Q&A with Leonard Slatkin

Conducting Business by Leonard Slatkin gives a unique look inside a unique profession. Slatkin recently sat down with Stay Thirsty Magazine to answer some questions about his book and how he himself rose to the position of maestro. You can read the rest of the interview here!


00333460I’d like to begin with a biographical note from your 2012 publication, Conducting Business: Unveiling the Mystery Behind the Maestro (Amadeus Press). You were effectively assured of victory had you entered the international competition to determine an assistant conductor for the NY Philharmonic. This was back in the 1960′s, when Leonard Bernstein was at the podium and arguably at the height of his popularity (via the Young People’s Concerts, which ran on CBS from 1958 to 1972). Essentially, you “turned him down.” Did you ever fear repercussions in your career? Also, what are your thoughts vis-à-vis competitions for conductors?

At the time, I was still a student, and I really hadn’t thought about my career. I had a number of options to consider, beginning with getting drafted! I might have been in the army, in which case I would have been an arranger for NORAD. I was also offered the opportunity to become the assistant conductor at St. Louis, and I had this chance to go to the Mitropoulos Competition. The latter, however, I had to turn down, because I simply did not want to be in a position that I hadn’t earned legitimately. No, I didn’t really “think about it” all that much. It bothered me; it disturbed me. I realized I could win the competition not for what I could do, but simply for who I was. I found that notion annoying. I should append that to this day I generally recoil at the idea of competitions as the way to “spot a talent,” even though I’m involved with one – the Van Cliburn Competition. Moreover, there will be an announcement fairly soon about my relationship with that organization, and it will become clear why I have chosen to accept it.

Competitions are arguably more suited for athletics, and the similarity dissipates pretty quickly. Of course, we “play” music or some sport, and the competitor is deemed only as “good” as he is on that particular day. However, we really need the “long-term” to be able to judge, particularly with a conductor. How does the individual relate to the orchestra? Other questions arise as well – knowledge of the score, technical command, and ability to garner the respect of the orchestral musicians. It’s really pretty difficult, if not impossible, to tell that in a conducting competition, and I hope I never have to be in the position of judging one.

Of course, I do have to judge other conductors, especially when we audition assistant conductors, but usually I can start that process during the course of an interview that takes place. Obviously, one needs to be able to conduct and relate well to the orchestra, but I want to see what other things the applicants bring to the table – communication skills; whether they write well and speak well; the ideas they may have for educational programs:  in other words, the “total package.” However, these intangibles are not what judges score, and so I’m decidedly not a fan of conducting competitions, since I feel I can’t really learn anything substantive from them.


I agree. In fact, I am reminded of Arthur Rubinstein’s famous quote, “Competitions are for horses, not people.” 

I suppose that for some it’s a necessary evil. There are those who attune their entire mentalities toward the objective of winning a competition. However, what do they do for the rest of their lives?





Monday Night is Wagner Night

Happy Monday!  Below is an excerpt from Richard Wagner: The Lighter Side, by Terry Quinn.

Monday Night Is Wagner Night

Concerts devoted exclusively to Wagner’s music are a rarity these days, but at the end of the nineteenth century they were popular weekly events in England. The weekly “Monday Night Is Wagner Night” tradition started in 1873 in the Hanover Square Rooms. The Wagner Society sponsored the concerts with Edward Dannreuther, its founder, as conductor. The Monday-night tradition switched to the new Queen’s Hall when it opened in 1893. The Queen’s Hall Orchestra was founded in 1893 under the direction of Henry Wood; and their first public concert started with the Rienzi overture. Three years later the promenade concerts adopted the theme-night idea. Monday was Wagner Night, Tuesday was devoted to Arthur Sullivan, Wednesday was classical night, Thursday was Franz Schubert only, and Friday night was classical night. Saturday was promoted as popular night.

In addition to Henry Wood, prominent conductors who led the Wagner Monday-night concerts included Hermann Levi (the first conductor of Parsifal), Hans Richter (the first conductor of The Ring), George Henschel, Felix Mottl, and the then-twenty-five-year-old Siegfried Wagner.

