Blog Archives

Celebrating Leonard Slatkin at Tanglewood

American conductor and composer Leonard Slatkin will be celebrating his 70th birthday today at the renowned Tanglewood festival. He will be taking the stage with the Boston Symphony Orchestra to lead the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom’s Circus Overture. The Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre National de Lyon as well as the recipient of numerous awards, Slatkin is also author of Conducting Business, a book that takes an insightful look at what conductors actually do for a living. In the following excerpt from Conducting Business, Slatkin speaks about his memorable experiences with the Tanglewood festival.

00333460

Hot and humid. Bugs everywhere. Wine bottles clanking. Babies screaming. Ah, there is nothing like the sights and sounds of summer.

The alfresco concert has been with us for centuries now. Tribal drummers, troubadours and rock stars, even classical ensembles have enjoyed a place in the great outdoors. Handel must have loved the Royal Fireworks Music as he stood at a safe distance away from the barge that carried the musicians and explosives. We don’t know when the formally organized, professional, outdoor concert series was conceived. Major orchestras in America lacked summer homes until both the Chicago an the Boston Symphony moved out of town in 1936. The vision of Serge Koussevitzky helped forge Tanglewood, a bucolic venue in the heart of the Berkshire Mountains. The first concerts were played in a tent, but in two years’ time, the famous Shed was dedicated. The BSO plays and resides in the Lenox area almost all summer. Although located in Massachusetts, it amounts to a second home for New Yorkers who flock to the area, families in tow. This seasonal music center includes a well-known school for very dedicated young musicians, who play with master conductors and soloists. It is arguably the go-to place for serious music-making during the summer months.

Teaching, from its inception, has been fundamental to the Tanglewood ethic. A number of fine conductors have emerged from the program, and for most years, this class was held in Saranac, the original residence of Koussevitzky. All the greats have taught there and that history is so palpable, you can feel it oozing from the walls. Everyone respects the festival’s traditions, no doubt a factor in why it remains at the top of every music lover’s list for summertime listening.

Advertisements

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?

 

 

 

 

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.