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Leonard Slatkin

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Season's Greetings

Posted: 09/19/2013 6:10 pm

If it is September, then that can only mean one thing: concerts are up and running again.
Most orchestras in the United States take large chunks of time off in the summer, with several participating in music festivals that wrap up in the early part of August. In many cases, several musicians take off early to play in other organizations, just to recharge the musical batteries. After a long season of music making, the break is needed.

A first rehearsal is always something of a catch up time. Musicians who have not seen each other in months, much less play together, are excited to hear about what their colleagues have been up to. The conductors are primarily interested in finding out what the group will sound like after a lengthy absence.

Most orchestras start out on the light side, playing Gala concerts, events in various parts of the community or even some educational programs. Marketers do not like the season to begin too early, as concertgoers are still trying to get the kids back to school and are not ready to dive into Bruckner just yet.

Neither are most of the musicians. The majority of the classic repertoire requires time together. Not that the players are rusty but between time off and making music with others, it is important to reestablish the home connections. Almost every orchestra has some newcomers, who must be brought into the fold so that they can fit into the fabric that has been woven for years.

There is also the matter of physical conditioning. Musicians are very much like athletes. If you have not used the muscles in a while, or utilized them in different surroundings, you must get back into shape slowly. The sheer physicality of conducting requires a gradual buildup of sinews rather than an immediate immersion. One false movement and you can wind up with a wrenched back or violists elbow.

There are also administrative changes to deal with. Some orchestras will have new leadership in management and the board of directors. Learning to work with each other is the only way to keep things on a relatively smooth course. Although we are five years past the great economic downturn, there are still enormous obsticles for the majority of symphony orchestras in America. And we continue to have some orchestras that are going through very difficult labor strife.

My season in Lyon has already begun, with two weeks of concerts taking place at various music festivals. The Detroit Symphony will play its initial offering not in Motor City but in New York, as part of a Contemporary Chinese Music Festival. I am not even conducting, but will be there to cheer them on.

With the Tigers inching forward toward their third consecutive playoff berth, it is conceivable that the cry in the concert hall will be "Play Bach."

So we wish all of our orchestral brethren the very best as this new season begins. Oh, let us not forget those in the opera house and ballet pit. Each of us is fortunate to be doing what we love. Bringing joy, sorrow, passion and soul into the lives of our audience is something very special. We just need to remind ourselves of that once in a while.

 
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