Written by: various contributors
Monday 1 September 2014 – The Classical Source is delighted to send 70th-Birthday Greetings to its Patron and contributor, Leonard Slatkin. Following are some best-wishes (after today, and to publish any extras, we’ll make a Feature of them!).
“Can it really be possible that the maestro with Peter Pan energy has arrived at three-score years and ten, and do I have to believe it? Happy Birthday, Leonard. As ever, Andrew Keener.”
“Happy Birthday Maestro!! Love your passion and dedication to making beautiful music everywhere you go. Much love, Anne Akiko Meyers.”
“Many Happy Returns Leonard. Come back to London soon. Tony Faulkner.”
“Hi Leonard, it’s twenty years since we first met, a most-enjoyable and spontaneous interview (during which I threw away my notes!), then it was recording sessions (Haydn symphonies). It’s been fun, enlightenment and belonging ever since. Have a great 70th. See you soon on a Detroit webcast!” Colin (Anderson, editor of Classical Source)
“Dear Leonard, wishing you a beautiful birthday and many more to come! You have been an extraordinary friend to so many composers, performers and conductors, a brilliant advocate for music and an incomparable musician. With love from JoAnn Falletta and the musicians of the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Virginia Symphony.”
“There always a special charge of electricity in the air when Leonard’s on the podium – a sharp clarity, a keen intelligence, a totally natural and warm musical instinct and (if he’s reading this) by now, a swollen head! Happy 70th! Stephen Hough”
“Happy Birthday, O Youthful Mr S! They say that a Leonard doesn’t change his specs – so I trust that now you’re into the second third of your life, you will continue to be as unstoppable a bundle of youthful energy as ever; and that you’ll have a very, very happy birthday! All very bestest from Steven (Isserlis)”
“Warmest greetings on your next “big one”, old friend. It doesn’t seem THAT long ago that we first met professionally – in Langan’s Brasserie, I recall. But we were discussing your Prokofiev 5 with the Saint Louis Symphony! I’ve so enjoyed all the music, Leonard, and the dinners, and the bad (really bad) movies we’ve shared. Even though you are so rarely on these shores now (more’s the pity) I hope we can enjoy many more encounters. With admiration, Edward (Seckerson, that is).”
“Dear Leonard, how can it possibly be ten years since you came to visit me in my ‘OUP office days’ and we had a joint centenary celebration – you at 60 and myself at 40. Impossible it seems but then again perhaps not! Thanks in no small way to you I learnt a great deal about American music, not only Bernstein, Gershwin & Copland (whose music comes so naturally to you) but also Schuman (for whose music I know we both have a great admiration), Piston and Harris, as well as Bolcom, Rouse and so many others. There are still one or two that you haven’t quite convinced me about yet but I’ll keep trying! I also remember with great pleasure your performances of a wide British repertoire, Elgar, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Walton; your Prokofiev 5, Rachmaninov 2, Haydn London Symphonies, Ravel & Tchaikovsky and your amazing commitment to new music. Thank you for some incredible musical experiences and I look forward to many, many more. Happy Birthday! David” (Wordsworth)
“Leonard Slatkin and I go back 50 years – 1964 to be exact – to Aspen, where he premiered a new Concerto-Serenade for string orchestra with a crazy Brazilian violin soloist (who managed to wrap my old Lincoln around a telephone pole near Chillicothe, Missouri, with me and my then wife in it; we weren’t injured). Just this last August he premiered a new Circus Overture with the Boston Symphony, commissioned in honor of his 70th birthday; I’d asked him what he wanted – a 6 1/2-minute slam-bang concert opener – so that’s what I did. We’ve worked together many times – for example I even performed the “chansonnier” part of HK Gruber’s Frankenstein!! with Leonard once (in Milwaukee I think) – but mostly he has been an encouraging conductor and commissioner of important works from me (e.g. Fourth Symphony, featuring Joan Morris as mezzo), and the realizer of the Songs of Innocence and of Experience‘s celebrated performance and recording. This is not to ignore so many composers he has espoused, of all stripes. There is no one like him. He has a dour sense of fun, which I prize. Joan and I send our very best! Bill” (William Bolcom)
“Dear Leonard, many congratulations on your 70th and thanks for all those memorable ‘Americana’ sessions for dear departed Angel Records in Powell Hall with the Saint Louis Symphony. I am sure Brown (Meggs), somewhere, would be joining me in wishing you many more years at the top. With best wishes, John Pattrick”
“In conducting one of the key elements is experience, doing it over and over until the muscles in the right arm and hand know the music from memory, not unlike ballet dancers or athletes. Leonard has that advantage, among many others, of years and years of experience with fine orchestras. I firmly believe that he is one of the better conductors today, world-wide. Coming from an extremely musical family, he has been immersed in music-making since birth, and it shows. From a practical stand-point, I am particularly impressed in his rehearsal technique, which I observed in London and Detroit. I also recall vividly his concert with the Bamberg Symphony in Germany. My own concert followed his, and I must say Leonard left the orchestra in very good form for me. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LEONARD! The best years are yet to come!
“I’m sorry – there’s simply no way that Leonard Slatkin is 70 years old.
