Two Conversations with
It is when musicians are very busy that one is grateful for time,
especially the added days between concerts or operas in one city.
Such is the case in Chicago when multiple performances allow visiting
artists to remain rather than flying in, performing, and flying right
back out again.
The demands on conductor Leonard Slatkin are such that his schedule is
bursting with engagements, and he is in the fortunate position of being
able to select where he goes and what he presents. Besides his
long tenure with the St. Louis Symphony, he has conducted all over the
United States and in Europe, and has recorded much of the mainstream
and unusual repertoire.
Rather than recount his biographical details, I have included the blurb
from the Kennedy Center at the end of these conversations. A link
to his website is also included, as well as a couple of other sites of
Aside from enjoying his performances of both opera and concert in
Chicago, I've had the pleasure of interviewing him twice, once in 1986
and again about two years later. When I met him at his hotel, he
was quiet and unassuming, but spoke with authority and the knowledge
that his words were important and accurate. Discussions about
musical topic were rather matter-of-fact, and he made no bones about
any of his opinions.
The first chat took place in September of 1986, when the
conductor was in Chicago for a new production of Mozart's The Magic Flute at Lyric Opera,
directed by August Everding. That became our point of departure .
. . . .
this is a good show; what makes this
a particularly good Magic
First of all, it
takes the title Magic, and uses
it, so there is indeed magic in it.
In fact, they've hired an illusionist to
coach some of the singers and some
of the vehicular effects that we have going on. The
production really does play towards the aspect of
the fantasy which is
involved. The tender moments need to be tender, but not overly
weighted down in the symbolism.
you're not trying
to get all this Masonic business?
you know, if
you stop and think about it, during Mozart's time - and even, indeed,
through certain elements of our own society - the
rituals and ideas were meant to
be secret. So we are
not playing heavily
on the representation of the number three, or the
number five, for that matter. We are not depicting in
total what the trial by fire and water might be, we're just suggesting
what it might be without
anything. It's an element of being a
fantasy, but a humanistic
one. By the time the opera ends, the characters will have
undergone a transformation from being in an unreal world to being in a
still using the various levels,
levels, but they're built in!
There's no question that Papageno and Papagena exist in a
element, but Tamino is in their world so often anyway.
this opera, or in opera in general, where is the balance,
in opera, between art
depends on who
you talk to, doesn't it? We certainly
know, from reading enough
about The Magic Flute,
that it was first and foremost an
Whatever things were put into it later, were, indeed, put into it
later. It was not in the original concept. It was
a form of entertainment for not a
particularly high-class clientele. It was a people's show, and,
as such, it was
in direct competition with other works of the time. Just as
Beethoven's Fidelio was in
with other so-called rescue operas, here, Mozart was
in competition with
operas. There was
an opera called Kaspar the Bassoonist [by
Schubert's 1820 music for the melodrama The Magic Harp,
whose overture was later
retitled Rosamunde] is
another type of opera that this was patterned after.
There was a style of opera
that was popular, and Mozart
and Schikaneder certainly thought they'd cash in on
the spoken dialogue work well?
dialogue works very well here. We are using
projected titles. There are people that will have mixed feelings
about it, and I'm one of them! Because
this is such a busy show, you worry that
people will have their attention on the titles at a moment when you
might want to have their attention on the stage. But on the other
side, it's very helpful for an
audience to know exactly what's happening. [Note: Though
projected titles of some kind are nearly universal now - both in the
theater and on the screen - it's interesting to remember that when this
chat took place, in 1986, they were a very new and unperfected
gimmick.] There was talk
at one time about doing the dialogue in English and the opera in
German, but that doesn't work,
because then what do you do about the confrontation of the Speaker and
Tamino in the
end of the first act? So it
was agreed upon to do it in German, although people will find a few
little Americanisms thrown in
a while just for the
sake of throwing 'em in. Plus
there are a few things that we say
in English just for the sake of it, and a lot of sight gags. I'm pleased and I think
it's going to work. As we've been getting into it, the
with the titles are beginning to remove things that they feel
now are superfluous - places
where the audience will understand the German anyway,
or if not, the stage action
will make it, or when a line is repeated.
at the end of his little
aria in the second act, for instance, is pleading with the Moon,
essentially asking why this black man can't have the white girl. Three times he pleads to the Moon about
this problem, and in the end the Moon turns
black. Monostatos gives a
signal of thanks, although he
certainly still doesn't get a chance to accomplish
what he's after. But the
point is that after he says it the
first time, the titles then go off
so people will hopefully be diverted back to the stage.
does all of this bring it more into the 20th century, or is it to bring
it closer to this particular audience?
think it's either, really. The
production is based on one that Mr. Everding has done
in Munich, although it's been tailored for the
theater here with certain modifications, but not for the American
audiences. [See my Interview with August
major difference, he says, has to do with the entrance of
the children of Papageno and Papagena, which
in the Munich production he has coming in on a gigantic cart; here
they come out of a tree. Aside from that, he says it's the
same essential production. I
think it's going to be successful. There are enough subtle laughs
and enough belly-laughs, and enough tender moments to make it all work. As far as
it into the 20th century, we can't
really duplicate what the 19th century ethic was about, or the 18th,
that matter. So the best we
can do, I think, is to make the jokes and the meanings clear for an
audience of today, because
they're not going to approach it with a sensibility
of 200 years ago. They can't. Just
the same as I would not ask the orchestra, in a work
to play it in anything other than the mid-20th century approach to
Mozart! I'm not going to alter the pitch; I'm not going to ask
to play with
different bows; I'm not going to ask
them to play with no vibrato halfway through. I
think it's the
same kind of thing. The
bottom line is we
listen with 1980s ears.
BD: OK, then,
the balance between the music and the drama?
In this work,
the balance is achieved, certainly, because the tender
moments are so moving. The
two acts themselves make the
balance. One speaks of not using the significance of the numbers,
and I was quite pleased during the course of rehearsal, for instance,
to point out to many people - especially those who knew the piece -
that although three is the
Mystic Number, five is the
number of Womanhood in the Masonic ideal. I think Miss
Blegen [singing Pamina] was talking about how she didn't quite
understand her character,
and Everding went over the
fact that she's about to become the first woman
admitted to this
mystic secret society, and therefore she has a very prominent role to
play. Mozart tells us this at the end of the
act, but very few people understand it.
He uses, in the very last 20
seconds, two five-bar phrases. It's the only time in the whole
work that a five-bar phrase
occurs, and he repeats them back to
back. After I pointed out that he is,
indeed, giving you a clue, a very subtle one, mind you, a few people
said, "Yeah, you know, you could've easily taken out one bar and it
would've been a normal four-bar phrase."
In fact, probably, for most
people, if you
took it out they wouldn't notice if it was gone. So
I think the drama
is inherent in the music. Whatever
drama needs to be built in, Mozart has given
do you divide your career, opera and
incredulity] You don't like opera?
didn't say I didn't like opera.
that many years ago, and
now I'm changing my mind a great
deal. I'm enjoying the operas that
I do, but it's a very limited repertoire that I will do. I'm not
that interested in resurrecting most of the operas that are
forgotten. I'm not interested the majority
of the bel canto operas.
I don't think, as a conductor, they're
very satisfying. It's like doing a Paganini
concerto all night.
how do you decide which ones you will
try to find the balance
between what I consider to be worthwhile
pieces, where the conductor has a
real role as a leader in
pacing of the totality of the musical
experience, and where he can - or she can - interact with the
in such a way as to create a kind of
chamber music. Certainly in
Mozart you can do that. If there's no
other reason for doing Mozart, it
is that he is the only composer successful
in both opera and chamber music. He
achieves operatic means
within in his quartets, and he
achieves chamber music means within his operas.
very significant. So when
you're dealing with The
Magic Flute, do you purposely schedule
Mozart symphonies or concerti in the same year or years?
Mozart symphonies and concerti pop up every
year anyhow, and, as part
of the symphonic repertoire one does them as a matter of course.
But when I agreed to do this Magic Flute a
couple of years ago, I did make
sure that I was programming - over the few years preceding it - other
works that were around the same
time. So the last three symphonies of
Mozart have come
into the repertoire, for me, a little more sharply focused, and
the last few piano concerti, things like that, the later
Mozart works, which, to a certain degree are more
simplistic than some of the middle works. Certainly
in the concerti that's true.
more you get into it, the more you like
always liked this opera. This has never
been a problem. The
operas I've done to date have been an Ariadne, which I did at
St. Louis; a Turandot
as a concert work both in Minnesota and Chicago and
then as a staged work in Vienna; Werther, which I did in
of Seville, which I did at
home; and various and sundry concert
performances of other operas like Tosca and Salome,
Szymanowski - that was interesting.
well in concert?
- not all. I think it depends on where. You want to do operas, for the
most part, as staged works. That's the first
thing. So in St. Louis
it would make no sense, for instance,
to present Mozart operas in a concert
style, since the Opera Theatre is engaged in a Mozart cycle. Operas that tend to be in that category
make sense there.
sense to do a work of Salieri?
I don't think so; I don't think they're
I don't think it makes any sense to
do pieces that aren't very good.
make sense to only do
it makes sense to do
you believe in. And that is, of course,
the subjective point. I sorta try to
believe in them
myself, all the pieces that I do are good
pieces - not great, but good. I don't
think you should do
junk just for the sake of the novelty, and that's what you wind up
with most of Salieri when you
pit it against something else. Even on it's own it's not very
good; it's not very creative. It reeks of
Mannheimisms, and it's very thick and just not very
inventive. Even if Mozart wasn't alive, I don't think Salieri
would've survived, much the same as Spohr hasn't survived.
And here was the
person who was supposed to be great - the
Beethoven instead of Beethoven! So,
there any new works coming along that
you can place alongside the works of Mozart?
a little hard to try to judge, isn't it? You
best you can in providing your
audience with what you believe to be important
perhaps will outlive their first and second performances.
But in reality
it will be
the other performers and audiences
who will judge that. So I can't tell you
if the works of Schwantner
or Carter or Tower or Erb or any of these people will be done
year 2000. We don't know!
