October 1, 2007 leonard slatkin

On Changes in Life

By now, most of you will have learned of my recent appointment as Music Director of the Detroit Symphony. Between the positions that I am completing and the ones that are coming up, it is even confusing to me. So let’s summarize.

I have just ended my three-year stint at the Hollywood Bowl; my 12-year tenure with the National Symphony ends this June; last year was my first as Principal Guest Conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic (four weeks a year); I just began my semester residency at Indiana University (two weeks per year); and, next September, I become Music Director in Detroit (14-16 weeks) and Principal Guest Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony (three or four weeks).

This takes in a bit more than half of the calendar year. Assuming that I want some down time, I will probably take on about 14 additional weeks of guest conducting both here and abroad.

If you were to have asked me five months ago what I expected to be doing, I would have said, “probably guest conduct for seven months of the year and take the rest of the time off.” But that was before I had the pleasure of working with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Contrary to what had been written by various journalists, I was not actively seeking any post at all. When asked about vacancies, I always said that I would consider one if certain conditions were met. These mostly had to do with artistic matters and not financial ones.

A few orchestras had expressed interest in having me, but I found that they were not what I was looking for. Then, for the first time in 20 years, I did a set of concerts in Detroit. It was clear from the first rehearsal that the chemistry was there. After a second week, we began serious discussions. To me, an orchestral organization is not just about the players in the group—it is the total commitment of the board and management. During my time there, I found all the components ready to work together.

And so we were able to complete negotiations rapidly, with no major issues standing in the way. This is an incredible orchestra, with a fantastic hall. There is much to be done in the areas of fund-raising, audience building and education, but these are the challenges that I have enjoyed in the past. Coupled with the new relationship in Pittsburgh, I have the opportunity to work on a regular basis with two of this country’s finest orchestras. Indiana provides me the academic environment that is so stimulating. And my work in Europe and Asia will continue in much the same manner as before.

So life will be different starting next season. But the current one is still stimulating, with lots of intriguing programs and artists to work with. Hopefully, this column has filled you in on the future. Next time, we will return to the present. See you then.

Leonard Slatkin