On Marking Marginally Important Occasions



Reviewed by: Leonard Slatkin

Reviewed: 13 August, 2004
Venue: NULL

Leonard Slatkin celebrates his 60th birthday with a Prom concert

September 1 has been sitting on my calendar for some time now. On that date, I will turn 60 years old. This is somewhat surprising as my grandfather only made it to 56 and my dad passed away when he was only 47! The marvels of modern medical technology have helped me a bit, but I do try and take care of myself more than my forebears.

In any event, how should I mark this slightly auspicious date? It just so happened that a Prom had been scheduled anyway, so a concert would take place no matter what. What better way to sulk than with friends and colleagues on stage? And for this concert, we planned a few things that are close to my heart.

Many years ago, at a Prom, I presented a version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, in which about nine different orchestrators were represented. It may come as a surprise to some that Ravel was not the only person to attempt a broader view of the original piano version. In fact, there are many people who have never heard the keyboard rendition and only know the work in its orchestral guise. Over the years, I have come across more than 25 different settings of the work. And this is not counting versions for guitar, organ and even two accordions.

In this performance we will present about 13 orchestrators, including one movement by Sir Henry Wood, who created his version before Ravel. There are versions for small orchestra, one for piano solo with orchestra, two for wind band and an astonishing ‘Great Gate of Kiev’, for very large orchestra, organ and men’s chorus! Even the opening ‘Promenade’ will have a different twist, as this particular version starts with only percussion and includes a counter-melody of a popular work most of you will recognize.

Before the full performance, we will demonstrate how the orchestrations differ by playing three or four excerpts of the same passage in the hands of the different arrangers. All in all, this should be great fun for everyone involved and, hopefully, educational as well.

Also on the program is a work by my very good friend, John Corigliano. He is apparently being represented at the Proms for the first time, and if that is true, it is somewhat shocking. John is one of the most important composers working today and his output is substantial. At this concert, we will perform his Clarinet Concerto, a work that has been taken up by virtually all the major clarinettists of today. It is not a far reach to suggest that this is the most important work in that form since the concerto by Copland. It takes all the virtuosity and musicality humanly possible from the soloist and the demands on the orchestra are substantial as well. With five horns, two trumpets and two orchestral clarinets placed spatially around the Arena, the work should have an astonishing effect in the Albert Hall.

We open with what seems like a bit of shameless disc promotion, an extended sequence from Benjamin Britten’s ballet, The Prince of the Pagodas. I recorded some of this music with the BBCSO about a year ago. But the section we are playing actually fits well into the East meets West theme of the Proms this season. Like the other two works on the program, this one exploits the orchestral resource to the max and is a fine showcase for the evening’s leader, Stephen Bryant, as there is an extended cadenza for solo violin.

I am told that there may be a surprise or two during the course of the concert. Whatever Nick Kenyon and Co have up their sleeve, I can only hope it will not take away from what is the most important aspect of the evening; the music. But knowing the Proms director, I suspect it will be done with good grace, humor and respect for a soon-to-be elder statesman of the podium.

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