Slatkin and the NSO on the road

Written by: Leonard Slatkin
(In conversation with Colin Anderson)

During the month of May, the National Symphony Orchestra will be making a tour of various European cities. Going on the road is always an exciting and arduous adventure. The logistics are enormous – about 103 musicians, 7 staff and various other personnel will be carted about to 15 cities in 18 days.

We start in Dublin and end in Lisbon. Along the way we go to Birmingham, Brighton, London and other destinations including Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Prague and Madrid.

As the musical representative of our nation’s capitol, I have always felt it important to be heard in music of the United States. And among the works to be played, several are indeed by American composers. Older works include Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and, with Joshua Bell, Serenade, and Gunther Schuller’s Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee. Of more recent vintage are John Corigliano’s Mannheim Rocket and Roberto Sierra’s Fandangos. Look for a few surprises as well in the form of encores.

In addition to Josh, Mikhail Pletnev will be heard in Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody. The symphonies will include the 5th of Prokofiev and the ’New World’ of Dvorak.

This is an exciting time for us. It is always a privilege to appear on the main stages of Europe’s concert halls. And it is a wonderful opportunity for audiences to hear how we have changed since our last trip four years ago. Look in particular for the new concertmaster and principal horn.

I think that the sound of the orchestra is dramatically richer and less strident than our last trip. Part of this is due to the new members of the orchestra and part due to the new acoustic in which we play at home in Washington’s Kennedy Center.

We do not have any plans to do commercial recording at the moment, but very few American orchestras are putting much on disc these days. Even more reason to listen to the band on tour. But one of the things that brought me to Washington DC was the opportunity to interact with the people that make the country run. This has mostly to do with education polices, or lack of, that exist in the public schools regarding music. So this job is not just about the orchestra, it as about having a role in the direction of music in the United States.

As for the imminent tour, it is actually up to the presenters of the concerts to select the programs from what we submit. It is always a condition of our agreeing to appear that an American work be on each concert. But it is quite amazing how difficult it can be to get even the most conservative of new pieces on a program. Hence, out of the 15 concerts we are playing, the Dvorak appears in 10 of the venues. Only three places took the Prokofiev. Two concerts are devoted to American music – in Vienna and Ljubljana.

The Corigliano and Sierra are intended as concert openers. Both make use of material that comes from times past. John uses pieces to illustrate the history of German music and Roberto based his work on the Soler Fandango. Schuller also uses images of the past but these are in the form of paintings rather than music. Each of the seven studies presents a musical depiction of a Klee work in a twelve-tone manner, but with a free use of different rhythmic and harmonic devices, which give each piece a distinctive flavor. In particular, listeners are always struck by the imaginative use of the oboe, harp and viola in ’Arab Village’.

The Dvorak symphony has come to represent something different to me personally. Being in London on September 11 gave me an understanding of being disconnected with one’s homeland. I now understand how Dvorak may have been trying to really indicate his longing for his home as well as how America appeared to him. It will be particularly moving to play it in Prague.

CLICK HERE for a list of tour dates and venues

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