Queen’s Hall, on Langham Place, was destroyed by an incendiary bomb in December 1940.

Richard Wagner: The Lighter Side appeals to classical music and opera enthusiasts in general, but particularly the many thousands of members of the 135 Wagner Societies around the world. There are many books about every aspect of Wagner’s life and works, but none has focused on the trivia, the interesting facts, anecdotes, and quotations about the man and his operas. For more than twenty years, Terry Quinn has collected information on each of Wagner’s 13 completed operas and the difficulties encountered in staging them; famous Wagnerian directors, conductors, and singers; key persons in the composer’s life, especially the women, not to mention the dysfunctional Wagner family; Wagner’s visits to London; the festival and theater he created in Bavaria; and a great deal more. Also included are interviews with current Wagnerian scholars.

Richard Wagner: The Lighter Side contains more than 300 tidbits and features, ranging from a few paragraphs to several pages. The light side of the book is immediately apparent via its lively headings, as well as its fascinating tales of the fanatical enthusiasts who travel the world to see Wagner’s operas performed.

Illustrations include photographs, dozens of contemporary caricatures, beautiful postage stamps on Wagnerian subjects, and other reproductions of ephemera.

The Real Toscanini

Cesare Civetta, author of The Real Toscanini, presents his Arturo Toscanini Multimedia Presentation at the Lincoln Center Library Bruno Walter Auditorium in NYC on January 9th, from 6-7pm.



111 Amsterdam Ave. Thurs. Jan. 9th 6-7 pm

Cesare Civetta will give a presentation on Arturo Toscanini, the conductor who raised the standards of orchestral and operatic performance over an astonishing 68 years on the podium. Civetta’s lecture is based on his new book from Amadeus Press, The Real Toscanini: Musicians Reveal the Maestro, which is a collection of vivid interviews with 50 artists who worked with the great conductor.

Civetta will discuss Toscanini’s musical style and philosophy. He will also cover Toscanini’s opposition to Hitler and defiance of Mussolini, leading him to establishing the orchestra now known as the Israel Philharmonic in 1936 in solidarity with young Jewish musicians escaping Nazi persecution. The presentation will feature slides, audio clips of Toscanini at rehearsal, audio excerpts from interviews with artists who performed with Toscanini, and video footage of Toscanini conducting.

After the lecture, The Real Toscanini will be on sale, and Cesare Civetta will be signing copies.

About the Author

Cesare Civetta has appeared with more than 60 orchestras in 14 countries, and he has the unique distinction of being the first American conductor to have concertized throughout Russia immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He is the founder and music director of the Beethoven Festival Orchestra in New York. www.beethovenfestivalorchestra.org


The Real Toscanini

Lauded by Verdi, Debussy, and other music legends, the celebrated conductor Arturo Toscanini raised the standards of orchestral and operatic performance over an astonishing 69 years on the podium. But as he did so, he acquired a reputation as something of a tyrant, who unleashed an explosive temper at musicians if rehearsals did not meet his expectations.
In The Real Toscanini, Cesare Civetta presents an intriguing collection of vivid, one-of-a-kind interviews with artists who performed with Toscanini. A portrait of the inner workings of the maestro emerges through these extensive conversations, conducted by the author over a period of 20 years, together with other firsthand recollections. These accounts clarify Toscanini’s philosophy, musical style, and techniques. They depict a man tormented by inner demons of anger and depression, which were easily triggered by his frustration at being unable to produce the musical ideal in his mind’s ear.

Toscanini is also revealed as a vehement anti-Fascist and an unequivocal opponent of totalitarianism and racism – he defied Mussolini and publically opposed Hitler. The book includes a comprehensive account of his 1936 inauguration of what is now known as the Israel Philharmonic, in solidarity with Jewish refugee musicians.

Toscanini comes through in this book as a tortured but deeply humane individual who strove to constantly improve – a sincere and humble musician who was nevertheless the preeminent maestro of the 20th century.