[See my Interview
with Elliott Carter, and my Interview with Joan Tower,
and my Interview with
championing most of these composers you
for one, yes. But that means I believe
in them now and I think that
they will be heard in the future.
But I don't know.
it a mistake for the concert audience, or the
opera audience, to expect a new work
to be a masterpiece?
course it is!
do we get away from this, then?
trying to stop
your mind from saying, "Oh, that didn't
sound like...", or "It wasn't
as good as..."; to be open and
receptive to the fact that a new
work is created, and that you, you are in the position of being
one of the
people who will
if it should or should not
enter the repertoire.
what do you
expect of the people who come to a first
I'll talk about it,
anyhow, to the audience. That's when I deal with it.
I ask is that they try to
understand why the piece was
written and what the composer was trying
to get across. As a listener,
try to decide for
yourself if, indeed, the composer has succeeded.
Take Donald Erb, for instance, whose music
I played here last year and will
play again this season with
the Chicago Symphony. When he writes a
talk about the sort of sonic
structures that he tries to create; the sounds from familiar
sound unfamiliar. In a way
I'm saying to the audience, "This is what you're going to get; don't
worry about thinking, 'Oh, that
was a great piece,' or 'That was a lousy
piece'; see if the sounds fascinate
you enough; they are
different, which is all the composer
at the moment is trying to set out to
No. When they write it, they're not looking to be
different. In that particular case, he's trying to entrance
your ear with unusual sounds.
don't know very many composers who write
a piece with
the idea that this is going to be around
in 50 years. They write it the
best they can, and with any
it'll survive. But very
few consciously sit down to write something for the
BD: Do you
that when you make a recording, that it will
be around for the ages?
LS: All recordings
for the ages. They can always be
resurrected, but it is only a document
of a particular couple of
hours in time and a producer's idea of how it should sound. It's
BD: Do you
any differentiation between conducting
in the recording studio and conducting
in the concert hall?
Sure. You have
to make sure that you can sustain the tension
on a record. It's actually easier at
a concert. It's hard
to sustain tension in a piece
of music on a record, very hard.
LS: There is
there, nothing to play
off of; just a couple microphones
maybe invite fifty spectators?
No. No. In a funny way, the people who do recordings with a
there say they feel they get a better result,
but I've always felt that
no matter what you do, even if you hear
a broadcast of the particular
concert, you don't recreate the same experience as the person
sitting in the
So I wouldn't want that; I wouldn't want to make a record and have
2,000 people with different perceptions of how it
really is on the
record! So you create a different kind of
"studio silence tension." We have a record
coming out at the end of next month (with St. Louis)
of the Shostakovich Fifth.
That is one
of the few that I think I really do
have it; it really is tense. You feel it. And very
few of my records pull me in as a
So we'll see.
recordings a good
wouldn't they be?
up an impossible standard
that you can't recreate in the live concert?
different. The concert standard is a
different ethic than the record standard.
the audience understands that difference?
because too many
audiences hear poor performances and come away thinking it's great.
talked about how you choose which operas you will do.
repertoire is completely different; how do you choose which pieces
and will not play?
LS: Since I
concert repertoire, I'm expected to
have a broader repertoire
there, as any music director is. It really
is a question of balance, both for myself - for
my own orchestra - and as guest, meaning what
I do on the road. I know pretty much what my strong suits are,
and I know what my
weak ones are. So, in the course
my home season I'll do a few pieces which
I think I need to work on, to get better
at - like a
Third Brahms, or a late
symphony, or Don Juan of
Strauss. Beethoven Four
is an example of a piece I don't do very
BD: Do you
roped into doing a performance of something that you really don't
BD: You can
absolutely veto that.
if you commission a work and it comes
out poorly, you're stuck! But there's
nothing you can do; you commissioned it.
agreed, and you've plunked
down a certain amount of money, or
the organization commissioning it has, and it would take a lot
of guts, much less an unlimited pocketbook to be able to
that down. But it doesn't
happen very often. Most of the
pieces that I commission, I
know the composers well enough to know they're going to create a work
certain standard. It may be a
little below it or a little above it, but it's very
the line that much.
BD: Is it
works all the time?
Somebody somewhere has got to believe in a few
composers and play them a lot, if
they're going to survive. Just the same
as it's very important for Americans to understand
musical heritage is. I
don't understand, for instance,
why we're limited to hearing one or two pieces once in awhile by
composers like MacDowell and Piston and Ruggles,
I guess, to a certain degree. I think we owe it to ourselves to
look back and see what our own musical traditions are. Then we
commission a new
piece to help build on what the past
is, while looking at the past to make
sure that we understand what it is
we're building on.
there ever come
point when there's just simply too
much music around?
BD: For the
has it automatically because
you can turn the radio on and get as
much music - or more than you ever bargained
for - of any kind. So that you're
in control of. For myself, the
answer is "No," because I'm able to control how much I do within a
given year. And as a guest, I take many
pieces to many different places. So
rather than lug a huge repertoire
and have an ultra-heavy suitcase, it's
a few pieces in different cities.
BD: What are the
differences between conducting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the
Chicago Symphony Orchestra?
LS: It's a
director in St. Louis, I'm trying to shape a sound, a personality of
one instrument which
will carry over to its guest conductors.
When I'm not there, I expect
the orchestra to play at a level that
I have set for them, and hopefully they've set for themselves. As
you come in and you inherit the furniture. You inherit how the
orchestra sounds, and unless
you're doing a very long stint, which I've
fortunately had the occasion to do
for a few seasons here, you take
what you get. You don't move the furniture! You have your
own approach to a piece, but
you can't change that much!
Here in Chicago
I was doing four weeks in a row at a couple of points, and that
was fun because by the time we got
to the end, the orchestra and I really knew each other. There was
a certain change of sound, a
little closer to what I do at home; whether people like
that or not is another thing.
BD: Then is
it easier to
back the following season and pick that up?
LS: [Muses in
high-pitched tone of voice] Mmmmmm... no.
I've known this bunch here for twelve or
years, so they know me pretty
well and we
start right away. They know what I expect and I know what they're
gonna give me, so
it works out pretty well. It's
never going to sound, as a guest, like it
does in your own
home! No matter how
much you influence another person, their home
is not going to look like you would
always want it to.
BD: But you
with what you do.
in fact, the beauty of collaborating with
the great orchestras around the world is
that you pick up ideas from them and
take them to your own home! One
thing that certainly makes a great orchestra
is its distinctiveness - the fact you can recognize
it when you hear it - and
of that, the orchestras probably have areas where some people say,
"Well, that's why they're
great, but I don't particularly like that." The slightly reedy
sound of the winds in Berlin,
for instance. Not everybody likes that, but it's what makes the
Philharmonic wind sound.
Here in Chicago, of course, one points
to that very direct and wonderfully
clean brass sound. But not
everybody likes that! I
prefer a slightly more mellow sound. Also, my hall is a different
has at least one second more reverberation time
than Orchestra Hall does. In fact, when Chicago played in St.
Louis, the orchestra was very, very
happy. They played Bruckner Four,
and you could see the look on
their faces. They could actually get that round, burnished sound
really would like to get, which is so
impossible to get in Orchestra Hall!
On the other hand, a couple of years ago when my orchestra played in
they were pleased
at the clarity they could get here that
they couldn't quite get at home. So, you know, you take what you
Is conducting fun?
I wouldn't do it if it wasn't a lot of
fun. I also wouldn't do it if I didn't
for it, but it
is a lot of fun!
don't have any burning
desire to bring greatness to
desire to bring music to the
world. Whether it's great or not is for
people to judge. I know if I've
done a performance which is satisfying; there's never a
that's so great as to be the ultimate. If I ever arrived at
that I'd quit! But I
like to think that most of what I do
now is very much in the interest of what the composer had in
then the composer is the ultimate.
It's so silly to make a work sound unlike
person who wrote it. The Magic Flute,
with all of its inherent problems, will still sound like The Magic Flute, and it will still
sound like Mozart. It's not going to
sound like Stravinsky, it's not going to sound, well, like anybody
other than Mozart!
you're doing an opera, how
much of a collaboration do you have with the director?
lot, in this case. We both met prior to
rehearsals here to discuss approach, and we hit it off right
away. We both had exactly the
same rough idea. He had
it more in detail, from having done it a buncha times, and I had it
more or less
in my head how I wanted it to look, and what
to hear. I've been in attendance
at most of
the stage rehearsals, and he's been in
attendance at our orchestra rehearsals, and given advice that's been
very valuable, really valuable.
We've helped to shape it together, I think.
BD: Where is opera
moment.] Here in Chicago they're doing very well with their
ticket sales. This is a really hot property
they have, and that's a terrific thing.
I'd say in general, the opera
world probably is winding into a little bit of trouble
because of the
star system. A lot of productions rely more on the big-name
to sell it, rather than
the music itself. I'm pleased
about this Magic Flute
because in that
sense, although we have some very notable
people in the cast, it's not a
high-power. superstar production-type
We really did go for
balance, and because of that we were able to get three very solid
the beginning, and that's
nice, for a change. It's always been a traditional
form of social
entertainment. I'd like to think that television and recordings
have helped to put the entertainment value back in it for
BD: Do you
well on television?
LS: No, I
don't. It's interesting
people, I guess, for the first time,
to see what the words are, and to get the music and all that, but the
with any filmed play, or opera, or
anything, is that you're not getting the value of sitting in the hall
letting your own eyes direct you. You're simply
by what the camera tells you is
It's like when you to a concert, you have your own ears; you pick up
your own ideas
of how something should sound,
think on television it's not a mistake, but there's
being in the hall; and then all the
grandeur of all the people around you, and the
excitement of it - or
the boredom of it, I guess.
BD: Is there
can say to the tired businessman who's had a
heavy dinner and
several drinks before he comes to the opera house?
him to come at all?
