, which was looking for this high level of entertainment to bring in the festivities. Our tenor fell ill suddenly with just one performance under our belt, so we had to find another quickly. Being in Milan, you would have thought all they had to do was go across town to La Scala and get someone. But the answer seemed to lie in Germany, were a fine substitute filled in.

But somewhere between the “Freude” and the risotto, I picked up a nasty bug. Four weeks later, it is still hanging on, almost like a contest of wills between my immune system and the podium. Adrenaline is a wonderful drug. Even on days when I really felt horrible, my energy stuck around.

Next it was back to Pittsburgh for a scheduled guest date. The past three times with that orchestra have all been as last minute replacements. At one time the orchestra had a sign that said, “principal substitute conductor” placed on the door of the dressing room. This time around we gave the local premiere of Corigliano’s “Red Violin” concerto, with Joshua Bell. It made a terrific impact on the audience, and John spoke before each performance, helping the audience understand the nature of the work and its musical language.

Back home in DC for three weeks of subscription concerts. Each one had a star soloist, and this enabled me to be a little exotic with the programs. So we were able to present, among other works, second symphonies by both Corigliano and Christopher Rouse. The former is for strings and the latter is for large orchestra. Each work is distinctive and shows the composer expanding his musical vocabulary. Extremes in dynamics played a role in both works, and I think we were able to capture the essence of these two pieces to the satisfaction of the composers.

The last week was devoted to Mahler, with the Kindertotenlieder and Sixth Symphony. This might seem depressing at first glance. But the song cycle ends on a note of optimism, though quite muted. As delivered by Thomas Hampson, the work became intimate and very moving. The sheer force and energy of the Symphony takes orchestra and listener on an extended journey of musical history. It is both a look back at music in the 19th century as well as a prediction of what it might become in the future. Oh, for those of you who keep track of such things, the Andante was placed second and the Scherzo third. Three hammer blows. Four harps and two celestas. That should take care of the budget of the NSO for this season.

February should be very exciting. We will announce the programs for my first, albeit abbreviated, season in Detroit. And the NSO will travel to Carnegie Hall, as well as South Carolina. Then it will be off to Europe for five weeks. It is my hope that the cold will decide to take a vacation.

See you next month,

Leonard Slatkin