horizontal line

Leonard Slatkin has long been one of the great classical music communicators and at one time hosting his own radio show. Two chapters in this brantub of a book are devoted to personal selections from his journalism. Now 73, he might have been expected to come up with an autobiography at this stage, and highly engaging it would have been. Maybe that’s being saved for the retirement, which he insists at the end of Leading Tones is not imminent. However, this volume will do us fine for the moment – a string of essays, snapshots of musical life and (of course, this being Slatkin) anecdotes. There’s a fantastic one about the big-shot conductor struggling to direct an awkward passage in Schumann’s Symphony No 2. ‘This is strange,’ he says. ‘I’ve never had trouble with this spot before’. ‘Neither have we,’ quips a voice from the second violins.

Leading Tones offers a meander through subject areas as varied as Slatkin’s most-favoured repertoire and the role of music critics to the saga of the Minnesota Orchestra’s legendary near-demise and (rather over-long) thoughts on auditions. There are chapters conveying vivid memories of such musicians as Eugene Ormandy, Isaac Stern, a moody Nathan Milstein, and Gilbert Kaplan: interesting reflections here on how cruelly and uncharitably some musicians treated his desire to learn conducting from scratch in order to tackle Mahler Two. Industry professionals will be intrigued by Slatkin’s thoughts on audience-building at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. What he learnt about attracting younger audience members was simple and stark: that ticket-price is such a major factor.

Two ‘interlude’ chapters allow Slatkin to lob in not just anecdotes but a wide variety of short-form observations embracing everything from the ill-advised (he says) concert-pitch used in Vienna to growls at negative public address announcements in concert halls (‘Don’t do this, don’t do that’).

Slatkin draws things towards a close by asking, then answering, questions of himself. Why he has not conducted more opera, for example. And we get a gentle nudge in the direction of his silver surfer passion: tending his website.

ANDREW GREEN Read the full review on Agora Classica

   Read full review   

To continue reading, please upgrade to a premium account. You will have immediate full access.

Read more classical music reviews online here:

Classical Music, 2018 - ©Rhinegold Publishing