LS: No! I
want people to come to music who really
wanna listen to it, and who want
to get captured in it, not those who are there by chore! Don't
come to music that
I'm involved in unless
you really are interested in it. If
you want to support with your dollars,
that's fine! But if
you're really not interested in
it, just put the dollars there and don't fool us with the pretension
of being an arts lover. And
do it, certainly, just to gain an entrée
If you don't like it but feel you should be
there, perhaps meet a
friend who does know something about it, and perhaps can guide you
think that may be the biggest problem of
all - people go to things indiscriminately,
without being led gradually into
it. For me, opera comes late because most of the
repertoire I knew as a youngster I deplored! I didn't like it at
really been, for me, a very selective process. People
say, "You should listen to this
first, and try to do it in this kind
of order." It was much easier that
BD: And yet
people to subscribe to opera
didn't say that!
BD: Don't you
LS: I do, and
I want them to go, but only if they really are
BD: But they have
interested in a lot
of things if they're going to a series of several operas that is
says you have to go, in the case of Lyric Opera, to all nine.
be a subscription of less than
nine, I would think. A group of three
operas is enough, isn't it? I wouldn't go to all nine
BD: It's hard to
to all nine. Why is it
hard to pick and choose?
BD: If you
subscribe! Get tickets on an individual basis, then, but
don't go to all nine. Split the series with somebody. Have
a real opera fanatic
get the other four nights that you
didn't want to go to.
BD: You say
fanatic" with such derision.
LS: I do
I think opera
fanatics don't use a very objective approach
in listening, for the
BD: Is it
to like lots of styles?
LS: I think
it's wrong to
that things are good when they're not.
BD: But that
judgment about each performance.
so? The opera fanatic is
supposed to know about what's
right and what's wrong. He's supposed to know that just because a
singer hits a
high C, that is not the end and beginning of
what a great performance
BD: How much do
as a conductor, take into account the vocal
demands placed on each singer?
why, at the first
rehearsals with the singers, I literally
don't conduct; I say, "Just sing it
as if you were giving
a song recital. Lemme hear what you
wanna do; lemme hear where you need some time. Let
me see what's possible for you. If I wanna go a little faster,
let's try it
and see if it works; if it doesn't, I'll give in. If
I'm too slow, let me know."
as is all music, is based around one
concept: you have to breathe, and if you can't breathe
comfortably, then the tempo is wrong.
BD: Do you
of thing to your flute player, or
your trombone player?
I absolutely do. Absolutely! And I say it to
the strings! You ask any orchestra, and they'll say
the one word that comes up often, more than any other word with me, is
the word "breathe." [Takes a breath, then in a calm and relaxed
tone of voice] "Take a breath." People sometimes say the
strings have a big advantage, because they
have a bow and can create continuous sound. I think it's a big
disadvantage because they've forgotten
that the essence of music is breathing.
BD: What is the
essence of music after
BD: Is there
I hope so. I hope
Every piece of music. In fact, probably even more, because our
job in a
symphonic concert is to take music without a
story and create
stories for people. Let
their minds go
pictures if they
BD: How young
you start coming to the opera?
don't think too young is a good idea.
That's where I made my
mistake. I was taken when I was a kid to see Hansel and
Gretel, and Madame Butterfly,
and this was just
not very interesting. And I
came from a musical household! It just turned me off, right
away. I think opera probably should come a little bit later,
maybe in the high
school experience, maybe just a little bit after, when
one has a good knowledge of the combination
of poetry and literature and music. Have
bit of each in your growing-up
system, and then bring it
to the opera. After all, opera's
supposed to be the culmination of all
BD: Is opera,
singing, a kind
of an athletic
Certainly not the way we're
doing it. It is a problem
you can see once in a while. The
problem of the star system makes
people come expecting so much, and in some cases,
better musical performances are given
by some of the smaller roles.
But the expectation is different. I'm
against music competitions to start with. I
them; I don't like people competing - it's
not a sport, so I
don't care for that very much. I certainly
don't like it when it's
within the musical confines itself, when two
or three people are
onstage showing each other up. They
shouldn't; they should be trying to complement
each other. I hope
there's not a lot of malicious intent up there. There shouldn't
be. I haven't seen it.
about going back
and forth between the audience and the
have to play with their audience; that's what they're there
for. I think if
receive something from the audience
you should give it right back.
you feel differently on each night?
LS: Yeah, the
I've done where we've repeated, each night, you sense a different
feeling from the
audience and you play accordingly. Some
nights, however, you block out
the audience. It's either going so well that you just don't
care what the audience thinks, or it's going so
poorly that you know nothing can salvage
it, and you just
want to get through it. That
doesn't happen too often, but once in a
BD: Is there
a Thursday crowd, and a Saturday crowd, and
a Friday afternoon crowd?
LS: I haven't
that. I can't say I've
BD: Is there
different crowd from city to city?
New York audiences are out of the house by the second curtain
they wanna get to their subways and cabs,
and all that. L.A., surprisingly, doesn't listen to any music
There's not much past 1920,
anyway, in Gershwin. A little
bit. I've seen an
L.A. audience walk
out of Benjamin Britten, not being very
happy with it.
BD: Is the
crowd different from the
LS: I don't know
that much about opera in America. This is the first major
house I make an appearance
in, so I don't know what the
crowd's going to be like. And I also haven't gone to much opera
in America, so I
don't know that.
BD: What kind of
LS: I go to
I go to symphonic concerts. Most
of the time when I'm in town, as a guest,
the opera isn't going on anyway, so I don't have a chance to get
there. In Europe
I go to
opera a lot now.
BD: Are the
different and sometimes not for the positive reason. A lot of the
German houses, for
are not as distinguished as we would expect, and not as sophisticated
in the system where different cast
members change, and the orchestra players are different, and
conductors change. It
seems like they're
grinding it out, like sausages. So that's
a little detrimental. On the other
hand, the Munich house, which is where this production originates, is a
distinguished house, and they maintain a very high
there. They won't allow
themselves to slip.
It's quite remarkable.
BD: Can a
piece get over-rehearsed?
LS: Yes, very
especially in the European
situation. But the Europeans, for the most part, would like
everything learned to the point where they can go in
and just rattle it right off without
thinking about it. I like
to keep a little bit of edge. I
want something so clean, and so perfect that nothing is saved for the
performance. I like just that little bit of edge from
everybody, and I frequently
am not sure where I'll leave it. Sometimes it'll
be in a small place, or sometimes it's
a whole big passage. I don't know, for instance, in this Magic Flute, come the
rehearsal, what it is I'll have really left to chance.
I don't know.
BD: But you
Something, but not purposely.
gets left out, but I don't know what
little bit about Richard Strauss. You've
done Ariadne, Rosenkavalier (in concert), and
will be back to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the future with Salome. Everybody seems to
think there's a big correlation
and Wagner. Is there?
the two Germanic
terms of the use of the orchestra. But in
terms of their approach to opera, I think they're at quite opposite
poles, both musically
and philosophically. Strauss
is much more of an entertainer in
his operatic world,
and Wagner is much more of the theologian,
if you will. [Both chuckle]
BD: Of his own
LS: Of his own
don't really place the two of them together.
myself don't do any Wagner. I'm
not drawn to it.
BD: Not even
LS: Oh, well, a
piece here and there,
yeah, but overall, for me, at this
point, doing a
Ring Cycle or even a Tristan,
for that matter, just doesn't strike my fancy.
Strauss, how are
the operas similar or different from the
LS: Not so
really. Leaving aside the text, Salome
is essentially the conflict
between music which is to be in waltz rhythm, and
music which is not to be in waltz rhythm.
for instance, that in all the music of
Jochanaan - of all of it - there is not
one bar in 3/4 time.
It's like it's
the forbidden rhythm, the
waltz. So, in effect,
both Salome and Elektra are the two great examples
of the operatic
BD: Is that
why they work
so well in
LS: I think
so; I think
both of them work very well for that
reason. Not only that, but with a
few exceptions, they are relatively
static operas. Not much happens. A really exciting
one which minimizes the amount of action, but makes
you concentrate on the
music. In that sense, works like Don Quixote and Death
Transfiguration are essentially symphonic operas.
there ever be
anything done on the
same bill as Salome or Elektra?
LS: I don't
think so; I
think it's enough. It's so intense I
can't see doing another work.
minutes is enough
for an opera?
Why not? Was there a
rule that it has to be more than that?
No, no, but it just seems like one is getting a little
look at the size of the orchestra!
[Both laugh heartily]
Years ago at the Met, they did Gianni
cute. No, I
don't think so. I think what might
be significant is prior to the opera have somebody come out and explain
be a nice thing to do. Or perhaps read
from the Oscar Wilde and discuss the
with the audience. Something like that.
Salome or Elektra are not insurmountable,
First of all, you now have orchestras
which are conversant with the
language and can play it, which is probably something Strauss didn't
have. You also have a little more
flexibility from the stage point
of view, in that directors can get away
with a little more now in the
middle or close
of this century. So perhaps we can be a little
more graphic, maybe.
directors gone too far?
LS: In some
yes. I violently
to taking the story out of the particular time
and period in which it's placed. You're doing quite a disservice
to the composer by
not do a
modern-day Traviata or Così?
and I'm not interested in it.
We did a Gianni Schicchi in
which was set
in 1920 Chicago.
BD: Did it
all of a sudden, what was amusing
became surprisingly stereotypical.
It was a mafia group, and for me it became slapstick because I
think Puccini meant that.
BD: They had a big
success with a mafia-style Rigoletto
at the English National Opera.
Miller production, and it's very clever,
but is it a good idea when there's a kind of historical context in
the opera is set to start with? I don't
know; I don't think
Carlo has been updated. Fidelio
was updated to Nazi
It is the era of the director and the superstar, and the music
be taking second.
BD: Is the
getting left out?
[Wryly] Oh, not
the conductor! It's
not a question of that; it's a
question of the music getting left out.
opera ever be done in translation?
Absolutely. In fact, if we were
not having the surtitles I'm not so certain I would agree to do Magic
Certain operas, especially
ones where extensive
dialogue is used, either need the help of the titles, or
should be done in a language that is readily accessible
by its audience. Certain
operas don't need it, where the story
is simple. Bohème
one that needs titles. We all know. It's
very clear what's happening in
this opera; it's not a big problem. Most
of the operas of Mozart would need something. Verdi operas
probably would need some
BD: Is there
dialogue and recitative?
Recitative is nothing
more than sung
dialogue, really. This Magic
Flute is a Singspiel,
but we also have the one long
recitative between Tamino and the Speaker.
really have a
foot in both camps here.
