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Leonard Slatkin, now Emeritus, will be a presence in new DSO season
For a guy who's no longer the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's music director, we'll be seeing quite a bit of Leonard Slatkin at Orchestra Hall this season.
Now Musical Director Laureate and living in St. Louis, Slatkin — fully recovered from bypass surgery during the spring — will visit and conduct the DSO three times during the 2018-19 run. That includes opening weekend Oct. 5-7, with violinist Gill Shaham and Slatkin's first-ever rendering of Edward Elgar's "Enigma Variations" with the DSO.
Slatkin, 74, will also be on hand for the "American Panorama" Winter Music Festival in February, and the season finale in June with pianist Makoto Ozone and the popular Paganini Variations.
"It's really not my season," Slatkin says by phone. "My new position is to help them through whatever this transition time is going to be, and the most effective way to do that is through the programs I do, plus being able to help out with auditioning when there are vacancies and other matters that pertain to fundraising and things like that."
And though he remains busy with engagements and commissions even beyond Detroit, Slatkin says he is "starting to cut back things, even though the calendar this year doesn't look like it."
"After 40 years of being a music director, it was just time to stop that part of my life and give myself time to do other things," he explains. "I'm taking away the administrative stress, I guess, and as far as Detroit goes, maybe just enjoying what we all created together there over these past 10 years."
Slatkin's tenure at the DSO was certainly impactful. He led the DSO through a 2010 musician’s strike and brought the orchestra to local and international prominence with bold and inventive programming both inside and outside the walls of Orchestra Hall.
Slatkin's initiatives included the William Davidson Neighborhood Series that takes the DSO to communities around the metro area several times during the season. He also introduced the Winter Music Festival and spearheaded a number of internet initiatives, including an extensive web site that includes the free Live From Orchestra Hall webcast series. He also hosted a number of world and North American premieres and conducted DSO performances in Japan and China and at Carnegie Hall in New York.
Attendance during his tenure grew from roughly 62 percent when he started to "well into the 80 and 90 percents for the majority of our concerts." He also appointed some three dozen musicians to the DSO, turning the orchestra into "a real destination for very talented, mostly young musicians." And the orchestra received a Grammy Award nomination for its recording "Copland: Symphony No. 3, Three Latin American Sketches."
"These returns to Detroit will feel very much like a homecoming," Slatkin says. "Detroit was a very special place. I was fortunate enough to be there at a very crucial time in the city's history, and myself and the orchestra were able to help in terms of helping the city rejuvenate itself. One hopes it will continue to grow and get better and move in even greater directions."
Slatkin is particularly happy that one of these "homecomings" will be for the Winter Music Festival, a concept he launched in 2013. The three-week series will again take place during February and feature a wide range of works by Leonard Bernstein, John Williams, John Cage and Joan Tower, along with a number of ancillary programs.
"In looking back on all the festivals, the one I really wanted to do and didn't get around to was a focus on American music," Slatkin explains. "It certainly can't be an all-encompassing view of American music, but it's meant to celebrate a couple of composers in particular and some new pieces that are on the scene as well as works that are classics within the American repertoire. It will just be a broad look at the diverse nature of the American musical landscape."
Slatkin does not know if the Winter Music Festival will continue when a new music director comes on board. He even predicts that, "This will likely be the last one." Nevertheless, Slatkin plans to support and assist in any transition, even if "it's really not my place to voice an opinion" about those being considered for the job.
"I hope by the time we get to the end of this season maybe a new music director will be selected," he says. "From that point on it will be a different kind of association for me with the orchestra, but I will certainly be there to support whoever the choice is.
"That's one of the functions I can do to help is say, 'Look, I helped get the orchestra to this level. Now it's up to you to take it to the next one,' and find ways to help them do that."
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra's 2018-29 season begins Friday through Sunday, Oct. 5-7, at Orchestra Hall, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit. The program features Musical Director Laureate Leonard Slatkin and violinist Gill Shaham and pieces by Prokofiev, Erb and Elgar. Sunday's performance will be webcast at 3 p.m. via dso.org/live. Call 313-576-5111 or visit dso.org.
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