Written by: Leonard Slatkin
This Thursday, the 14th, marks the beginning of my third London season as Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. But it is hardly the first thing we have done this month. Last week we played the 80th birthday concert of the BBC in Birmingham. The actual transmitter used in those days was on display. I guess size did matter back then.
We have also been busy in the studio taping a few works for future broadcast. There will be a series devoted to the conductor Serge Koussevitzky. I centered my works on pieces that came from the Foundation that bears his name. So the Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, the Three Movements for Orchestra by Steve Reich, Honegger’s 5th Symphony and the Stravinsky Ode were all recorded over the past few days.
Our program at the Barbican is almost traditional, at least by most orchestral standards. A Haydn Symphony, the 93rd opens the concert. I think the solo bassoon note in the slow movement may by the composer’s most ludicrous joke among the many in his symphonies. The 2nd Piano Concerto by Dominic Muldowney received its world premiere last week and we are bringing it to London for this concert. The amazing Angela Hewitt is superb and the work is most pleasant – a mixture of neo-classicism and impressionism. Very audience friendly, which I imagine will not please everyone.
To conclude, we have that still-revolutionary Sacre du Printemps. This was always the test piece for young conductors when I was a student. We feared its rhythmic intricacies. Nowadays I find Petrushka much more daunting. The challenge of the Rite is trying to recreate some of the violence which incited the rioting at the first performance. It is hard to do this, given the familiarity of the work, but over the years I have found myself more influenced by the Russian folk qualities of the piece as opposed to the forward thinking on the part of the composer. Hopefully, this will come across in the performance.
Back at my other base in Washington, we have had elections, shootings and premieres. Just another typical November in the nation’s capitol! Among the new works presented by the National Symphony Orchestra was a clarinet concerto by Rautavaara, which will be played a bit later in the BBCSO season. I was also very taken with a Symphony that we commissioned from the Texas-based composer Cindy McTee. I hope to present this piece here soon.
This visit is short, but I return in January for the Turnage weekend and some very interesting recording projects. In the meantime, some of you will be interested to learn that we will perform the Elgar Violin Concerto with Midori in Washington DC this December. I am looking forward to that collaboration very much.