Salome and Elektra; you've
done Ariadne. What are the special problems of that one?
LS: Ariadne is a chamber
opera. That's why
I'm glad I did it first. It is an opera
where the resources
of a chamber orchestra,
and the resources of a
smaller theater make a particularly satisfying
experience. You have an inventive set
of characters, as opposed to a very traditional
one which occurs in the opera itself. I
found it a very satisfying work to
do. It's not necessarily an audience piece,
but maybe that's why I found it satisfying at the time.
BD: Was it sung in
English or German?
the prologue in English, we did the
opera in German, and we did the pantomime in English. This was
years ago, and we were one of the first companies that did it that
way. Besides the prologue, in the middle of the opera,
when the commedia dell'arte troupe comes back,
we did that portion in English again.
BD: Is Zerbinetta
difficult for a singer?
LS: No. No,
enough people to rattle off almost anything.
You can always find one. Sometimes
it's not great, but you can always
getting better, then?
on what the
criteria for "better" is, doesn't it? I think we're
beginning to gravitate towards a more... I don't want to say
"romantic," but a
less sterile way of music-making
'60s and '70s produced. We went through
a period where everybody was just being so strict and faithful to the
text that we seemed
have forgotten about the music in the
think we're coming back to something in the middle, something between
what Fürtwangler preached and what Toscanini
BD: The other
Strauss you've done is Rosenkavalier.
Is that one
How could it be,
it's so glorious; how could it be too
BD: Do you
It's great. When you make a cut,
what difference is another minute here and two minutes there; it's
And you know, you
there saying it feels too long, but
it's over you're sort of are sorry it's done.
BD: What if
you and says, "We must
cut such-and-such or
LS: I'd say, "But
look, this theme has
to go back here. I need this
theme to relate to this."
BD: When you have
the director, who
depends. I haven't had too many fights.
I had little
fights in the Werther in
but for the most
part, I haven't done
enough opera to really address that quite so
well. When it comes down to an argument
we'll see what happens. Now,
I'm probably in a better, stronger position than I was.
BD: Is that one of
the good things about concerts - you
don't have someone to argue with?
LS: Oh there's
somebody to argue; there's 100
people down there in the orchestra to argue with.
BD: But in opera
you have the
orchestra, plus the chorus, plus the soloists, plus
LS: So what?
doesn't matter. All
it takes is one other person for an argument. It
doesn't matter how many there are. I'm
not interested in
arguing, I'm really not. I'd just as soon collaborate
with the people, and that works fine.
me about doing the Szymanowski. That's a
very special work.
seven years ago, or maybe six, we did King
Roger which had not been played in the United States.
BD: Did you
perform it in
couldn't find a
chorus to learn it in Polish during the amount of time. I
found it very beautiful. I'd always known
Roxana's aria mostly from a
actually. Then I got
interested and looked at it, and
somebody said, "You know, this is possible for an American
at it and listened to it, and it was really beautiful stuff. It's
a shame it's never been played here, so we did it.
BD: If the
management of an opera house comes to you and says, "We'd
like you to
conduct an opera," would you lobby
for King Roger?
thought it was very
beautiful, but I don't know, if I went into an opera house every day if
want to spend that much time on just that. I think,
at this point, since I'm still starting
out in opera, I would rather go towards the
more traditional fare just to understand more about opera. I
can't say I learned anything
about opera per se by doing King
Roger; I learned a lot about Szymanowski!
learning a lot about opera from Mozart, though.
And from Massenet and from Strauss and from Puccini, from the people
who write it. It's
teaching me a lot of
what I feel I have to know. Then
it'll be time to reintroduce those things, to do Palestrina by Hans Pfitzner and Doktor Faust of Busoni, and those
things which are
interesting works which I wanna do someday,
but not yet.
BD: So you
career kind of mapped
out for a long time.
LS: No, no.
may never come up. But if it was to
get to that point and I could call my own shots, I might
wanna say, "This
is something I'd like to do," and then they'd give it to me.
album of Mozart arias with Lucia Popp and a "Highlights" disc from Porgy and Bess with Simon
Estes. Would you want to do a complete opera?
opera. I would turn down most
operas, because I haven't done
them. I certainly wouldn't want to commit to disc
anything I hadn't done.
BD: Does that
symphonic stuff too?
LS: Yeah! I
record anything that I don't play
at a concert because I like to
record in whole takes, and I've learned, from a performance
standpoint, what works and what doesn't. Nobody has the
luxury of just going into the recording studio, rehearsing, and doing
many takes. It's not practical for
me. I know they do that in Europe, but I don't like it. I
need the feeling of
I can try to get some of that onto
BD: Are you
recordings thus far?
of them I think are not bad. A couple
I think are outstanding; a couple I don't like, but once we've done
it, once it's over, I don't listen to them. We've
made the session; I've heard how it's going to be
issued to the public. I approve it, the orchestra
approves it, the producer approves,
and there it is in the documents. That's how we
felt on that day.
BD: Does it bother
you at all to think that there are people all
over the world sitting in their living
rooms, listening to what you have done?
Or does that even
cross your mind?
No. I don't think about it.
Maybe I'm bothered sometimes by the fact
that they take that as the gospel of how I view a piece, and
might be disappointed when they hear me do
it in person and maybe do something different
with it. But that's my own
you learn from your father, Felix Slatkin [(1915-1963)]?
[For more information, visit the Felix Slatkin Website
LS: I learned a
about strings, that's for sure. He was a great
violinist, and my mother, Eleanor Aller [(1917-1995)], was a great
cellist. They made up half of the Hollywood String
Quartet, and my uncle was Victor Aller [(1905-1977)],
so when they did Brahms piano quartets, three-fourths of
the quartet [formed
was the family.
One thing I learned from my father certainly was that one really
shouldn't try to do it all, 'cause that's
why he died very young; he tried to do it all; he was 47.
He was in
the pop industry and in the film
industry and in the record business and in the classical conducting and
the violin, and...
BD: He was doing
much before it was fashionable to
do too much.
Yeah. Yeah, he
that; I learned a lot about what music should sound like; I
learned a lot
about the intensity of music from him. This
is all purely by osmosis, nothing direct.
BD: He didn't
you to be a conductor.
no, he didn't encourage me or
my brother to be a musician. We were, in fact, told to get out
of it because it was too
difficult, too demanding, and ultimately
we'd have to make too many sacrifices. He didn't think, as my
mother didn't, that the
sacrifices were worth it,
if you really weren't going to go at
it wholeheartedly, which my
brother and I then proceeded to do!
BD: Do you
think the sacrifices are worth it?
Yeah. I'm not so
certain, however, I wouldn't
teach any children of mine the same thing as my parents taught
the first thing is you have to value
it. You have to want it desperately enough to work
hard and give
up things for it. You have to give
up years of your life - knowing about the world and other people - just
to immerse yourself if you're really going to be any
good at it.
we in the age of the star conductor?
sort of declining
when you think about it. How many really are left? There's
no Toscanini anymore; Stokowski's gone, Ormandy's now
gone. There's just a handful
of conductors - not even a handful, less than that - who could really
fill a house.
BD: You don't
be one of those?
just aspire to do the best I can. I don't know if they even
aspired to be that!
It just happened.
BD: But you
LS: I don't
would ever come up; I
wouldn't even think about it. [Note: Slatkin is included in the St.
Louis Walk of Fame.]
advice do you
for a young conductor?
LS: My only
is the one that
my teachers always gave me, and that's to
be ready at any minute. Learn everything. Study.
Go to rehearsals. Go to
concerts. See what everybody does. Find out what they do
wrong, find out what
they do right, and then when your opportunity comes, be ready for it.
BD: Is playing an
instrument with a symphony orchestra a good career?
LS: It's a good
the right orchestra. It
has its financial rewards, certainly, and
many orchestras now offer good chamber music series as
an outlet for the very frustrated string players
who need that, and that's certainly
I think it can be highly
BD: You do so much
commissioning; what advice do you have for young composers?
LS: Don't be
to approach artists with your works.
All they can do is say, "No, I don't wanna look at it." That's
That's the worst that can happen. And
the best? Composer'll
come to you, you'll see a piece,
you like it, and you play it. I receive
over 40 to 50 scores a
month. We have a composer-in-residence in St. Louis [Joan Tower];
she and I
both go through the works, and
every composer who sends a work gets a
BD: What do
you look for
in a work?
LS: I look for
pieces that are going to be comfortable for me. If
somebody sends me a long work in serial
style, I'm not going
to be interested in it. It's not for me! It may be a great
piece, and I'll pass it on to somebody else to look at. I look
for a certain amount of
professionalism; I look for a
certain amount of originality; form and formal
content and essential because, after all, the symphony orchestra
basically deals with formal content. That's what I'm looking for.
BD: Would it be
absolutely a mistake for someone to write,
say, another Strauss opera?
another Verdi opera?
Probably. They should
write just like they are.
BD: Is "rock"
LS: Yes! Any
kind of work where
spirit is involved in producing tones
of some kind is music, and
every kind of music appeals to
certain audiences. In
some cases the audiences cross over from
one to the other, but for
the rock fan who really knows
and enjoys rock, it's no less significant
than for the person who comes to opera and really enjoys opera.
the same creative force behind it.
The difference is, for the most part, that
opera is here because
it's lasted a long time. Rock music, as is most contemporary,
popular brands of music, was created for the moment. Whether it
survives doesn't seem to matter.
BD: One last
like to talk about
briefly is Massenet.
They asked me to do a Werther
in Stuttgart, and I did it
because I think Massenet is a slightly underrated
composer, and I wanted to get the feel of what
was like to work in a European opera house.
And this was a good opera for me to do.
offer you Werther rather than Bohème
wanted me to do an opera that
hadn't been seen there, and the Italian repertoire is well
represented. I certainly didn't want to go in with an opera that
knew - not for the first time. I
wanted to do something that was not
familiar, and Werther
fit that bill just fine. We had a good cast and a nice
production, and it was very well received. I enjoyed doing
the work, and when I go back
once in a while, I
step in and do it. It's kind of
that a French work because it's Massenet, or is
it a German work because it's Goethe?
it's an Italian work, because it's
almost like a Puccini opera, the way it's constructed,
all that. I don't know, it's just an
don't really think of it as being
very nationalistic at all.
music at all
for the most part, identities and
countries can be discerned from the music. But
cases it can't; Werther's
a pretty good example of that. I mean, if you just drop the
needle down, unless
somebody knows it, it would be a little
hard, for the most part, to guess what this music is.
