Proms 2006 – Leonard Slatkin and Leonidas Kavakos

Written by: Colin Anderson

Expect the unexpected! “It was only the other week that I was called about stepping in for Sir Andrew. We had to move some things around at the Hollywood Bowl, which is my new summer home, and the Nashville Symphony, where I am involved in the opening of the new hall. But everyone recognised the urgency of the situation, so the arrangements were made.” Leonard Slatkin on replacing Andrew Davis for Prom 61 (August 30) which features the Pittsburgh Symphony. “Our associations go back to the seventies. I was the director of the orchestra’s former summer home at Great Woods and earlier this season I replaced Richard Hickox in a concert of Elgar and Holst. For this tour, that Sir Andrew had planned concerts with a great deal of American music is simply marvellous: it’s with great pleasure that I am able to take all of the programmes intact.” Included in the Prom is Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 2, “a favourite ever since I first heard it in the 1950s, under Leonard Bernstein. One doesn’t have to know the patriotic or folk tunes quoted to understand that here, at last, was an American composer writing in a combination of European symphonic tradition and using melodies of his native country. And what a wonderfully bizarre ending!”

Prom 68, on September 4, is a late-night affair of Mozart and Haydn with violinist Leonidas Kavakos also conducting Camerata Salzburg, a 10-year relationship that has a “very strong and wonderful chemistry.” Over the years, with conductors such as Sándor Végh and Roger Norrington, Camerata Salzburg’s “enriched sound and expressive possibilities can realise any wish or idea one might have. There is only one way to make music – that is as chamber music.” Included in the Prom is “what is believed to be Mozart’s very first symphony; it’s fascinating in that it’s not happy, except for the finale. He was only eight years old! The theme of the second movement is the same as the final movement of his last symphony, the Jupiter. With Mozart, nothing happens by chance!” Leonidas also plays one of Mozart’s violin concertos (recorded by this team on Sony Classical) from a “very special phase of his life when he played the violin, very well it seems, and this one (K216) has wonderful dialogues between the violin and orchestra, Mozart finding something new to what he had already done.” That cues Haydn, the master of invention; one of his Paris symphonies, The Bear (No. 82), completes the Prom. “Haydn must have been the happiest of composers; he lived a long time and created so much, travelled a lot and was recognised and loved. And he met Mozart and Beethoven. I love Haydn’s sense of humour, so fresh and inextinguishable, and his ability to invent all the time is remarkable.”

Leonidas has a burgeoning conducting career, with a particular wish to lead Bruckner symphonies. “I was always interested in scores and what the orchestra is doing; as I say, whether it’s 100 musicians or 10, it should be chamber music. I learn a lot from conductors.” Leonidas returns to London, violin in hand, for Tchaikovsky’s concerto (September 27 & 29, Queen Elizabeth Hall): “Tchaikovsky loved Mozart and I hope I serve Tchaikovsky’s romanticism through a classical approach; it’s very noble music.”

  • BBC Proms 2006
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 24 August 2006 and is reproduced here with permission

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