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Interview:
Leonard Slatkin returns to paint musical "Pictures" with the DSO
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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It's always a big deal when Leonard Slatkin comes "home" to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.



He's now the DSO's first-ever Music Director Laureate after spending a decade at its helm, bringing the orchestra back from a six-month strike and reestablishing its prominence both locally and worldwide. Slatkin, 75, also is globe-trotting to guest conduct other orchestras in the midst of working on two new books as well as fresh musical pieces and doing a bit of teaching at the Manhattan School of Music on the side.



With baton or pen in hand, Slatkin is keeping busy despite the Emmy Awards' attempt at a premature demise (see below). And he wouldn't have it any other way.



While he no longer has day-to-day or programming responsibilities with the DSO, Slatkin still serves in some administrative capacities and even came to town earlier this week to help audition new players. "It's like being a guest conductor, with a few responsibilities. I'm always very happy to be back with all the people and see and work with the musicians again. At the time when they do appoint a new music director that person will immediately pick up these things, but I'm helping them as they continue their search."



The first of Slatkin's visits to the DSO this year finds him conducting Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," which Slatkin has presented many times over the years in a variety of arrangements many based on Maurice Ravel's 1922 adaptation for a full symphony. "I've discovered more than 35 different orchestrations. Somehow this piece has caught the imagination of so many people to turn it from its piano version into some sort of orchestra version. I keep the Ravel orchestration but I take some things out or I add passages that are in the original piano version and try to orchestrate them in a similar way as to what Ravel would have had in mind. In a funny way it represents maybe a more complete version of the total work than Ravel left us."



Slatkin is also a fan of the version of "Pictures" done by rock trio Emerson, Lake & Palmer back in 1971. "I love them. I had an opportunity to spend some time with Keith Emerson, who (was) such an accomplished keyboard player. I thought they were the best of that kind of group, including Yes and a few others of that era. They were so sophisticated in what they were doing, taking classical pieces and covering them in different ways some that were not well-known works, in fact."



Slatkin and the DSO are also premiering "Another Time," a new song cycle by Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz, whose work Slatkin has championed in the past. "It's very sweet (Fairouz) simply wanted to write a piece for my (75th) birthday. He felt the need to express the appreciation of a younger generation of composers for what he feels are all the things I've done behalf of American composers. ('Another Time') is based on the poetry of W.H. Auden, so we're looking forward to that."



Slatkin made some headlines in September when the Emmy Awards, during its In Memoriam section, noted the passing of fellow conductor/composer Andre Previn but used a photo of Slatkin. "I was in Ireland at a time. I'd just finished some concerts in Dublin and we had a week off, and I just woke up to check the baseball scores and I had all these messages 'Are you OK?' 'How can this be true?' My first thought, after I discovered what it was all about, was 'If you thought I was dead, why are you writing me?' (Laughs.) To this day we don't know exactly what happened, but I wound up on Jimmy Kimmel, and that was a lot of fun, and the next day I found out there had been more than 70,000 views of it on YouTube much better than Andre or I could ever imagine what we did. But I was able to at least honor Andre."



Leonard Slatkin conducts "Pictures at an Exhibition" and more with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra from Friday through Sunday, Nov. 15-17, at Orchestra Hall, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Sunday's performance will be webcast via dso.org/live. Tickets are $15-$105 at 313-576-5111 and dso.org.

Web Site: www.dso.org

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