Could be anything.
much for sharing this time.
problem. Thank you for
= = = = = = = = = =
- - - - - - - -
= = = = = = = = = =
Now we head into the second conversation, which took place almost two
years later, in July of 1988 . . . . .
BD: The last
time we were
together, we talked a lot about opera, so
this time we're going to concentrate a little more on you and your
So let's get a few basics first. Tell me a little bit about your
upbringing; you were the son of Felix Slatkin and Eleanor
LS: My household
unique in that I had a resident string
Almost every day, I heard the sounds of Beethoven, Brahms,
Shostakovich, Haydn, Mozart, all the great composers in what I still
constitutes their highest form of creativity, the string quartet.
And I think when you hear this great music from a very early, early age
and are brought up on it, that you come to have a terrific
of a composer's total output. It was a unique opportunity to grow
up in a household where you had occasion to hear the great masterpieces
of the string quartet repertoire, my father being the first violinist
my mother the first cellist. Having heard these great works, you
come to understand that perhaps the finest statements in music were in
the string quartet form. I thought that the repertoire and the
of what chamber music is, the reliance of players coming to agreements
with each other and listening to each other and understanding...
There really is a dialogue in music. I try to think that the long
lasting impact was that perhaps I'd bring some of that knowledge, and I
think these things aided me greatly in the conducting element of my
BD: Chamber music,
though, is much more of a democracy.
Is playing in an orchestra or directing an orchestra at all a
playing these days is a little more democratic
than it used to be. There was a time when the conductor was the
dictator, virtually having the power and authority to dismiss on the
If he didn't like what he saw or heard, that player could be relieved
the job immediately. These days, that doesn't exist anymore;
is much more of a solid base, an orchestral solidarity. The
restrictions against conductors in this country don't condone certain
like that. You can be thrown out of the union and you can lose a
job if you get too temperamental.
BD: Let's look at
other side. What are the positive
advantages of working now rather than 30 or 50 years ago?
LS: Well, actually
advantage for the orchestra is that
have much more job security than they had before. I find,
that there is a great deal more pressure to produce more music in a
amount of time, which is not necessarily a good thing, although the
of orchestral playing is very high now mostly due to the fact that the
basic standard repertoire is known by players almost before they enter
orchestra. They're in their schools now. So while the
of actual playing has increased, I'm a little concerned at the turning
out process, that we go through with our major orchestras, has become a
little bit counter-productive.
BD: While the
the major orchestra go up, do the
of the lesser and the community orchestras also go up?
LS: The standards
smaller orchestras is where you see
most dramatic improvements as a matter of fact. You see
like Columbus, Ohio, or Wichita, Kansas, Springfield, Massachusetts,
like this, San Jose, California, producing absolutely wonderful,
is going up. Is the
also going up?
LS: That's a
to say because we' re all a product
our time, and if we rely too much on recordings from the past, it would
be too difficult to say that we are recreating music as it was made
it would also be difficult to say that things that were created before
were right also. We don't know. There is the feeling that,
indeed, we are becoming a little too mass-product-oriented, we're not
between styles enough in our orchestral playing. That's why
specialty groups have popped up - Mozart players and Haydn players and
Baroque players, and special ensembles that deal with contemporary
I still think that the basis for almost all of the classical music
playing is, indeed, the big-full symphony orchestra, and that won't
For that reason, the repertoire must be kept alive and hopefully you
the interested players strong enough that the musicality doesn't lag.
BD: How do you
LS: Well, one
not to play it over and over every year
as some places unfortunately do. I think it's not a good idea to
knock off the Fifth Beethoven
symphony every season at some festival
I don't think even playing the Mahler symphonies as much as we're
them is a particularly good idea. I think that the great works
the special love and care you can only give them when you don't see
quite all the time. You appreciate them, I think, more fully when
there's a certain amount of distance and time between performances by
orchestras. So I think that's one possible solution.
BD: The works you
are all the obvious great master
Should there be a place in the concert repertoire, even the standard
for the next level or even the level below that?
LS: There's always
place for composers and music of
that has originality to it that is not derivative. In many cases
those pieces may not be of the first order, or some people might think
they're very much of the first order, but they have elements that don't
sound like other music. A good example of that would be the music
of Edvard Grieg, for example, or we might look at the works of
we might look at lesser works by great composers. We all know the
last three symphonies of Tchaikovsky but maybe we need to hear the
three a little more often, or some of the tone poems that aren't
I think that's a question of balance, it's a question of understanding,
and in order to understand the great works, you need to embody a little
bit larger view of what the composer's output is.
BD: What are
some of the
characteristics that go into making a
piece of music great?
Obviously, I'm being
extremely subjective. Of
there are people who hate Brahms, who didn't think he was very good,
for me, one thing is staying power. The fact is that audiences
the years have come to embrace the work because, after all, it really
do much good to consider a work great if it's never played and the
don't come to hear it. There are no pieces in my mind which were
actually written with the exclusion of the audience in mind, which we
see in this country and of course in Europe in the fifties and sixties;
composers completely ignorant of the existence of the audience and
we have very few pieces from those years which have even begun to enter
the repertoire in any fashion. Most of that music is completely
BD: It's a
generation of music?
LS: No, think it's
a question of a time of transition,
a time when composers were searching for their own individuality, as
lost generation was. But the difference here was that the
were renouncing the past and trying to look for new paths for the
As we come to the end of the eighties we see that more composers now
looking towards the past to discover the future. So, there's a
place for the works of individuality, and more important is that the
of these works have to be done by musicians who are committed to the
and care about it, not just doing it because of the novelty of the
which happens all too frequently.
BD: Then what
you have for a composer coming along
who wants to write for the symphony orchestra?
LS: Not to be
discouraged, because you see a lot of works for
symphony orchestras these days being embraced much more readily than
were fifteen or twenty years ago. Names of composers like
or Del Tredici, Joseph Schwantner, Joan Tower, Steve Reich, John Adams,
more and more from our time are in a kind of limelight. [See my Interview with David
Del Tredidi, and my Interviews
with Steve Reich.] They
not as disregarded as composers from the fifties and sixties were.
BD: What do
from the audience who comes to hear
a concert of standard works or a new piece on the program?
LS: I expect,
all, programming should have a
There should never be programs in which you have all works that are
familiar or all works that are unfamiliar - unless it happens to be an
oratorio that occupies the whole evening that nobody knows or everybody
knows too well. I think that audiences should not be judging one
work against another. With any luck, good programming means
variety and you don't compare the main course of a meal to the
Hopefully they're so separate that you keep them separate and
both of them.
BD: With this huge
of material to select from, how do
choose which pieces will go on which concert, which pieces will wait
next season and which pieces you'll abandon completely?
LS: For my own
the task of music director is indeed
a question of balancing twenty four subscription weeks, the major part
of our season. During these twenty four weeks there are several
in planning. They have to do with repertoire we haven't played
awhile, pieces that I want to do, pieces that I don't want to do that I
might rather enjoy seeing a guest conductor or two do, soloists that
appeared with us frequently who maybe it's time to give a rest, perhaps
some emerging youngster who needs an opportunity to play a
All those areas need to be balanced with new pieces we either wish to
or present second or third performances. It's really very much
a gigantic puzzle and I love it. I love the idea of all these
of paper with composers names and various pieces of music on
We put it together and try, over the course of the twenty four weeks,
make a very palatable season for those listeners who come to all twenty
four. And for the weeks that I do, which is between twelve and
weeks of those twenty four, I try to make it as much a variety as I
My own orchestra is very flexible with me.
BD: Is there
ever a time
when that puzzle is complete, or is
always a little bit changing going on within that puzzle?
LS: Once in a
get a change, but it mostly has to do
with a particular demand that a recording company might have. But
usually we try to stick to our guns and not make very many changes at
BD: You do a
lot of guest
conducting, does that alter your
when you're sitting in the director's chair?
LS: No, the guest
conducting is a very separate
As a guest conductor you're not responsible at all for the individuals
an ensemble. I don't have to be concerned about how much money
making; I don't have to be concerned about their problems at home; I
have to be concerned for too long a period about the interaction I have
between myself and the players. I simply come in and make a
to the administration about which pieces I would like to perform within
a given year. Hopefully they select something from that list of
I come in and do my one or two weeks and I leave. It's a
BD: But doing
a bit, does that not make you a
more on a wave length with the guest conductors who are coming in to
orchestra and talking about what they will do?
LS: Yes and
select my guest conductors in St.
based on repertoire that I don't feel comfortable doing. I don't
too many other music directors do it that way. I stick my nose
in it. I oversee virtually every aspect of the operation in St.
and that is not the trend. There are many orchestras that have
they call "artistic advisers" which are people to more or less bridge
gap between the music director and the guest conductor to make the
I don't have such a person. I try to maintain that all
I think, ultimately, the success or the failure of an orchestra is
measured by the music director, and no matter how many people you have
in the administration, ultimately the public, those who come to the
will blame the conductor for whatever failings happen during the course
of a given year, and hopefully will praise the music director for the
that happen even when a music director is not there.
BD: Do you ever
feeling that maybe you're taking all
the plums for yourself?
LS: Oh, I
don't do them
all because there's a lot of
that has many plums that I don't do. I don't do Bruckner and
is considered quite a plum, as is Wagner, and I don't do Wagner.
I purposely spread around the variety of the Austrian Romantic
between my various guest conductors that come in. I do a lot of
music, but most guest conductors aren't willing to do it and I love it
very much. I do a lot of that. We also cover the English
quite extensively, and I know my strengths lie within certain
of the Slavic element as well. So the answer is no, I don't do
the plums; you wouldn't be able to attract decent enough guest
if you did that.
BD: What makes a
conductor "decent enough?"