For many, many American conductors and orchestral musicians of my generation, Leonard was the first superstar conductor who seemed of our time and of our culture. Before Leonard, conductors were mostly mute, brooding, enigmatic figures with accents and capes. I first encountered Leonard Slatkin via the Saint Louis Symphony’s syndicated weekly radio broadcasts. In those halcyon days, one could hear a live broadcast of one of the great American orchestras every night of the week, and Saint Louis, at that time the kid brother alongside the giants in New York, Cleveland and Chicago, stood out under Leonard’s leadership not only for their virtuosity but for the astonishing breadth of their repertoire. Even then, I had the conducting bug, and I was fascinated to hear Leonard speak about music from Adams to Bruckner with genuine musical insight, wit and heart. To the extent I ever heard any of my other favourite conductors speak back then, they all seemed to sound either like one of Tolkien’s wizards or a Bond villain. Leonard was refreshingly American – direct, funny and wise. He was the first one that seemed be living in the world I was growing up in. It simply can’t be that he’s 70.
That I would one day get to study with the man whose radio broadcasts had already taught me so much is one of life’s little delights. In 2001, I had the great privilege to participate in the National Conducting Institute at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Leonard set up the NCI to give conductors with the talent and aspiration to lead major orchestras a chance to cut their teeth with the National Symphony Orchestra. To have a musician with Leonard’s vast experience at your side discreetly advising you on matters both musical and psychological is surely the best possible way to find your confidence working with 100 musicians of vast experience. However, Leonard is never one to hog the limelight – he made sure we all had mentors from within the orchestra also giving us feedback our work after each session. After the NCI, when I would occasionally return to Washington as a cover conductor, Leonard was also generous in sharing his time and experience. I particularly treasure my memory of a short session we had on Mahler’s Second Symphony that Leonard squeezed in between an NSO rehearsal and a session on Corigliano’s Second Symphony with the President’s Own across town. Leonard’s teaching is short of philosophical gobbledegook and long on plain-spoken insight. Every single thing he said in those few minutes proved to be pricelessly useful when I conducted the piece for the first time the following week.
The sheer mathematics of Leonard’s accomplishment defies understanding, starting with the number three. To have led the three orchestras in Saint Louis, Washington and now Detroit puts him in a most elite club – only Lorin Maazel has led three American orchestras of similar standing. The ultimate achievement for any conductor must be to build a great orchestra- something Leonard did early in his career in Saint Louis. Today we see him re-building a great orchestra in Detroit that has come through difficult times in his own image- savvy, visionary and virtuosic. And then there is the breadth of Leonard’s repertoire. For many years, we’ve gathered yearly “repertoire reports” on favourite colleagues and friends at my blog- an annual summary of every piece someone has conducted that year. Every year, it is Leonard whose repertoire list dwarf’s everyone else, and it’s a list that always includes many premieres, oddities, tricky accompaniments and mega-works. Put simply, Leonard seems to effortlessly conduct about twice as many pieces as anyone else in the business every year, and he does an astounding range of repertoire so well. His contributions to American music are well known and rightly celebrated, but he’s also great Anglophile, having made great recordings of works by Elgar and Vaughan Williams. Not long ago, I was in a friend’s car- he was playing a CD of the Brahms D Major Serenade, and it immediately struck me as one of the best performances I’d heard of the piece. It’s a personal favourite, but few conductors bother with it, and fewer still do it well. Of course, when I asked, I discovered it was not some glowering Teutonic maestro conducting, but Leonard.
Having gone on so long, I must mention one more aspect of Leonard’s musicianship. Conductors are here to be argued over – people may love or hate your way with Brahms or Mahler – but there’s one aspect of Leonard’s conducting that is, in my opinion, beyond debate. He’s simply one of the most phenomenal accompanists who have ever stood upon the podium. Accompanying is the most demanding part of any conductor’s job. To do it well takes real technique, a gift for anticipation, flexibility, empathy, and a sense of when to lead and when to follow. It’s a job I don’t think anyone in the business does better than Leonard. I’ve heard innumerable soloists say the same thing, and veteran soloists tend to be even tougher on conductors than orchestral musicians. Leonard has one of the most remarkable skill-sets of any conductor I’ve come across – an astounding ear, an ability to grasp almost any style, a consummate stick technique and an ability to find simple and pragmatic solutions to complex musical problems. In a field not generally associated with humility, Leonard is always ready to deploy that skill set in support of a soloist or a world premiere with the same youthful zeal he brings to the great symphonic works.
70 is young for a conductor, but forget 70. Leonard remains a conductor for our time and for tomorrow. Happy forty-fifth birthday, Leonard!” (Kenneth Woods)
“Maestro, Happy Birthday and best wishes from all of us on the Council and Executive of the Elgar Society. We hope you will enjoy good health and continue to champion Elgar’s works for many years into the future. Steven Halls (Chairman)”
“On behalf of the BBC Symphony Orchestra I would like to send warmest birthday greetings to Leonard and wish him well on this auspicious and special day. Paul Hughes”
“WOW! How thoughtful and lovely. I am truly overwhelmed. Thank you so much. As ever, Leonard”