MAY 2008

MAY 2008
May 1, 2008 leonard slatkin

Home at last!

After almost 12 weeks on the road, I have finally landed back in Washington. This will be a three-week stint with the NSO, which right now feels more like three months. No more hotel rooms and horrid Internet connections. And the projects that are looming here are interesting.

But the past month did have much to recommend. After the incredible week in Detroit, it was off to the New York Philharmonic. I have had the pleasure of working with them on a regular basis since 1974. At a reception following one of our concerts, the former chairman of the board said that I had, as of that night, conducted 265 concerts with the orchestra. This is possibly a record for a guest conductor. I am not holding my breath waiting for this statistic to appear in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Our program was unusual in that it contained the world premiere of a Piano Concerto by Tan Dun. This piece was written for Lang Lang, and we all had to work very hard, as there were only three rehearsals to put this together, along with the complete Firebird of Stravinsky. As is usual with new works, many changes took place over the course of the rehearsals. Whole measures were either added or taken away. The orchestration was lightened to allow the piano to get through the textures. By the time we got to the actual performance, it was hard to recognize much of how we had started.

But everyone was in great form. It is easy to take the NY Phil for granted. After all, they are in competition with every orchestra that passes through the city. But what a fabulous instrument to work with, always responsive and individual. It was also a final time for me to work with the orchestra’s principal clarinetist, Stanley Drucker, who will be leaving the ensemble after a career spanning more than half a century. I will miss seeing him in that chair and no matter who comes next, Stanley will always occupy that special place.

Lang Lang stayed with me for the following week, when we both played together in Madrid. On our final night in New York, I casually mentioned that we had done the Chopin 1st Piano Concerto several times and wondered if we should do it yet again in Spain. He took this literally and when I arrived, the program had been changed to the 2nd Concerto.

Musical life in Spain is unlike anywhere else in the world. They are completely mad for music. We had three performances, all sold-out. With Lang Lang, that is to be expected. However, our concerts began at 7:30. At 10:30 on the opening night, the Cincinnati Symphony showed up to play the final concert of their European Tour, also to a full house. And the next night, following our program, there was a performance of Haydn’s Oratorio, The Seasons. This could not possibly have ended until 1:30 in the morning. Amazing!

After Madrid, I went back to the UK for my final concert of the regular season with the Royal Philharmonic. We played a run out in Nottingham, where there is apparently no sheriff at the moment. The next night we were back in Festival Hall for the second of an all-Elgar series that I have been giving. This time we performed the 1st Symphony and it was a truly thrilling experience. Many in the orchestra had not played the work before, and there was a real sense of occasion. It had been a couple of years since I had conducted this piece. Sometimes one wonders why works like this are not really more popular. It has everything. Big tune, virtuosity, ravishing slow movement, but still it is not heard to the degree as the Enigma Variations. I must remind myself to program it more often.

Now I have some time to revisit what will soon become my former orchestra. More on that next time.

Leonard Slatkin