LS: Somebody who
the respect of the orchestra, comes
in knowing the pieces extremely well, hopefully has gathered enough
over his or her years of conducting to communicate the wishes in a
and positive way to the orchestra. There aren't too many people
BD: Are there
LS: Oh, I think
I can usually find some combination
of four or five guest conductors who I think can do it, yes.
BD: I mean for the
of the United States or the world.
LS: It's a little
for me to speak about what the world
I can only address the situations which I run. Everybody has
own idea of what constitutes above adequacy.
rehearsing a work with the composer sitting in
the first row, do you encourage that composer to have input with the
or just make some comments to you here and there?
LS: I prefer the
to really become quite active
the first performance of a work is a creative process. It's one
a composer has the chance to make those changes. I like the
to be there for the first rehearsal to give whatever advice or
and members of the orchestra, in turn, also make some suggestions once
in a while. They might ask to try this in a different octave or
this dynamic here or there. Once in a while you hear about places
that are unplayable and the composer makes an adjustment. I would
just as soon work very closely in a collaboration with the composer in
a creation of a new work.
BD: What about the
creation of an older work?
Hopefully the composer is flexible
to understand that the work was created with the idea that there would
be several ways of looking at it. If there's only one way,
no point, really, of having a live performance of it. They will
you, for instance, that one can go out and buy the recordings of
or Bernstein or Benjamin Britten, so would there really be any reason
hear these works in a concert hall if the composer gave us no leeway to
have a slightly different approach?
BD: Then how much
interpretation do you put into old pieces or
put into it
what I think is on the page. I don't
to inject my own individualities past what I think is the bounds of
taste, which is dictated by what's on the page.
BD: Who is
taste? Is it you, the
or the critics?
LS: Oh, certainly
critics. Certainly, to a
the audience, but I think mostly at this point in my own life I rely on
my own experience having grown up in a household where I feel good
was the order of the day.
BD: Does your
expand a lot?
LS: It becomes
limited. I become more selective as
I get a little older. I find I'm much less tolerant of certain
to the repertoire.
BD: Is all of the
done in the rehearsal, or do you leave
a little bit of spark for the performance?
LS: I leave a lot
spark. I find that I can only
use so much in rehearsal while putting it all together and then I do
to save. I can't say, consciously, just how much, but I know I
recreate the performance aspect because there's s no audience there at
rehearsal. An audience does make a big difference to the
on stage. It makes a very big difference.
BD: You feed on
LS: Oh sure,
If any performer that tells you
ask them why they're playing in public.
BD: Why does
Slatkin perform in public'?
LS: Because he
feed he gets from the audience; he
it; he enjoys presenting works that he loves and sharing them with
BD: What do you
the purpose of music in society?
LS: That's changed
the course of the years. You
music that's been functional, that's served to the occasion, but
music is a form of entertainment and if we can learn something about
along the way, that's fine. An audience can come away moved by
happiness or joy, sadness or despair. Whatever emotions a
put into a piece, that's what music is about. And it's the most
of the arts because it deals with communication without pictures and
language. The language it does choose to use is not one of words,
it is one of emotions.
BD: But where
artistic achievement incorporate itself
musicians are really re-creators, we're not
at all. Our job is to recreate what the feelings of a given
were, what that person had on their mind, and in their heart, and we
only do that by study. That's all we can do. We can look at
the music, try to understand it in the context of the time in which the
composer lived, understand the social elements surrounding a given
of music in a composer's life, and try to gain a little bit of insight
into what the past had to offer.
You've made a number
of recordings. Do you conduct
in a recording studio than in the concert hall?
LS: It would be
to say that a recording is the same as
a concert. There's no audience there. You know you're gonna
stop and start, you know you have the opportunity to correct
What we try to do, in making recordings both in St. Louis and the ones
that I do elsewhere, is to at least play through a whole work once so
we have a rough idea of the total scope, the picture, the frame of the
work. I know some conductors these days are preferring to simply
tape their performances and try to edit from the performance and then
in and do patch up session a day after. I think it's not a bad
but it presents some problems because sometimes the best performance
lost because of an audience cough and then they can't use it; or some
soft magical movement doesn't translate so well. I also find,
enough, that sometimes the tempo you take for a recording differs
for what you do at a concert. You're missing that tension with
audience. It particularly has to do with slow tempo which you can
get away with in a hall with an audience there, which doesn't
transfer to a disc.
BD: Are there
when discs become too technically
can tell you, however, that virtually
record I've made has some flaw in it technically. There's always
some spot that's not quite in line with what's intended, and I don't
I would rather go with the whole sweep of things. I know that on
a couple of records I've made recently, I sent a little note to the
saying, "This bar, this isn't quite together, but I can live with
If you have a better one fine, if you don't it's okay."
BD: Who makes
LS: I do. We
pretty accurate records on which takes
we have, and as we go along in the recording process, I mark down which
ones I want them to use. Then, when they send me an edited tape,
if there's something I don't like, I send a note back and say give me
in this spot of other possibilities. They send it back to me and
usually the one I decided on in the first place usually works.
BD: Are you
the recordings you've tuned out thus
LS: Most of them,
yeah. I think most of them are pretty
good; some are more exciting than others. Some of them I will
live with for a long time. However, once a recording is issued, I
don't listen to it because I need to grow after that. When a
is done, I have to hear the recording as it's progressing and will be
to the public. But once it's out, it's time to move on and get
ideas about the particular piece of music. Also, the nature of
ensembles makes different music sound differently. So if I'm
a symphony of Rachmaninoff in Philadelphia, it will sound different
if I'm playing the same piece in Chicago or New York or Berlin or
Individual characteristics of the fine orchestras all lend themselves
a little bit of disparity in performance.
BD: Does your
style or technique change from city
style and method of which I use the stick in
the hands is about the same. The only difference is that some
play what we call on the beat, and some play afterwards. Where
give a downbeat, some orchestras are used to just jumping right in on
downbeat. As soon as you come down, boom, they play right with
Other orchestras are used playing just a fraction after the beat comes
down. That's the only kind of adjustment I have to make once in a
BD: But then you
address your expectations of each group.
LS: No, I go
I want to do with a piece of music,
adjusting only as is necessary. It would be the same thing as
somebody to your house and then they come in, and they start moving the
furniture around. You wouldn't like that as a host, I don't
I wouldn't like it. So if I go to a great orchestra that's not my
own, I try to stay within the parameters of what makes that orchestra
but still imbue the ideas I have about a piece of music within the
of the environment that I'm given.
BD: Do you
as a guest or more as an interior
who is supposed to adjust?
LS: Oh, no, no,
at all. When I go as a guest
it is just as a guest conductor. I cannot adjust the
Why would I want to change the sounds of the Berlin Philharmonic?
Why would I even presume to want to do that? No, I would just as
soon go in, accept what they have to say, give them my ideas, and
arrive at some mutual consensus. Usually you get a very
result. With any luck, you get the best of both worlds.
it goes the other way too, but usually not.
BD: But if you're
gonna move the furniture at all, why do
they hire you instead of a little mechanical arm?
LS: We're talking
specifically about tone and sonority.
We're not talking about interpretation because, especially for the
that have extremely dynamic and individual music directors, then you're
asking why have a guest conductor at
all. Why would anybody want to bring in somebody to cover the
repertoire that the music director does and do it differently?
the music director wants to build any given repertoire and have the
play it that way during the course of the music director's
Usually when I go to other orchestras, it is mostly a repertoire that
orchestra doesn't know quite so well, and very rarely is in conflict or
competition with the repertoire that the music director performs
BD: You're an
conductor conducting mostly American
and making a big success out of this. Are you at all an anomaly?
LS: I think I
of the rarities in this
Most of the major orchestras in our country do not have Americans as
directors. Some have American citizens as music directors but
have not spent quite as much as their life here as myself and one or
others. On the other hand, you have a lot of Americans who get
because they don't move along quite as quickly as they would like to,
they go over to Europe and try to get jobs. I think that's a bit
of a cop out as well. I think we need to spend a good deal of
here working because at this point, I don't think there's that much
to be gained by spending time in Europe other than being able to secure
a job. Tradition is now a universal in our world.
in the United States are just as valid as traditions in Vienna and
BD: You bring
music to a lot of the orchestras, but
you bring American music specifically to the European orchestras?
LS: As much as I
can. Many orchestras don't accept the
of wanting to play the American music because in many cases it demands
a high level or virtuosity particularly in the newer music. This
requires more rehearsal time than some other things, but I've been very
fortunate in that for the most part most of the ensembles I am working
with regularly in Europe seem to be interested for me to do and present
the American composers now. They seem to trust my judgment on
I'm bringing to them. And also, again, as at home, I try to
it with the presentation of a more standard work on the same program.
BD: Is the
audience particularly receptive to
LS: It depends on
work, I think. Somehow the
are still more accepting of the conservative Americans as they are of
conservative Europeans. There's no difference. But I think
they understand that there's a vitality and a willingness to reach to
audience that the young American composers are beginning to show.
So you're seeing not an insignificant amount of American music being
in Europe now as opposed ten or fifteen years ago.
BD: Do the
conductors know how to present American
conductors don't do American
It takes the Americans to go there and do it. I really can't
of a major European figure who's doing American music over there on a
BD: Perhaps one
here and there?
LS: Oh, it's
an older school of American
There's nothing wrong with that either. Europeans have to learn
it is that the Coplands, Barbers, Iveses, and those composers
before they can even begin to venture into the newer forms.
Let's talk about some
of the recordings you've made, starting with the Rachmaninoff
LS: Yes, we
everything Rachmaninoff wrote for
This is quite a while ago. This is a project we did with Vox
and it's almost ten years old by now, I suppose. So...
BD: Is ten
ancient as far
as technology; now things are recorded
digitally. So, the answer is yes, it's ancient history.
to redo them again.
BD: Well, let's
little bit about Rachmaninoff and your
approach to his music.
close to me because it has a special
place in my family's history. One of my relatives, Modest
[(1873-1963)] who founded the Russian Symphony Society of New York was
the man who met Rachmaninoff when he came off the boat from Russia, and
arrived in New York. And my family's heritage is Russian. I
found this composer particularly fascinating because there's somebody
in the twentieth century who probably would have been more at home in
nineteenth century. There's this great outpouring of Russian
but with a couple of the skills of a true twentieth century
orchestra - in
particular the final works, the Slavonic Dances or The Bells,
Paganini Rhapsody - these pieces are really remarkable in their
and use of the resources of the modern twentieth century orchestra.