Leonard Slatkin receives Deems Taylor Award

Already the recipient of numerous musical awards throughout his illustrious career on the podium, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre National de Lyon Music Director Leonard Slatkin now must make room on his mantel for a literary award.

On Nov. 14, ASCAP will be honor Maestro Slatkin with a Deems Taylor Special Recognition Award for his first book, Conducting Business: Unveiling the Mystery Behind the Maestro, published by Amadeus Press.

Drawing on his own experience on and off the podium, Slatkin brings us into the world of the baton, telling tales of some of the most fascinating figures in recent musical history, including Leonard Bernstein, John Williams, and Frank Sinatra. He takes readers to the world’s great concert halls, orchestras, and opera pits, as well as to soundstages in Hollywood.

Along the way, Slatkin recounts his controversial appearance at the Metropolitan Opera, his creation and direction of summer music festivals, and a shattering concert experience that took place four days after 9/11.  Life in the recording studio and on the road, as well as health issues confronting the conductor, provide an insider’s glimpse into the private world of these public figures.

Covering everything from learning how to read music to standing in front of an orchestra for the first time, what to wear, and how to deal with the media, Conducting Business provides a unique look at a unique profession.

Established in 1967, the ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor Awards honor the memory of the composer, critic, and commentator, who died in 1966. Taylor was President of ASCAP for six years.

Upon learning of the honor, Slatkin said, “Deems Taylor was an important voice in American music. He was highly regarded, both as a commentator and as a composer. Receiving this honor in his name in most humbling.”

More information about Conducting Business can be found at conductingbusiness.halleonardbooks.com.



Today is the premiere of the HD broadcast of Tosca by the Metropolitan Opera! The complete libretto of Puccini’s Tosca, published by Amadeus Press, is also being released in conjunction with the event. Below is Peter Gelb’s introduction to the libretto.


With nearly a thousand performances since its 1901 company premiere, Puccini’s Tosca is one of the most-performed works in Metropolitan Opera history, currently ranking fifth on the all-time list (behind just Aida, Carmen, La Traviata, and, in the top spot, the composer’s own La Bohème). The opera’s enduring appeal is not hard to understand. Tosca offers a captivating heroine, gripping melodrama, and some of the most powerful and instantly recognizable arias in opera, from the painter Cavaradossi’s “E lucevan le stelle” to the villain Scarpia’s “Te Deum” to the heroine’s indestructible “Vissi d’arte.” A prime example of verismo opera, Tosca functions as a kind of operatic thriller, a juggernaut that doesn’t let up from the very first chords until the curtain comes down. (In the article “Thrill Ride,” featured in this guide, Met Music Director James Levine compares Tosca to a Hitchcock film.)

This first volume of the Metropolitan Opera Presents series aims to give readers a 360-degree view of Puccini’s timeless drama. In addition to the complete libretto, we’ve included a synopsis, a detailed program note with musicological background, and the “In Focus” feature we offer each night in the Met’s house program—a quick, easy primer intended to provide the essentials for a given opera in a format that audiences can absorb easily in the minutes before the curtain goes up. We’ve also featured a number of archival photographs of Tosca throughout its century-plus history at the Met. Whether you experience Tosca at the Met, through our Live in HD movie theater transmissions, on the radio, or online, we hope this guide gives you all the background you need to appreciate this Puccini masterpiece to the fullest.

Peter Gelb

General Manager

Metropolitan Opera

An idealistic artist, a celebrated opera singer, and a corrupt police chief engage in a fierce battle of wills in this tempestuous tale of passion, intrigue, cruelty, and deception. Puccini’s great melodrama may be set in 1800, amid the Napoleonic wars, but the conflicts between love and loyalty, the state and the individual, and hypocrisy and principle are anything but dated. Floria Tosca, the beautiful, glamorous singer who has all Rome at her feet, is one of the iconic soprano roles in the Italian repertoire. She’s caught between two men-her lover, the handsome painter Cavaradossi, who defies the law to hide a rebel friend; and the villainous Baron Scarpia, Rome’s all-powerful chief of police, who will stop at nothing to crush the rebels and conquer Tosca for himself. This gripping story of torture, attempted rape, murder, suicide, and general mayhem is as thrilling and dramatic as anything seen on the operatic stage.

