A whirlwind of enthusiasm and anticipation greet his opening concerts as music director of the Lyon ensemble, the most important French orchestra outside Paris. His guest appearances last season with the orchestra drew high praise from audiences and critics as well as musicians of the orchestra.
The 65-year-old conductor has had his bumps over the last few years (a heart attack while conducting in Rotterdam and a high profile six-month strike by his other orchestra, the struggling Detroit Symphony, are among the tribulations.) The outlook for Lyon, however, is nothing but celebratory and he joins other popular Americans who have high-profile roles in French musical life: Lawrence Foster is music director of the opera and orchestra in Montpellier and John Axelrod is the popular leader of the reenergized Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire which has seasons in both Nantes and Angers.
Two pairs of concerts played on four successive nights celebrate Slatkin's arrival. A pair of opening concerts on September 15 and 16, has Slatkin conducting Ravel's "Rhapsodie Espagnole" and the Jazz-influenced "Piano Concerto in G major" plus Berlioz' "Symphonie Fantastique." The second pair, the 17th and 18th, features the monumental Second Symphony, "The Ressurection," of Gustav Mahler which will be preceded by the elegiac Ravel setting of the Hebraic prayer, the Kaddish.
In October, the first of a series "L'Amerique de Leonard Slatkin," is launched with a program featuring Ron Nelson's "Savannah River Holiday," Michel Camilo's "Piano Concerto No. 1" (with the composer at the keyboard), Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" Suite and extracts from John William's music for "Star Wars." Other concerts in this series will include, in addition to other American composers, Samuel Barber and Elliott Carter. "It is conceived to introduce different aspects of the musical richness of the United States," says Slatkin. "We will present works from this country in all their diversity. Music for films, jazz and classics will be in the mix."
The traditional bread-and-butter repertory will also be heard with large servings of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms included in his baker's dozen of appearances his first season. A special focus will be on the orchestra works of Dimitri Shostakovich and the two Mahler symphonies in the new season are part of a cycle with two each over the next five years.
Leonard Slatkin has more than one hundred recordings and has won five Grammy awards. He has been awarded the title Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by France and is "docteur honoris causa" of the Juilliard School in New York. His father was the conductor and violinist Felix Slatkin and his mother the cellist Eleanor Aller, both founding members or the famed Hollywood String Quartet.