BD: He really
those ideas forward as far as he could.
LS: He did.
Percussion used to be just gratuitous
Rachmaninoff used very it much in the twentieth century context, with
passages, the way the bell instruments were used, things like this;
very exciting. He uses the saxophone, even. It's exciting,
what he was doing, I think.
BD: And more
you're recording Shostakovich?
LS: We have
not gonna say on a cycle because we
don't know just how far we will go, but we are certainly planning, in
Louis, to record a great deal of Shostakovich symphonies; the Fifth and
Tenth are out and the Eighth will be recorded in October.
BD: What is
it about the Fifth and the Tenth that kind of grab
LS: I think
to a mass audience; certainly
Fifth does because it was
intended for that. Shostakovich knew
very well. The Tenth reaches
a kind of core of strength and speaks an
musical language which an audience has come to enjoy. We're about
to record number eight which is another matter altogether, but I
think we can turn to a little movement like the Scherzo in the Tenth
see exactly what it is. It's got rhythmic impetus to it; it has a
memorable motif that drives throughout the movement - throughout the
symphony, as a matter of fact - and music that is conservative in
but at the same time has very much the ring of the mid-twentieth
to it. And it is certainly the midpoint of his output, having
written in 1950.
BD: Would you
record all fifteen?
LS: I don't like
fifteen at this moment. So the
is no, I wouldn't want to, but perhaps in six or seven years I might
around to a little more open approach to some of the works which I
care for. I might, I might not; I don't know.
BD: Do you
caught having to play a piece you don't
LS: Not much
anymore. When I started out, of course, but
now I'm in a position of being able to pick and choose what I want to
including the soloist and the concerto they'll play. Some people
find that unusual. For instance, I've begun an Elgar cycle for
in London, and rather than start with one of the more popular works, I
started with an oratorio titled The Kingdom, which is an
rarity that I find very beautiful. That's some of Elgar's
moments; not a great text, but musically quite an extraordinary
I recently recorded the First Symphony for a company called Virgin
which is just beginning in Europe and will debut in the United States
October. I find I like exploring some of the lesser music that I
enjoy, and at the same time recording and presenting some of the more
works. We have recordings of Brahms that are out. We have
of Prokofiev; we're recording ballets of Tchaikovsky, we' re recording
works of Schubert. So I'm quite content with the variety that's
[Photo at right: With the Elgar Medal]
be on the Virgin label?
LS: The Virgin
is the London Philharmonic as, at the
moment, all of my English recordings are with them. The Elgar
will all be London Philharmonic oriented. I scale down a little
for some of the smaller pieces, but I think it will still be the London
BD: Does an
really understand English music?
writing about us seem to feel that we
They seem to like it and I don't think Elgar or Vaughan Williams or
are so overtly English as to not be able to cross the ocean
I think the Europeans can understand Copland just as well as they can
the aforementioned composers.
bringing forth the American
just as we're not bringing forth Birtwistle and others.
LS: That's about
BD: Do you
feeling to do contemporary music by other
LS: Well, I
a matter of fact, I do works of Olly
Knusssen, who is a wonderful English composer whom I find particularly
interesting, I have done two works of Mr. Boulez, who I think has a
number of works to be heard out there; Lutoslawski, of course,
of course, but my main emphasis is really to try to promote the
composer. [See my Interview with
I think that given the choice between a couple of
equal great works of an American composer and a European one, I will
to the American one just out of a sense of loyalty and love for the
the London Philharmonic and St.
done a couple of recordings with the
London Symphony. I did a recording in East Germany with the
Radio, and I recorded an album of Mozart concert arias with Lucia Popp
and the Bavarian Radio.
BD: Do you
LS: I do enjoy
with most of the singers I've been
with recently. I haven't found the so-called singer temperament
be quite as much as it's cracked up to be. I've had great
with people as diverse as Placido Domingo and Kiri Te Kanawa.
all been very, very nice, very professional and wonderful people to
with. I think that the people who in general are on the top are
of what they have to do when they get on a stage. What their
choose to make up is another matter, but I don't concern myself with
All I want to do is present the music and in the most honest way it can
be presented, and usually it requires good thinking professionals to be
able to do that.
BD: Do you
LS: I don't,
don't need it. I'm very content
with what I'm doing. My orchestra retains one and then,
certain things that I have to do come down that direction; and the
companies that I work with have publicists and they may want to do
or the other. But as an individual, no, I have no interest in it
BD: You don't
want to be
content to do what I'm doing. The
average public seems to know who I am and what I do, but I'm not
about that. It just doesn't make that much difference to
All I'm concerned about is to go out and make music and to enjoy myself
and hopefully to bring some pleasure to other people. That's what
music is about for me.
BD: Is there
that you're doing too much?
LS: I'm doing
deal and I will cut back a significant
beginning with the '89-'90 season. My summer schedule will be
lightened. I won't accept as many engagements and they will be
selective. They will be oriented more towards the recordings I'm
doing, my own work with my own orchestra, and only a few orchestras
of that per season. I will take much more time off. I will
also be repeating a lot of repertoire both from the past and within a
season, so if you were to follow me around, you'd see a lot of the same
works pop up from city to city.
BD: That eases
also permits you to get deeper into a
work. For instance, the operas. I tend not to want to do
opera written. I've concentrated so far on seven or eight operas
at the most. And I will keep repeating them over and over until I
feel I've gotten a little bit closer to unlocking the major secrets and
then I'll move on to something else.
BD: Is there any
that you've played so much that you
feel you've gotten it right?
LS: No, because
do that I put it away and then I take
it out again and I realize that there's still a great deal to
This is mostly, of course, with the great works of the
I suppose I do The Russian Sailor's
Dance right, and I suppose I do The
Sabre Dance about as well as I can do it. But the majority
repertoire doesn't have a "right." We mature, hopefully; we grow
and our outlook changes, and our vision of what is right and wrong
BD: Are any
recordings that you make more important in
your mind than others?
LS: Some are
represent very personal
Among them are the recordings of Vaughan Williams' Thomas Tallis
the Fifth Symphony of
Prokofiev and the Fifth Symphony
of Shostakovich, as well as the Serenade
#1 of Brahms. Isle of
of Rachmaninoff was a very special piece for me, and probably the
Mahler Second - those are
just what come off the top of my head. The
ones that are upcoming and I'm particularly looking forward to the
Ninth, which is a very special
piece for me.
BD: But what about
makes it special for you?
LS: Part of
it is growing
up in a household where you heard
kind of music, chamber music. Where you hear the great cello
quintet, symphonically you have a kind of equivalent in the great C
It also has a very special significance for my wife and I. I had
a rehearsal in the morning in St. Louis, got married in the afternoon
I played that symphony at night. So I'd like to recreate the good
feelings that it had for me at that moment.
Shostakovich, what other records are you
LS: We have
recording a series of American works for EMI
Angel, more of the classic repertoire. We've done Copland,
Howard Hanson and Bernstein, and Gershwin.
BD: Tell me about
with Howard Hanson.
with Howard Hanson; I don't know him.
BD: I meant
but it makes an interesting
Do you feel that you work with the composer when you conduct with his
LS: Yes, the
tells me what to do and it's all pretty
much there. It's not the same thing as having the composer
there and telling you, "No, it's too fast," or "It's too slow."
use your common sense and your good judgment. But when we did
Howard Hanson [Symphony #2], it was very comfortable. I
quite surprised to see that my performance of it takes three minutes
than Hanson's recording. But in our hall with our orchestra and
way we play and all that, it seemed to feel more natural.
BD: Are you
time, the amount of time that it
to play through sections or pieces?
LS: I know if
like it's too long. I'm not
of the minutes as they go by. I usually can tell if a work is
right. It has nothing to do with tempo, it has to do with the
from the beginning to the end. I'm usually aware of it as it goes
along, but not the minutes, not the minutes.
BD: Does this
change if you're feeling really up or
you're feeling really down?
LS: I suppose it
does. I can't think of too many times
I've walked on stage not really being up for a performance. I've
always gone out there and just immersed myself. The only times it
happens is once in a while if I have an orchestra or soloist I'm just
agreeing with. It doesn't happen with orchestras anymore.
used to, and it only happens occasionally with soloists. That's
I feel that time is dragging a bit, but in general, in general I think
I'm in pretty good control of the flow and pace of things.
BD: If you do
a number of
performances of the same work or the
same concert, how do you keep it fresh in those middle performances, or
even the last performances?
LS: Oh, the
know that I've not given everything
at rehearsals and in the majority of the standard repertoire they know
that I'll probably try something new. It might be a tempo switch,
it might be a ritard here, it might be something that the left hand did
to indicate a dynamic change. Very rarely have I walked out and
a performance the same way twice. Everything changes. The
changes. The way the audience behaves changes. The way
in the orchestra might appear, or an instrument might change an idea I
have. A solo in the wind section might take off on a slightly
flight in a solo passage and I'll go with it. I'll let it happen.
you're going to be cutting down on some
the repertoire; are you going to be able to sustain the interest of the
same piece over several sets of performances in a year?
LS: Yes, I've done
in the past at many performances of
works that I do over and over again in the course of the season.
Then usually I will drop it after I've done it with four or five
ensembles and put it aside for a while and pick it up several years
So I don't overplay it in my way of thinking.
BD: Do you
like the life
of a wandering minstrel?
Sure. How can I
turn it down? You go to
you go to London, you go to Paris, you go to Tokyo, you go all over the
world and still you have a nice base in a good city with a good
BD: Is it
special to come
to Chicago and conduct the Chicago
LS: Yes, I've had
relationship with this orchestra
when John Edwards brought me here for the first time almost fifteen
ago. It's always been something very close and very exciting, and
I think I was always able to complement the repertoire that Maestro
had in mind for his own seasons. [See my Interviews with Sir Georg
Solti.] I never duplicated his
and I think I made a nice balance for what was going on, particularly
those years when I was doing four weeks. I could get very
and do all kinds of interesting things. It was a very exciting
but, of course, there's always the special place, the special affection
toward the orchestra. It's been very good to me and one of the
institutions to take an interest in me early on.