Leonard Bernstein’s 95th Birthday

Guest Blogger: Steve J. Sherman, author of Leonard Bernstein At Work: His Final Years, 1984-1990in honor of Leonard Bernstein.

Leonard Bernstein at 95 by Steve J. Sherman

Sunday August 25, 2013, would have been Leonard Bernstein’s 95th birthday. It’s hard to believe he’s been gone from this earth for 23 years already, and hard to imagine that his star could continue to rise even higher than the iconic international superstar status he achieved by the end of his life. But indeed, with each passing year, more and more people are discovering the genius and joy of Leonard Bernstein and his music; the creations of his brilliant mind and passionate heart, fueled by his mad desire to soar dangerously close to the sun as he searched for meaning here on earth…

In honor of this day and this man, I am delighted to share with you this excerpt from the Preamble I wrote for my book of Bernstein photographs and memories, Leonard Bernstein At Work: His Final Years 1984-1990 (Amadeus 2010). Happy birthday Lenny…

Photographing Lenny was always an event. There was always a buzz in the air, an excitement, an anticipation. When Lenny was in the house, something was going to happen.

You could feel it. Lenny would walk out on stage to begin a rehearsal, and everyone would stop talking or tuning, and focus on him. There were always detours on his way to the podium, saying hi to old friends or new ones, with a warm smile, a reminiscence, and if not a hug, then a hand on an arm or a one-handed one-squeeze shoulder massage – he was a very tactile person. But once he hit the podium, he made it clear that he expected 100% from each and every musician on the stage. He didn’t have to say it — he simply led by example.

He gave all of himself, and allowed his love, his extreme passion, his raw charisma, his powerful convictions, to guide his heart and mind. His fresh and sincere exhilaration for the music, and his insatiable lust for and curiosity about life, infected everyone in the room. As a result we gave him 150% back… and the results are legendary.

I say we, as if I were one of the musicians. But I was also on stage (or hovering close by), and I found myself equally compelled to rise above my limits, and break through my upper expectations…

And that was good. I was never able to let my guard down for a second – my concentration had to be complete if I wanted to follow where he was going – his energy could burst forth suddenly, and then recede just as quickly. He could conduct with only his shoulders, or his eyebrows, or his feet as he gently bounced his otherwise still body… Whatever it was, it was total immersion.

I think my photos of Lenny are just a bit better than most everything else in my archive. And I wish I could claim credit for that. But I can’t – it was simply the way things had to be when photographing Lenny.

Steve J. Sherman

Leonard Bernstein At Work

Leonard Bernstein is internationally renowned as one of the most significant composers, musical inspirations, and creative minds of the 20th century. In addition, many consider him to be the greatest American conductor of all time. He is legendary, not only for his brilliant music-making but equally for his extreme passion, raw charisma, powerful convictions, and insatiable appetite for life.

This remarkable photographic essay of Leonard Bernstein during the last six years of his life gives us rare insight into the disparate, sometimes vastly conflicting elements that shaped his work and deeply influenced everyone who was drawn into his inner world. It contains approximately 200 black-and-white photographs, most previously unpublished, taken on and off stage during 20 different events or concerts, along with personal comments and remembrances from over 50 of his colleagues, friends, and relatives.

The foreword is by Hollywood superstar Lauren Bacall, the preface by Jamie Bernstein (Leonard Bernstein’s eldest daughter), and the introduction by James M. Keller, Leonard Bernstein scholar-in-residence at the New York Philharmonic.

These vivid images reveal Leonard Bernstein at work in his final years, as mortality encroached upon his unrelenting energy and indefatigable creative genius.

Arturo Toscanini, Music Conductor and Orchestra Ally

The following is an excerpt from The Real Toscanini by Cesare Civetta, as posted on PBS’s Orchestra of Exiles page. Read the entire excerpt on their website.

