November 1, 2008 leonard slatkin

With the Far East tour completed, the remainder of October was devoted to a bit more traditional fare, at least as far as my own concerts were concerned. But still, not having conducted my own orchestra in Detroit, it still did not feel as if the season had really started.

At least the first date was in Pittsburgh, where I am now the Principal Guest Conductor. However, there was the small matter of adjusting to the 19-hour flight from Singapore and the accompanying 12-hour time change. Aside from worrying how an airplane could stay in the sky all that time, the trip was not too bad. But the first rehearsal, 3 days later, was not so easy.

For this set of concerts, we were honoring the 250th anniversary of the founding of the city. A new work for chorus, soloists and orchestra was commissioned from Derek Bermel, one of the younger generation of composers who are creating some quite individual pieces. It is not easy to write a work that seems to limit the text in this way, but the city of Pittsburgh was never uttered. Instead, the piece was an evocation of almost any industrial town and the struggles it goes through over the course of time.

John Adams is the orchestra’s “Composer of the Year.” So during the season, his music will be featured on 5 of the subscription concerts. I did Slonimsky’s Earbox, a riot of colors and sounds. This is a piece I have done often and it is a fine opener in almost any context. It was also good to see John again, as he does have a wry sense of humor. The program concluded with the New World Symphony, giving the entire concert an American flavor.

Then it was on to Cologne, Germany. Having barely gotten over the Far East time change, now I added six more hours to my internal clock. I arrived about four hours before the first rehearsal, having to fly from Pittsburgh to New York, then to Frankfurt, with a two-hour drive to my eventual destination. We had three works programmed that really were not that familiar to the orchestra: Haydn No. 85, Szymanowski’s Symphonie Concertante and the Strauss Burleske. Fortunately, Manny Ax was the soloist and since he and I go back a long time, there were no problems on the musical end. The orchestra seemed to get into the works and we all had a very nice time indeed.

The final program was in Wiesbaden, a city I had never been to. The hall, which is adjacent to a casino, is a marvel of turn-of-the-century interiors. Some would argue that it is the most beautiful of all the concert venues in Europe. They have a point. Truly elegant and ornate but in a warm manner. The acoustics are a little difficult, as the stage is small. This means that for the large works on the program, we had to use a few less strings, simply to accommodate the other players. And the size means that the loud passages are really loud. It was much better when the audience was in, as opposed to the empty hall at rehearsal, but the sheer beauty of the interior made it a nice evening.

I headed back to Detroit for a whirlwind 24 hours filled with auditions and meetings. It will come as no surprise that we are dealing with some big-time economic issues, as are almost all arts institutions. These are topics that are now regular parts of all discussions, but we are trying to keep the artistic agenda to the forefront. Nothing good comes of simply tying everything to the fiscal situation. If we can come up with some creative solutions, I think we will be just fine.

Oh, when I left Germany on the Sunday, they had moved their clocks back, one week before the States. For a change, I was able to get an hour for the adjustment back home.

Then it was off to Atlanta, an orchestra I had not seen since 1975! At the first rehearsal I told them that it was my hope that I would do a better job this time around. Bernstein, Barber and Rachmaninov made up the program with Garrick Ohlsson playing the great Barber concerto. This is a very nice orchestra, and I had the pleasure of spending a bit of time with their music director, Robert Spano, who I did not really know all that well. It is rare that conductors are ever in the same city at the same time. Most of the chatter is in the form of anecdotes and jokes. We all seem to share a passion for humor and food. But once in a while we also deal with musical matters.

The first night saw decent attendance for the program. But the second night was weak, as it was Halloween. One of the librarians quipped, “The hall is actually full as many of the audience have come dressed as seats.” Very funny.

So now it is November and one month to go before I finally give a downbeat as music director in Detroit. The season will not truly start until that moment.

See you next month,