January 1, 2013 leonard slatkin

Happy New Year!

The world did not end so now we must await the next apocalyptic prediction. In the meantime, there was a lot to catch up with during December.

Following the Mahler 3 performances in Lyon, the next week was spent in the recording studio, or in our case, the concert hall. The ONL and Naxos have embarked on a truly ambitious project. We are committing all the orchestral works of Ravel to posterity. This includes the operas, other vocal works, transcriptions by Ravel and others as well as the usual suspects. There are some works that have never been recorded before.

During this particular week we got Pictures at an Exhibition, Le Tombeau de Couperin, La Valse and Tziganecompleted. Jennifer Gilbert, one of the two concertmasters, was soloist in the finger breaking gypsy work. The Mussorgsky is in the Ravel version however I have added my own two cents by modifying the Frenchman’s work and making it closer to the piano original. Except for the ending, which is so satisfying in Ravel’s edition.

As wonderful as these were, the highlight for me was an orchestral transcription of Gaspard de la Nuit, a work I was convinced could not be done except on piano. This version is by Marius Constant, not a household name, but a composer of prolific orchestral skill. He captures the essence of the work and, at least for the first two movements, is perfect. At least that is my opinion. Constant is best known as the composer of the theme for The Twilight Zone, but I will now investigate some of his original works.

The second of my three weeks in Pittsburgh this season featured the world premiere of a violin concerto by Mason Bates. He is the orchestra’s Composer of the Year and the new piece is certainly a worthy addition to the repertoire. Anne Akiko Meyers, who I have worked with on several occasions, commissioned it. The work contains no electronic elements but it is interesting to observe how Mason incorporates many of those sounds into the orchestral fabric. I will conduct the concerto again next season in Detroit and Chicago.

Also on the program were the Symphony No. 68 by Haydn and the Third of Saint-Saëns. The former is yet another delight that is pretty much overlooked these days. Among the novel features of this symphony is the placing of the Minuet as the second movement and a fabulous moment for the two bassoons. In the “Organ” Symphony, we had to make do with an electronic instrument. After experiencing the real thing in Lyon, this was a bit of a let down, but the organist had voiced it well and the sound was more than acceptable.

Then it was back home for the final subscription concerts of the year. Marketing had asked me to come up with a holiday-type program. The Second Act of Nutcracker certainly worked well as a concert piece. I do love this score and had not done the complete version in quite a while. We also had the premiere of a new cantata by Roberto Sierra. Roberto’s wife Virginia wrote the text for Heidi Grant Murphy. The story is about elements of Christmas as seen from the people of the mountains in Puerto Rico. Sierra’s music is a fusion of Latin and Caribbean styles as well as some complex new music sounds. It was given a fine birth.

Also on the program was Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Thomas Tallis Fantasia. Of course this is not holiday music but the nature of the string sonorities suggests something that seemed appropriate for the time. What we could not have known was the tragedy that would occur on Friday of that week in Newtown, Connecticut. The psalm on which the Fantasia is based speaks of what will happen when one is moved to an afterlife and how one will face God. Taking these 20 young persons before they would experience another Christmas or birthday was just too horrible to imagine. I spoke to the audience and asked them to have these children in their hearts as they listened to this moving score.

The last conducting stop was in Chicago. I had been invited to the Midwest Clinic, which sounds like a medical facility. Every year there is a convention of educators, bands and orchestras as well as publishers and instrument makers. It is now held in the gigantic McCormick Center and this time around there were almost 20,000 people in attendance. Eugene Corporon, from the Lone Star Wind Orchestra knew Cindy from all her years in Texas, and so it seemed natural for me to conduct one of her pieces. Three of the four movements of Pines of Rome were also on the program. I guess they did not think much of the way I do the third movement.

This was a tremendous experience. Getting to know more about what is happening in the educational world of music is perhaps the most important thing a musician can learn. The sheer numbers of young people who are engaged in studying music is a joy, and to know that there are committed teachers out there making a difference is heartening. But we still have enormous challenges ahead as there remain so many school districts with little or no arts education. I spoke for an hour on this subject and was also awarded the Clinic’s Medal of Honor, in this case truly my honor.

My music and book publisher, Hal Leonard, was a huge presence at this conference. We had a book signing and all the copies on hand, 300, sold out rather quickly. Apparently the numbers are quite good in sales, reaching at least 6,000 at this point. Not bad for a music book. They also want to have a “Leonard Slatkin Signature Baton,” and we will work on a model that is almost a duplicate of what I use. I also promised another volume of arrangements for young people, this time based on Folk Songs and for single line instruments with string orchestra and percussion. So much for my vacation.

Here is a little post holiday recommendation. When I was last in Japan, I met up with Andre Previn. For some reason, I started searching for some of his jazz recordings from a while ago. As it happened, a small company called Real Gone Jazz has released a number of these on their label. These usually come in compilations of 7 or 8 LPs and are compressed onto four discs. The quality of the remasterings varies but is mostly excellent. Hearing Andre’s West Side Story was easily worth the money for the set, but the cost is minimal anyway. I also purchased volumes by Shorty Rogers, Julie London, June Christy and Stan Kenton. Most originated in the late 50’s and early 60’s from the West Coast. Remembering that I knew most of these artists was very emotional. Since they also have sets by Nelson Riddle and Les Baxter, perhaps Real Gone would consider issuing my dad’s recordings from Liberty Records. Hint, hint.

Now I begin a very busy new year, with hopes and wishes for everyone’s health and happiness.

See you next month,