When the Polish violinist Bronisław Huberman founded the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, he asked Toscanini to conduct a benefit concert in New York for the new orchestra. Toscanini decided to travel to Palestine in December of 1936, train the orchestra, and conduct the first concerts of what later became known as the Israel Philharmonic, composed of refugee Jewish musicians who had escaped persecution. Toscanini refused to accept a fee or reimbursement for his travel expenses.

Toscanini: “I had to show my solidarity.” “It is everyone’s duty to help in this cause according to one’s means.”

The news of Toscanini’s plans to inaugurate the orchestra attracted more musicians to join the orchestra and resulted in very successful fund-raising for the new venture. Toscanini stayed for more than a month. The dress rehearsal for the first concert was open to artists and workers. “The public’s response was one of overwhelming emotion. The president of the Hebrew University broke into uncontrollable tears.” There were nine sold-out concerts in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, and concerts in Cairo and Alexandria. In Tel Aviv, crowds stood outside near the windows and some people even climbed onto the roof attempting to hear. At the end of the first concert, the ovation lasted for more than thirty minutes.

Keep reading this excerpt on PBS.org!

Tune into the PBS premiere of Orchestra of Exiles on Sunday, April 14, 10 pm.

In The Real Toscanini, Cesare Civetta presents an intriguing collection of vivid, one-of-a-kind interviews with artists who performed with Toscanini. A portrait of the inner workings of the maestro emerges through these extensive conversations, conducted by the author over a period of 20 years, together with other firsthand recollections. These accounts clarify Toscanini’s philosophy, musical style, and techniques. They depict a man tormented by inner demons of anger and depression, which were easily triggered by his frustration at being unable to produce the musical ideal in his mind’s ear.

Remembering George Gershwin, Porgy and Bess

Today marks the 75th anniversary of George Gershwin’s death. Some of his most memorable compositions include Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris, and Porgy and Bess. Below is an excerpt from Robin Thompson’s book The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess:

The opera Porgy and Bess would prove to be unique in an even greater way. The period of its creation and its subsequent performance history have been unlike that of any other American opera. As far as George Gershwin was concerned, Porgy and Bess was an opera composed in the operatic tradition, rather than in the musical-comedy idiom of the mid-1930s. Like the book and play, it would break its

own share of boundaries. Certainly, it would contradict the public’s perception of what constituted opera at the time of its New York opening. Porgy and Bess examined American themes rather than those of European history, mythology, or Roman and Greek literature.

It had the structure of opera, built from its customary musical forms of arias, duets, trios, choral ensembles, orchestral interludes and the like, but it was to be composed using the American musical idioms of jazz, “Negro” spirituals, and American popular song. “If I am successful,” Gershwin wrote to a friend, “it will resemble a combination of the drama and romance of Carmen and the beauty of Meistersinger, if you can imagine that.”

However, from its glittering opening on October 10, 1935, at Broadway’s Alvin Theatre and for some years to come, the power to “imagine that” was somewhat lacking. Critics and audiences stationed themselves on either side of the great genre divide. If Porgy and Bess was an opera, then what was it doing in a Broadway theater? Since Gershwin himself called the solo musical numbers “songs” rather than “arias,” didn’t he mean us to understand the piece as a musical? Could American vernacular music really support the dramatic weight of larger-then-life operatic subject,

and so forth. Porgy was confusing in a few ways. More than anything else it was confusing in its newness. Initially, Porgy and Bess did not have the long and successful run that its creators, producers, and cast had hoped for. However, it was far from a failure. Within a few short years, Gershwin’s mix of traditional operatic form with American vernacular music came to be recognized as one of the work’s principal glories rather than its central failing. Few now question the ultimate success of Gershwin’s efforts.

Click here to read the first 15 pages of the book for free.

The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess by Robin Thompson (Amadeus Press)

In this lavishly illustrated 75th anniversary volume, created with the participation of the Gershwin estate, opera producer and author Robin Thompson recounts the history of Porgy and Bess as he looks at the various interpretations of the work and the many layers of meaning to be found in the story of the crippled Porgy, the conflicted and vulnerable Bess, the dope peddler Sportin’ Life, and the other residents of Catfish Row.

