MAY 2012

MAY 2012
May 1, 2012 leonard slatkin

“You’re baddass!”

These two words were spoken to me following a concert in one of Detroit’s suburbs. A young woman came up to me, looked me in the eyes and that is what she said.

After figuring out that this was a compliment, I realized that perhaps there are ways to reach the younger generation that I had not yet contemplated. Was it our performance of the “New World” Symphony? Perhaps it was because we were playing in a Temple.

Who knows?

Those words would come back to me a few days later.

April started off with a few days of R and R. Baseball season opened and I was fortunate enough to go to two of the first three games featuring the Tigers. They dispatched the rival Red Sox, leaving those in Bean Town in disarray.

For those of you who do not follow the game, there are some traditions that extend into the crowd as well. The feeling of camaraderie is wonderful, and this relatively pastoral sport brings people together from all walks of life.

It also has its unusual moments in the stands. Detroit features a hot-dog vendor with an unusually booming voice. As he is selling his wares, he lets loose with what usually is a middle-C, and sustains it for quite a while. Sometimes this is more entertaining than the game.

My son came to visit and not only did we take in the games at Comerica Park, we also went to the final game of the regular season of the Red Wings, Detroit’s hockey team. They had already assured themselves of a spot in the playoffs but needed to win in order to have an advantage of starting the series at home. Alas, they lost in overtime, and then went on to be the first team ousted in the first round against Nashville.

The next week it was back to work, this time in Miami. Michael Tilson Thomas had been inviting me to work with his New World Symphony for many years. This was the first time the dates actually worked out. The orchestra is comprised of young professionals, those out of school but still looking for jobs.

It was an eye-opening week.

They read the Shostakovich Fifth with ease and rehearsals were focused on the details we would normally reserve for the most experienced of ensembles. They perform in several different venues but their home is the newly built New World Center, a state of the art auditorium with capabilities for every possible way of presenting music.

Our concert was beamed out to a crowd on the plaza via the WALLCAST. Of course, since I was conducting, I did not have the opportunity to see it. Everyone told me that the high level of video and sound was extraordinary.

We played Cindy’s Double Play. The young musicians got into the piece with excellent contributions from the percussion section. The assistant conductor, Joshua Gersen, led a rousing account of the Overture to La Forza del Destino. His predecessor in the position, Teddy Abrams, will become my assistant in Detroit next season.

Our soloist was Helene Grimaud. We had never worked together but I know this will not be the last time. Her amazing persona and musical intelligence served the Brahms First Concerto well. We found a common ground in our collaboration and I was delighted to get to know her a bit.

MTT returned to town so we were able to spend some time together. We both grew up in Los Angeles but really did not know each other at that time. His accomplishments are too numerous to mention, but I suspect that it is the creation of this incredible program is what he must be most proud of.

The return to Detroit found us with an unusual program. The pianist Jeffrey Biegel was soloist. A couple years ago he had the idea to ask a composer to create a piece that could be a sort of companion to Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. Bill Bolcom complied with a work for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra entitled Prometheus. The vocal work is much more elaborate than its predecessor and certainly the piece is much darker in atmosphere. But the two work well together and I enjoyed the juxtaposition. Audiences greeted both Jeffrey and Bill with prolonged ovations.

The aforementioned “New World” Symphony filled out this program. We would play this work not only in Orchestra Hall but in two of our suburban locations. Going on these short road trips is a bit of an acoustic adventure, but then again, nothing can duplicate the sonic splendor of the Max. Reaching out to an audience that is reluctant to venture downtown has proven to be a very good idea. Next season we will continue this project and start the process of bringing these audiences to our home as well.

At the end of the week, I had a meeting with Kid Rock. He has a studio about 45 minutes from Orchestra Hall. Right now it is being renovated, so there was a lot of activity when I arrived. We had never met, and I was not sure what to expect. It turns out that he is gracious and very easy to talk with. His staff is excellent and we had a very productive conversation. The concert with him and the DSO is less than a month away but both of us feel that everything is in good hands.

I told him the story about the young woman who approached me the night before. The Kid said I needed to get tee shirts that read, Leonard “Baddass” Slatkin. Why do I have the feeling that this epithet is not going to go away for a while?

The last stop was a quick trip to Lyon. For the most part, I am trying to avoid these one-off weeks, as jet lag can play havoc with my nervous system. For those of you who think this life is glamorous, think again. There was an afternoon concert in Detroit, followed by a fundraising dinner, a dash off to the airport, an 8-hour flight, 3 hours waiting around at De Gaulle Airport, a two-hour train trip to Lyon and a set of double bass auditions. No time to even go to my apartment.

Our program for the week was slightly altered, as Sol Gabetta was soloist and we had decided on our German tour to record Bloch’s Schelomo during this time. When I was young this piece was heard on a regular basis, but for reasons unknown, has faded a bit these days. No matter. The orchestra was superb and dug into it with great gusto. Sol was her astonishing self, varying the interpretation slightly from night to night.

The main fare was the “Pathetique.” All of us worked very hard on this, and the result was truly memorable. Passion, precision and extremes of sonority were hallmarks for all the performances. This could be a good tour piece for us.

Near the end of the symphony, a beeping was audible to most. It did not subside and I could not help but think of Alan Gilbert’s cell phone moment in New York. What made this eerie is the fact that his sister, Jennifer, is the concertmaster of the ONL! We did not stop and learned afterwards that the sound emanated from one of the television cameras covering the concert for Medici TV.

My good friends from San Francisco, Harvey and Carole Steiman, came to visit. We had a great time and I have started to become a bit of a tour guide, pointing out some of the unique features of Lyon. Of course, we wined and dined well and it was nice to introduce them to some of my own friends here.

The book is progressing, with the very final edit phase now over. There are just three months left until it comes out. I am still waiting for the forward and some blurbs for the back cover.

In Lyon we announced the 2012-13 season, so it is now possible to give you a full glance at all the programs I am doing over the next year. European orchestras generally present their offerings about four or five months later than their American counterparts.

Next month is spent mostly in Detroit. The first concerts feature the Korngold Cello Concerto. My brother is the soloist in this piece written for our mother. Those of you not in the Detroit area can tune into the DSO web site and catch the performance, as you can with virtually all our subscription programs.

See you next month,