JULY 2009

JULY 2009
July 1, 2009 leonard slatkin

One can feel it in the air. The end of the concert season is close and various forms of time off are near. There is a physical letdown and the best you can do, after the ardors of a tough season, is to take little vacations along the way.

Such was the case at the beginning of the month of June.

I flew back from Nashville very early in the morning to attend a meeting in Detroit, and visit my apartment, which I had not seen for quite a while. The session was intense, as we are dealing with various solutions for our own economic woes. Orchestras all over the States are trying to find ways to simply keep in business without compromising artistic standards.

After almost three hours, I drove back to my place and started figuring out where things are supposed to go. But I was exhausted and fell asleep on the floor, sandwiched between one box marked “CDs” and another that simply had a question mark on the side.

The day before, I had inquired as to the possibility of going to a hockey game that night. The Detroit Red Wings had once again gotten into the Stanley Cup Finals and I thought I should support my new team. Considering that the last time I saw them in the Cup, they beat my old team, the Washington Capitols, I thought this was a big leap. And I needed to let off some steam. The good guys won and now held a 2-0 advantage in the best of seven series.

At game’s end, I hopped in the car and drove the four hours to Toronto. Well, it should have been four hours. I can’t put this entirely in the complaint department, for fear of being incarcerated, but here is what happened:

It was a Sunday night and originally I had planned to fly. But when I was there the year before, I had a bad experience at passport control and now decided it was easier, and more flexible, to hit the road. No problems until the border. First there was the patrolman, who wanted to know why I was coming to Canada,

“To conduct the Toronto Symphony.”


I almost lost it early on, but said, “That is my profession.”

“Are you getting paid?”


“By who?”

I showed him the contract and he told me to park about 300 yards—sorry Canada, that is almost a kilometer – further on the right, get out of the car and go inside. I went to a desk where an officer took my passport and contract and disappeared for about five minutes. When she returned, she said, “You were here in 1996.”

“Yes, but that was in Montreal.”

“So this is your first time to Toronto?”

“No, I was here about a year and a half ago.”

She went back to her room for another five minutes.

Now two officers came out to talk to me. I felt like I was approaching a moment from Midnight Express, but without the drugs.

After a few more questions, my passport was stamped, a note was handed me and I was told to give it to an officer outside, who would be near my car. I did as told but there was no one around. So I went back in to the same woman at the counter, who remembered that they all come out of the cold at midnight. She took the very same piece of paper she had handed me a few minutes before.

I arrived at the hotel at 3:30 in the morning, with rehearsal starting at 10. Don’t ask me anything about how it went.

This was an enjoyable week, with two of my favorite soloists on tap. First, Gil Shaham played the Violin Concerto of Bill Bolcom. It was his first time with the piece, as well as mine. What a terrific work it is, combining all of the, “what is he going to do next,” aspects with the sophistication of a composer fully at the height of his compositional powers. Gil played the Joe Venuti jazz portions with great flair.

Brahms 1 was on the program. This is one of those pieces that has changed a lot for me over the years. Now I find a momentum in the first movement that helps me give the middle a more relaxed feel. There were a few eyebrows raised in the orchestra, as places that traditionally are played a bit slower were not this time around. By the time we got to the last performance, I think the players had enjoyed looking at the piece in a different way.

We had a day off before the final performance, so I went to Toronto Blue Jay’s baseball game. It was the 20th anniversary of the then Sky Dome and several of the players from that year’s championship team were on hand to celebrate. Sadly, only about 15,000 people attended in a stadium that seats well over 50,000. The Jays won.

Josh Bell played the Symphonie Espagnole of Lalo at the Saturday night concert. We had first done this together on a tour in Europe with the Saint Louis Symphony, when Josh was just 16! I remembered it then and it was already well formed, but now his approach, in some ways, more reflects the aesthetic of his teacher in Indiana. When we finished and were shaking hands, I whispered to him, “Mr. Gingold would have been proud.”

I hopped in the car to drive back to Detroit, dreading the border crossing.

“Are you bringing in goods?”

“Just some things from IKEA.”