Packed with unique, rarely seen archival photographs and documents associated with the production, Porgy and Bess commemorates this uniquely American blending of musical, ethnic, and creative styles and the people, the performers, and the times that produced it.

Fall Book Preview

Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group is thrilled to announce the Fall 2012 titles that we will be publishing!
Disclaimer: Cover images are subject to change.

Backbeat Books


Hal Leonard Books


Amadeus Press


Applause Books


Limelight Editions


Remembering Rabin

Forty years ago today was the passing of one of history’s greatest violinists, Michael Rabin. To tell Rabin’s story, Anthony Feinstein (pictured left) has written the first, authorized biography of this man who had such rare talent.

The following is an excerpt of Michael Rabin, America’s Virtuoso Violinist, recently revised and updated from Amadeus Press, written by Anthony Feinstein.

On August 7, 1950, Michael made his much-heralded appearance on the Telephone Hour’s tenth anniversary program, but not before special permission had been obtained from the local musicians’ union because of the soloist’s young age. He was accompanied by Donald Voorhees and the Bell Telephone Orchestra. “Michael borrowed a Guarnerius violin and played the Paganini Caprice No. 17 and the finale of the E Minor Violin Concerto by Mendelssohn, that standard testing piece of all violinists,” noted Newsweek:

 When his trial by air was over, Michael was tired. Nevertheless, by 7:30 the next morning he was out on the streets of New York with his shiny new bicycle, his current pride and joy. But like all good violinists, Michael is also a good table tennis player and is hoping someday to take on Jascha Heifetz, dean of ping-pong peddling fiddlers.

Michael did not have to wait long before meeting his idol, which took place on October 30. “Four o’clock today is H-hour for 14-year-old Michael Rabin, colorful young violinist,” wrote a columnist for the New York World Telegram and Sun:

 He will be photographed with Jascha Heifetz. The brilliant Mr. Heifetz is his idol and the extremely reticent Mr. H. has made the comment that with hard work the teenager has possibilities for the future, words that have Michael working harder than ever at his practice sessions. Today’s picture taking will be long remembered.

The photograph that was released shows Heifetz playing, Voorhees conducting, and in the bottom right hand corner, in profile, the face of young Michael, looking up at Heifetz, who towers physically and metaphorically above him. It was at this meeting that Heifetz — reserved, austere, a world removed from the effusive bear-hug embrace of Mischa Elman — autographed Michael’s score of the Bach sonatas and partitas. There were no encouraging remarks, no warm regards expressed — just the bare signature, “Heifetz.”

In Michael Rabin: America’s Virtuoso Violinist, Anthony Feinstein tells the poignant story of the life and career of one of history’s greatest violinists. As a child prodigy, Rabin had the classical music world at his feet. Notable successes included a coveted EMI contract, recording the soundtrack for an Elizabeth Taylor movie, and guest appearances on the Milton Berle Showand the Bell Telephone Hour.

Yet no sooner had Rabin taken his place alongside such illustrious colleagues as Heifetz, Milstein, and Stern than he abruptly and inexplicably disappeared from the concert stage. For three years, the public saw and heard little of him. In the mid-1960s, Rabin resurfaced and painstakingly began rebuilding a once-great career. Then one morning, the music world awoke to news of his sudden, mysterious death at age 35.

For the first edition of this biography, Feinstein had unprecedented access to Rabin’s private papers and medical history. Now he draws on additional material obtained from recent interviews with Rabin’s colleagues, girlfriends, and management. The result is an added appreciation of Rabin’s remarkable family, his cloistered upbringing, and a micromanaged career that ensured not only great success but also periods of deep despair. Michael Rabin: America’s Virtuoso Violinist is more than a story of a great violinist. It is also the moving account of a man of rare talent who never stopped battling to find personal happiness on that fragile journey from wunderkind to adulthood.

This book is available at Amazon, B&N, independent bookstores, and from Amadeus Press.