Noted conductor a guest for Aspen Festival Orchestra
July 22, 2005
Leonard Slatkin won’t get much of a chance to make his mark in Aspen. As a guest conductor for the Aspen Festival Orchestra concert today, Slatkin has spent a week here. It’s just enough time “to teach the pieces to the orchestra, give them a sense of how I want it to sound,” said Slatkin, making his first Aspen appearance in more than a dozen years.The brief contact doesn’t trouble Slatkin. The 60-year-old conductor has made a notable impact in several cities. He spent 27 years with the St. Louis Symphony, 10 of those as director. He left St. Louis in 1996, thinking he had accomplished all he could there and that he wouldn’t take another directorship for a good while. But that same year, Slatkin was offered the top post at the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., and enticed by the educational opportunities, he accepted. He is now in his 10th year with the National Symphony Orchestra.
“You develop a relationship. More importantly, you develop a sound,” said Slatkin of the possibilities afforded by such long-term associations. “When you’re through, the orchestra knows what to do and how to do it, no matter what the repertoire. So often we don’t think about the nature of the sound we’re trying to make on the stage.”Slatkin said that sound is shaped, to a great extent, by the concert hall in which the orchestra resides. Powell Symphony Hall, in St. Louis, is a luxurious converted movie theater. The nature of the hall forced Slatkin to focus on the string section, “which gave it an ‘ahhhh’ sound,” he said. The Kennedy Center, home of the National Symphony, has a far drier sound, which requires a cleaner, more precise sound.Recently, Slatkin has stepped into two high-profile positions that offer another sort of opportunity. In May, he was appointed principal guest conductor of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. Two weeks ago, he was given the same post at the Los Angles Philharmonic.
The two jobs provide distinct sorts of satisfactions for Slatkin. In London, Slatkin, who was chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 2000-04, will focus on English music, something that is not a specialty of the Royal Phil’s director, Italian Daniele Gatti.With the Los Angeles Phil, Slatkin gets to return to his hometown. Though he left at 19, Slatkin’s past is loaded with memories of musical L.A. His parents were both prominent members of Hollywood studio orchestras; the family’s house was frequented by the likes of Arnold Schoenberg, Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle.
In Aspen, Slatkin will conduct Nicholas Maw’s “Spring Music”; Dvorák’s little-known Piano Concerto in G minor, with soloist Orli Shaham; and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major. It’s a program that smacks of the Slatkin influence, and not only because Slatkin earned his first Grammy Award with a recording of the Prokofiev piece.”There’s something new that’s interesting, a staple of the repertoire, and something by a major composer that doesn’t get played so much,” he said. “That’s the kind of program people would say, ‘Oh that must be a Slatkin program.'”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org