BD: Is it
really the best
orchestra in the world?
LS: There's no
as the best orchestra in the
In this country alone you could cite twelve to fifteen orchestras on
given night that could be "the best" if that is what you have an idea
to what is best. But it just isn't. I think that there are
several outstanding ensembles in this country and a few in Europe, and
it has more to do with the individuality and the style of
There are people who would argue that Leningrad's Philharmonic is the
orchestra in the world, but there are a lot of people who will argue
they can't stand the sound they make. So I don't think there's
a thing as the best, I really don't; it's a personal matter and I think
that the matter of individuality of tone and of style and playing,
within given repertoires is what makes a great orchestra.
started out at
home listening to chamber music; do you
get involved at all with chamber music now?
LS: I play
quite frequently, especially in the summer
in Minneapolis. So I'm still actively involved as a
I think that a conductor has to continue to keep the hands-on
going. It's really not very difficult just to get up there and
your arms with a stick in it. A baton doesn't make any audible
to the orchestra or the audience, but's a whole different matter when
have to put your own hands and fingers down on an instrument and
your own sound. So I try to keep up with that just a bit. I
don't aspire to be a great pianist or a great instrumental performer,
I think that the fact that I do sit down and do that once in a while
me a right to be able to converse with other musicians as closer to an
equal than if I did not play any instrument at all.
BD: To what do you
LS: Just to
and make it the best I can.
all, it's that simple.
advice do you
have for audiences?
limit yourself to any one period,
limit yourself to any one manner of interpretation. Listen to as
much music as you can of as many different styles, and we're not just
so-called "classical." Listen to jazz, listen to rock & roll,
listen to country & western, listen to the blues, listen to
Find a few areas of music that you enjoy instead of just one.
BD: Do you think
older ladies and gentlemen are gonna
listen to rock and gospel?
shouldn't they? They may not like
it, but know what it is; if you don't like it, find out why you don't
it. Most people don't even give it a chance.
BD: Should the
purveyors try to get some of the rock
into the concert halls?
LS: People who
music shouldn't try to get audiences in
very hard at all. We are a specialized kind of art, and the
to a certain degree, should find us. We are not for mass
we are for maybe one and a half to two percent of the population at the
most, and that audience should really be the kind that discovers
You should let people know we exist, but you shouldn't actually try to
get people into the concert hall who ultimately won't like it.
can get access to music by going to record stores, listening to the
and going to the concert halls. All those mediums are available,
but we should not force it down people's throats. People should
to it in a natural light.
BD: Do you
you're an elitist?
LS: I think if we
that kind of attitude of forcing it
people's throats, yes. But if we simply say, "This is what we
if you wish to join us please do; if you don't, we don't mind," that's
not elitist at all. No. You could say the same thing with
& roll music, there are so many people who don't like it.
exactly the same, just the numbers change. That's all. If
wish to put a number on what percent of the population makes an elite,
go right ahead; I don't think it does. "Elite" is to say "We're
than you," and I'm not saying that. All I'm saying is that we
appeal to the widest possible audience. It's a smaller
That doesn't make us elitist.
not trying to
expand the audiences?
trying to make it
available to everybody, but I'm not
saying to them that you must come and you have to do this, and you will
like this. I just say, "Here it is; if you'd like to join us
BD: Do you go so
Boulez did and take the seats out of
LS: Oh, I did that
years ago; I'm not gonna do it
I will continue to speak to audiences about the music. I will try
to keep old pieces fresh, and I perhaps am presenting them in a
light. Recently with Enigma Variations I took the time
the audience to play bits and pieces of the different variations so
they could really associate the personalities. We had the
of all the people that are featured in the work in the program book,
we played these little fragments so they could get an identification of
what the composer had in mind. We tried to bring them closer to
creative process, and if I can do that, if people can come away being
entertained and educated, then I really have accomplished an amazing
BD: Do you
concerts work well on television?
television, for the most part, are
uncreative. I'm tired of seeing flute fingers. I'm tired of
seeing the obligatory shot through the harp strings to look at the
bow. I think it would be nice to see a more creative use of the
and the actual use of the technology available to make something more
If you're doing a pictorial work, why not represent it with pictorial
instead of the tails and the outfits we wear. Why not do Pictures
at an Exhibition and have someone creating the pictures - moving
than show the
pictures being depicted in the score?
LS: Show those too
not? When you play Great
of Kiev, Kiev is near Chernobyl. Did he have any idea his
would be played a hundred years later? No, so I don't
that's a relevant argument. All music that we hear in a concert
I think, has to sustain the test of time and the test of growth.
It must be open and flexible to different approaches, just as I have no
objection to music when it's transformed to other mediums into sizes
if it's presented with a degree of integrity to what is there in the
I have no problem with visual images. How many people go to a
and just sit there and keep their mind a blank and don't conjure up
sort of visual image? I can't think of too many people, even the
die-hards who object so strenuously to program music. How can you
hear Strauss's Don Quixote and not get the picture of the sheep
and the shepherds and his death; how can you not put that in your
And how can anybody anywhere have the same image as another
So why not take a piece of music like that where you can associate in
matter? Of course, you say, "This is my vision of what I see when
I listen to this music." There's absolutely nothing wrong with
come into conflict when someone else
LS: Then they
their own version.
BD: But if they're
watching the television, they are forced to
see what is there.
LS: Do you have an
objection when you go to the theater and
see a play and you see the director's viewpoint, one viewpoint?
you have an objection when you go the opera and you see one
Why should it be any different for television?
LS: Yes, yes,
is a lot of fun. It's a lot of
fun. I enjoy it. I have a good time. I think it's
fun now that I don't worry about the technical aspects of it so
When I'm thinking about where the first beat goes or what to do with
left hand then it was a little more work. Now it's a lot of fun.
BD: Thank you
for being a
LS: Thank you; I
think of anything else to do.
Actually I'd like to be a baseball broadcaster. That's my real
So when this career dries up, I'm all set to go. I have a job all
set with the Cardinals; the front office has contacted me. I do
play-by-play and sit in the booth with Jack Buck, the Cardinals
and we do a little bit. It's great fun for me.
BD: Is it a
from the music?
get a little more creative part of
brain that you don't have to use when you're conducting.
BD: Do you
P. D. Q. Bach analysis?
[See my Interview
with Peter Schickele.]
LS: Oh, yes, I've
live with them and it's great.
I did it here in Chicago as a matter of fact, so I recommend it.
Yes, it's great, it's great fun. It serves the purpose of music
is to entertain. Remember, people do forget that during the
of that description, you're getting an analysis of a symphony.
here comes that theme again. Those four notes. It actually
is educating people who might not be thinking that way. Those who
are music lovers and take it for granted don't realize that there are
many people who are hearing this music for the first time. Maybe
that's where the true hope in music is. As much as we hear
these days about people saying, "Oh, the music business, especially the
orchestras, is dead, they're tired, it's the same old repertoire,
all the same old things," but there are still all those people out
who are experiencing this music for the first time. That is why
whole performance area of music, I think, will always remain alive
there will always be people hearing it for the first time.
= = = = = = = = = =
- - - - - - - -
= = = = = = = = = =
program booklet of the
Kennedy Center, February, 2008]
Music Director Leonard Slatkin is internationally recognized
as a celebrated musician and champion of American music and
Now in his 12th season with the NSO, he is lauded for leading the
Orchestra on triumphant tours through Europe, Asia and the US, as well
as nationally acclaimed festivals, broadcasts, and recordings. His
imaginative programming and interpretations of a vast range of
repertoire have been praised and awarded nationally and
Mr. Slatkin and the Orchestra have been
celebrated by the White House for their advocacy of America's artistic
heritage, and Mr. Slatkin has been recognized with numerous honors and
awards, including the National Medal of the Arts and the American
Symphony Orchestra League's Gold Baton for service to American music.
Slatkin has regularly appeared over the last two decades with the
world's major orchestras and opera companies, including the New York
and Berlin Philharmonics, the Chicago Symphony, and Concertgebouw
Orchestra, as well as the Metropolitan Opera and Vienna State
Slatkin is Principal Guest Conductor of London's Royal Philharmonic
Orchestra, and beginning with the 2008 season, the Pittsburgh Symphony
Orchestra. At the same time he will become Music Director of the
Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He is Conductor Laureate of the Saint
Louis Symphony and the Music Advisor to the Nashville Symphony, and has
just completed a very successful three-year term as Principal Guest
Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.
addition to his conducting appearances, Mr. Slatkin is a frequent host
of musical broadcasts, which include the BBC, lending his broad
knowledge and expertise.
Mr. Slatkin's extensive discography
of more than 100 recordings have been recognized with nine Grammy
Awards and more than 60 Grammy nominations.
Mr. Slatkin is a
well-known advocate for arts education in America. He works with
students of all ages, both in schools and at the Kennedy Center. This
year he begins a relationship with Indiana University as the Arthur R.
Metz Foundation Conductor at the Jacobs School of Music, as well as a
relationship with American University as its Distinguished Artist in
Residence. He holds honorary doctorate degrees from educational
institutions such as Juilliard, Washington University, University of
Maryland, St. Louis Conservatory, and Shenandoah Conservatory.
Slatkin is the founder and director of the National Conducting
Institute, a groundbreaking program established in 2000 to prepare
gifted conductors for work with major orchestras. He is an
champion of both old and new music, which has placed him at the
forefront of the nation's musical leaders.
For more information on Mr. Slatkin, please visit www.leonardslatkin.com.
© 1986 & 1988 Bruce Duffie
These interviews were recorded in Chicago on September 15, 1986 and
Portions were used (along with recordings) on WNIB several times
1988 and 1999, on WNUR in 2003, and as a special program which was part
of the in-flight entertainment package aboard Northwest Airlines in
of 1989. Audio copies of both unedited interviews have been
in the Oral History American Music Archive at Yale
This transcription was edited and posted on this website in 2008.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago
from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of
2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and
journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM,
as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.