A month in the life

Written by: Leonard Slatkin

Just because it appears that I am only doing one concert in March with the BBC Symphony, it should not be assumed that this is the only thing that we do together. In fact, I will have spent four weeks with the orchestra, doing a number of projects. Hopefully, some of you will get to see and hear most of these.

We started at the end of February. Actually, this was not with the orchestra but with the BBC Singers. Part of our Chandos recordings includes completing the Bernstein Symphonies. The Third is to be coupled with the Chichester Psalms. But to make the disc even more interesting, we decided to do his Missa Brevis as well. The Symphony Chorus is just too large for this, so it was decided to do it with the smaller group instead. But the piece is only about 12 minutes. So we recorded a few other works for use on Radio 3. There was the delightful Alice in Wonderland songs by the American Irving Fine. And there were arrangements of pop songs by Gene Puerling, of the Hi-Lo’s and Singers Unlimited. These were my suggestions and the Singers had a great time with music that is not usually associated with them. We all agreed that we should do a concert together with this repertoire.

Next up was the completion of the Bernstein disc with the Orchestra and full chorus. We spent a day rehearsing at Maida Vale and then headed out to Watford, where the sessions took place. Ann Murray sang the beautiful Kaddish aria. The chorus had been placed quite far away from the orchestra and there was no chance to move them closer, so Stephen Jackson, the chorus master, acted as a sub-conductor, to help convey my beat. It all worked quite well.

Back to the studio for some recording for Radio 3.This time it is comprised of three works. Koechlin’s Les Bandar-Log, Hindemith’s Chamber Viola Concerto and Weill’s Three-Penny Opera Suite. I am often left wondering why we do not play these works in concert. And in some cases, why we do them at all. It is also, it seems to me, a fine opportunity to issue some of the performances on one of the BBC’s in-house labels. There must be hundreds of outstanding contributions from years past that were only heard on radio, but exist in recorded form. Why not give more people the chance to hear them, either via disc or the internet?

After a day off, we begin rehearsing for a Barbican concert on March 10, my brother’s birthday (more about him later).This program includes the first UK performance of the third act of Puccini’s Turandot, with the ending completed by Berio. I do not need to go into the history of the work here, but suffice it to say that Luciano has a very different idea of how the ending goes, as opposed to the early completion by Alfano. Giving away too much will spoil most of the fun, but I will say that the ending leaves both the story and the music a bit more ambiguous then we would expect. Also on the Eastern-inspired program are Weber’s Overture and March to Turandot, Colin McPhee’s Tabuh-Tabuhan, and Hindemith’s Weber Metamorphosis, in which the earlier work on the concert comes back.

I have a few separate Radio 3 and 4 projects as well. Programs about Rachmaninov and Beethoven. And there will be a press conference on March 4 to announce the NSO’s season at the Kennedy Center. Please log on to the KC’s website for full details [www.kennedy-center.org].

One of my pet composers is the Argentinean, Alberto Ginastera. We will present a concert of his music on March 14 at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios. Why not at the Barbican, I hear you ask?Well, we were supposed to do one, but the good folk at the BBC have decided to minimize small audience risk in favor of a more controlled environment. Sometimes it is not practical to play for a select group of listeners in a large space. This is too bad as we originally had planned to perform the Concerto for Strings as well as the remainder of the program. As it is, you can hear the Estancia Suite, the astonishing First Piano Concerto and the UK premiere of his last work, Popul Vuh.

Then my brother shows up. Why? Well, we are starting work on a two-part television program devoted to composers who emigrated to the US and settled in Hollywood. But the show is also about my own childhood and growing up in that environment. Filming takes place here and in LA (yes, if you are from there you can use that term). Our mother was first cellist at Warner Brothers and it was for her that Korngold wrote his brief, but difficult concerto for the film, Deception.Fred is the first cellist at the City Ballet in New York, and will perform the concerto on the same instrument our mother used for the movie. Oh, and she was pregnant with him at the time.

Lots of interviews with the likes of John Williams, Randy Newman, Jerry Goldsmith and others should make this an interesting, entertaining and educational series. I am not sure if two programs constitute a series, and we were supposed to do three. But budget constraints prevented that.Perhaps what we do will be so successful that some of you will ask us to continue.

So, as you can see, just because the listings only show one concert for the orchestra and me this month, we are not exactly twiddling our thumbs for the rest of the time. This is what makes the chief conductor position so much fun. You never know what they are going to ask you to do.

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