September 1, 2011 leonard slatkin

After almost six weeks of tending to Cindy, it was time to get back on the podium. She was doing extraordinarily well and all the signs pointed to a complete remission. There were still chemo and radiation treatments to go but they seemed more precautionary than necessary. I continued to admire Cindy’s strength and resolve during this time.

I headed out to Santa Barbara alone for a couple days. Two years ago I had conducted at the Music Academy of the West and completely enjoyed the experience. This school and festival is a bit different than most of the others. There are only 135 students or so. They stay for eight weeks of intensive study and performance. Every one of them comes on a full scholarship, showing the commitment of the community. I did wonder whether the locals were referred to as “Santa Barbarians.”

With the exception of the concertmaster, all of the orchestra members are students. They range in age from high school to college and young professionals. The quality is very high. Our program consisted of three works. Cindy’s Circuits, Tchaikovsky, who apparently must be played on every last concert of the season, this time with Francesca da Rimini, and Le Sacre du Printemps. Not easy going for any orchestra. At the first reading it was clear that each and every one of the young musicians had prepared their individual parts well. With six rehearsals I was confident that we would achieve outstanding results.

The Academy itself has several rehearsal studios and a hall where the orchestra rehearses. It also serves as a concert venue for chamber music. One evening featured violinist Glenn Dicterow, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. We have known each other since childhood and it was a pleasure to here him in a full program on his own. Not only was it an outstanding performance, but also it was an object lesson in a style of playing that is rarely encountered these days. Glenn’s wife, violist Karen Dreyfuss, also appeared on the program and was equally compelling.

Rehearsals went smoothly. The musicians responded to everything and I enjoyed myself immensely. Having not conducted for more than a month, I had some concern as to how stiff my arms might become, but there seemed to be no problem at any point. I gave a class about how to enter the orchestral work force in this perilous economic time. The young musicians seemed eager to get as much information as possible.

By the evening of the concert, Cindy and my son Daniel had joined me on the trip. The young man is now seventeen and contemplating a combination of music and business for his college years. He had never heard the Rite of Spring before. I was envious. How marvelous it would be to encounter an undisputed masterpiece for the first time, but with the knowledge that one has gained throughout a lifetime of musical study.

The concert was excellent. Several of the musicians could easily be playing in major orchestras in this country. The audience was enthusiastic and whenever a solo bow was accorded, the screams from the non-playing students were more akin to a rock concert than a symphony orchestra. All of the vocal students of Marilyn Horne were in attendance. How unusual is that?

Next it was off to Aspen, in some ways the start of many things for me. I have been coming to the mountains since 1964 and have witnessed a myriad of changes, some good and some not. After the turmoil of the past season, things seemed to be calmer, although you could still feel tensions in the air. Most people are trying to put things behind or simply stay out of the fray.

For me it was all about making music and visiting dear friends. The program was a rather intriguing mix of music by Shostakovich. I had asked for pianist Olga Kern as my soloist, and the festival wanted cellist Alisa Weilerstein. We decided that both would be a true festive event, and each played the first concerto for their respective instruments. The bookend works were the First Jazz Suite and the Ninth Symphony. In some ways, this represented a very good introduction to the varied styles of this Russian master.

As opposed to the Santa Barbara orchestra, the Aspen Chamber Orchestra utilizes faculty as the principal musicians with the students filling out the remainder. Of course the level is high but the young players have a lot of work over the course of the summer. Rehearsals were divided between an indoor venue and the tent. The acoustic differences are pronounced and many adjustments had to be made. In the end, everyone did a terrific job. Olga brought the house down. Alisa was a commanding presence and the orchestral works had more than the requisite panache.

I taught one conducting class, utilizing two chapters of my soon to be published book as the starting point. Earlier in the week I learned that it will come out sometime in the spring. It was made clear to me that I had to stop writing, otherwise there would be no deadline and the epic would come in at about nine thousand pages. We shall see what the editors do with the text. More about this in the months ahead.

One of the chapters in the book details an extraordinary week in London, culminating in my first “Last Night at the Proms.” This took place four days after the attacks of September 11. What was to have been a celebratory party became a solemn reminder of what had occurred earlier in the week. The emotional heart of the concert was a performance of the Barber Adagio for Strings. The televised presentation of this work became one of YouTube’s most watched videos and still remains the second most popular.

This month, instead of family related audio clips, I thought it would be appropriate to share this with you, but with a difference. There are two versions, the one that was seen that night and another that incorporated documentary footage from the day of infamy. In both cases it is not about the tempo of the Adagio but rather the emotion that came to the fore.



The final leg of the United States tour took me back to my old stomping grounds of Los Angeles. There were two performances at the Hollywood Bowl, the place where my parents met. It is always nice to come back, even with the limited (one) rehearsal allotted for each program.

The first paired Liszt and Ravel. Les Preludes and the Second Piano Concerto, featuring Andre Watts. I was reminded that I first heard him in 1963, when he was just 16 years old. The New York Philharmonic came to the Bowl with Bernstein, but he let his assistant, Seiji Ozawa, conduct the concerto. Andre was remarkable then and he remains so today.

The Mother Goose Suite and the Second Daphnis and Chloe made up the rest of the program. What a pleasure to do these pieces. They never grow old. I am pleased to tell you that I will be recording all the Ravel orchestral works in Lyon starting in September.

Two days later we had a mixed bag of Carter, Rachmaninov and Brahms. I am not sure if anyone ever expected a piece by one of the thorniest of composers to appear as Bowl fare, but the Holiday Overture showed Carter in a Copland/Piston mode. After having Olga Kern in Aspen, she came to Hollywood with the Rach/Pag Rhapsody. It was a spectacular performance. Brahms Fourth Symphony rounded out the evening and the orchestra seemed really focused, possibly because of very little time to put it together in the morning.

Cindy headed back to Detroit for the start of the chemo phase of the treatment. Daniel would accompany me for the first part of the Lyon adventure. My French still was horrible and I hoped that the eleven-hour flight would stir my brain cells. A new chapter was about to begin.

See you next month.