Written by: Leonard Slatkin
When I was a child, attempting to grow up in Los Angeles, summers were mostly occupied with two things: baseball and the Hollywood Bowl. There were two teams in the city at the time so there was a game virtually every day. I would attend about twice a week, which was usually the number of evenings when I would go to a concert in the shell on Highland Boulevard.
I suppose there is not a person alive who has not seen the Bowl. It makes appearances in virtually any film about music and was seen in cartoons with Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry. For many years it has been the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Now there are actually two orchestras that perform there. The Phil does the concerts on weekdays, mostly and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, some of the best freelancers in town, does the rest. This orchestra is led by John Mauceri. On the nights when neither orchestra plays, there are various attractions of pop, jazz, world and just about any other kind of music you can imagine.
I bring this up because, starting on Tuesday night (July 12), I will become the first conductor to actually have a title with the Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. It is an unusual homecoming. My parents met there in the 30s, when the young Felix Slatkin won a competition for young soloists. Rumor had it that the whole thing was rigged and when a certain female cellist found out about it, she confronted the violinist. Apparently they argued for a while, and got married two years later. Both the arguing and the marriage would go on for a long time.
And I would go Bowling.
In an effort to save money, I applied for a job as an usher when I was 16. I figured that this way, I could earn my keep and hear all the concerts. Well, I was turned down! Perhaps if the conducting thing doesn’t work out, I can reapply.
All in all, I will be responsible for three weeks of concerts during my tenure. The opening week will be all-Gershwin. There are some unusual selections, however. I decided to play a couple of pieces by orchestrators that were associated with George. So we will perform the Hollywood Suite by Ferde Grofé and a Concerto Grosso for Jazz Band and Orchestra by Robert Russell Bennett. I have also commissioned a new “Gershwiniana” by a most talented arranger, Rob Mathes. We have Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell to sing excerpts from “Porgy and Bess”. Jean-Yves Thibaudet will play the Concerto in F, Rhapsody in Blue and I Got Rhythm Variations.
When I return in August, we will have Mahler 5, Brahms 1, Ives’s Three Places in New England, a program of Bach transcriptions danced by the Joffrey Ballet, and my friend Michel Camilo joins us in his Piano Concerto.
When I think back to those early days I always remember the artists who came regularly to the Bowl. I heard Heifetz, Ormandy, Reiner, Rubinstein, Solti and so many others. My father would conduct and record with the orchestra. And those were during the times when there was no acoustical enhancement. Now the Bowl has been renovated. It still seats about 19,000 patrons but the shell is larger and the electronics have certainly improved. There are also two screens, which transmit to the audience a view of the proceedings onstage from several cameras located on the stage. But it is still the music that draws the audience.
So the young boy, who used to walk the two miles from his home up through Hollywood to hear concerts, will now drive there and walk on stage. I am not sure if it will feel like coming home; I left when I was 19. But I do know that history and tradition will be in the air. Much of the music we will play on Tuesday was recorded by my father with this orchestra. And my son will be there to hear it. Talk about going home again.