I was back in three and a half hours. And the Red Wings were now ahead in their series 3-2. The dilemma? I could get tickets to a 7th game, if there was to be one. I sort of hoped they could wrap it up two days later.

On the 8th I flew in to New York where a surprise party was held to honor Manny Ax on his 60th birthday. It was one of those events where you thought that if something horrible were to happen in that room, the music world would come to an abrupt halt. There was also a realization that Manny was the last of the Juilliard Generation to reach this age milestone. All of us who had been in school together have moved into this mature phase of our lives and the watchwords of the evening were about giving back. And getting older. A great evening of storytelling, and simply paying tribute to our very good friend.

Now it was time to settle into a living mode in Detroit. This was supposed to be an off week, but there were two events scheduled for me to conduct. One of our goals is outreach, and venturing into different parts of the community. Having played at a mall earlier this year, this time around we ventured into a hospital. West Bloomfield boasts a new one, part of the Henry Ford Hospital System, that is most impressive. It defines itself as a healing facility, and feels more like an upscale hotel rather than a traditional medical facility.

There was not enough room in the atrium to accommodate the full orchestra, so we put together an hour of music for strings. Caregivers, patients and others from the area came out in droves and there was a real feeling of accomplishment after we had finished. It is not possible to underestimate the healing power of music after playing a concert like this.

At the end of the week, the DSO held its annual fundraiser. The theme was Shakespeare and our soloist was Frederica von Stade. Is there really a finer person on the planet? It is at times like this that I realize how fortunate I am to have worked with some of the greatest artists in existence. Singing the Willow Song from Rossini’s Otello, along with some Cole Porter, Flicka simply glowed. There has been no diminishing of her vocal quality over the years and her ability to sell an aria or song is unmatched.

A great deal of the time was spent unpacking, settling in and getting to know my new hometown. Driving around was a bit of an adventure and I quickly discovered the source of this month’s true COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the Michigan Left:

Michigan lefts occur at intersections where at least one road is a divided highway or boulevard. Left turns onto-and sometimes from-the divided highway are prohibited. In almost every case, the divided highway is multi-laned in both directions.

When on the secondary road, drivers are directed to turn right. Within a 1/4 mile (400 m), they queue into a designated U-turn (or cross-over) lane in the median. When traffic clears they complete the U-turn and go back through the intersection. For additional safety purposes, the U-turn lane is designed so traffic only flows through it one-way.

Similarly, traffic on the divided highway cannot turn left at an intersection with a cross street. Instead, drivers are instructed to overshoot the intersection, go through the U-turn lane, come back to the intersection from the opposite direction and turn right.

When vehicles enter the cross-over lineup, unless markings on the ground indicate two turning lanes in the cross-over, drivers are to line up single file. A cross-over with two lanes is usually designated at high volume cross-overs, or when the right most lane is proceeding forward to an intersecting street. In this case, the right most lane is reserved for vehicles completing the Michigan Left. Most cross overs must be made large enough for semi-trailer trucks to complete the cross over. This large cross-over area often leads to two vehicles incorrectly lining up at a single cross-over.

Basically you have to make at least two turns to get to where you are going. Say there is a Starbucks on the opposite corner from where you are. To get there, you make a right turn on the next street, get into a left turn lane where you then make a U-turn, probably hit a red light and after a couple minutes, you have arrived at the building that was only 100 feet away when you started.

Supposedly, this configuration reduces left turn collisions and helps traffic flow. My own feeling is that by making you drive more than necessary, the chief benefit is to the gasoline dealerships.

The final conducting of the month was a return to Nashville, as part of their summer series. Although I had conducted my “official” last concerts a couple weeks before, this was the end of my tenure as their music advisor. It was preceded by a combination of flu, cough, cold and bronchial infection. Somehow, I got through the rehearsals and concerts but it was not easy. The soloist was the young violinist Karen Gomyo, who has matured into a fine, poised and polished artist. As it turns out, she will be my first soloist after the upcoming vacation. I felt a tinge of sadness at the conclusion of what has been an amazing three years in this city.

Since I now am officially on holiday (I don’t care who cancels, I am not jumping in), I will post this a bit early and fill you in the middle of July as to what I did on my summer vacation.

See you next month,