September 1, 2008 leonard slatkin

Another long orchestral season has come to a close and it is time to start gearing up for a busy 2008-2009 year.

August saw a string of concerts in three venues, but with lots of travel involved. I started off in Detroit. For many years, the orchestra’s summer home was at the Meadowbrook Music Festival, a sylvan-like setting on the campus of Oakland University. In fact, the last time I conducted the orchestra, before we began the music director courtship, was at this space. In many ways, it is similar to the National Symphony’s outdoor arena, Wolf Trap.

The in-pavilion seating is around 3,000 or so and the lawn area can accommodate up to 7,000 more. We enjoyed great weather for most of the week. Unfortunately, a huge storm hit during the first of the two concerts, an evening devoted to opera excerpts. At one point, the wind picked up and blew most everything around on stage. The orchestra moved as far upstage as possible and continued playing without missing a beat.

But the timing could not have been better. There was a group of arias from American operas, the first of which was “Ain’t It a Pretty Night?” from Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. This was fitting, as at this moment the weather really was nice. A couple of songs later, “Must the Winter Come So Soon?” from Samuel Barber’s Vanessa, and the storm raged upon us. We were supposed to have an Italian group to conclude, but decided that the Intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana simply would get lost, so we did not play it as advertised. But at the evening’s end, when Mother Nature’s tumult had died down, we played it as an encore instead. Possibly the first time this lovely little piece has concluded a concert.

A Russian program filled out the second evening. I introduced a version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, in the Ravel orchestration but with some adjustments to make it closer to the original piano version. The orchestra had played it with Vladimir Ashkenazy a few months earlier, and that performance was in his orchestration. Once again I was reminded of how fortunate I am to be the next music director with the DSO, as they played with terrific subtlety and nuance both nights.

The following day, it was off to London for a Prom. Having done four years of those as Chief Conductor of the BBC, I knew the energy level of the orchestra would be high. In what was a happy coincidence, we helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of the death of Ralph Vaughan Williams with a performance of his Sixth Symphony. Why this was so special is that it was the work in which I made my London debut in 1974 with the same orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, that I was leading on this occasion.

In addition, pianist Olga Kern brought some wonderful new thoughts to the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff. We also performed the world premiere of a work that was commissioned for this particular evening. It turned out that the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies were taking place just hours before we played. Our piece was by Chen Yi, and since the Games will come to London in four years, there was a nice symmetry about offering this new work.

Then it was on to Los Angeles for a single concert at the Hollywood Bowl. I had held a position there for three years and it is always nice to come home. The program featured Philip Glass and Sir Edward Elgar, not the most common of pairings. But it seemed to work fine and the audience was quite enthusiastic.

As for me, I was quite tired. I hopped in a car after the performance, went to the airport and took the red-eye to Cleveland. But I was happy, as this was the start of a nice long vacation. Two and a half weeks were spent travelling to various baseball parks with my son, Daniel. We had a great time, visiting Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, New York, Philadelphia and Boston in addition to going to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Both of us will remember this trip for a long time.

Now it is September and a new season is on the horizon. Lots of interesting places to go and make music, but also new alliances. It promises to be another good year.

See you next month,