Leonard Slatkin To Take the Wheel At Detroit Symphony

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By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Leonard Slatkin will become the music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at the beginning of the 2008-2009 season, just three months after his oft-troubled 12-year tenure with the National Symphony Orchestra comes to a close.

Slatkin's initial contract in Detroit is for three years. Because of previous engagements, he will lead only five weeks of concerts beginning next fall, but this will be increased to a minimum of between 12 and 20 weeks by the 2009-2010 season, including touring and summer concerts.

No financial information was disclosed, but Slatkin received $1.2 million from the NSO for the 2004-2005 season, the last year for which figures are available, while Neeme Jarvi, who served as the music director of the Detroit Symphony from 1990 to 2005, received only half that amount. One industry insider, who would not speak for attribution, citing his work with other orchestras and conductors, suggested that Slatkin's compensation would be somewhere between what he made in Washington and what Jarvi made in Detroit, and said that the light load in the first year would help sweeten the seeming cut in salary.

Slatkin, 63, is already busy -- as principal conductor for the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, as the music adviser to the Nashville Symphony and as a professor of music at Indiana University.

Although he will not begin his official duties with the Detroit Symphony for almost a year, Slatkin is already participating in artistic and strategic planning. He could not be reached yesterday, but said in a statement: "We are already making significant plans for future seasons." He pledged to "continue the tremendous educational activities already in place and institute new initiatives as well."

Slatkin conducted the Detroit Symphony in May for the first time in 20 years, and then came back again in the summer. "It was clear from the first downbeat that this was an extraordinary ensemble," he said. "We've reached agreement in a very short time and I am happy and honored to take the helm of this great orchestra. I believe we can develop a vision for excellence, education, new and American music." Slatkin's concerts in Detroit won respect from the board, enthusiasm from the players, and rave reviews from local critics.

It was Slatkin's years with another struggling but ambitious Midwestern orchestra, the St. Louis Symphony, that brought him fame. He was the music director in St. Louis from 1979 to 1996 and was credited with building it into one of the great American symphonic ensembles.

In the summer, when news of Slatkin's probable appointment broke, the conductor acknowledged to the Detroit Free Press that his years in Washington had been less than fully successful. He said this was partly because he had to answer to four different executive directors. But he also acknowledged some of his own failings and said he was improving.

"There was a time when I wasn't focused and at my best," he said. "I'm much more focused in rehearsals than I used to be. I'm more detailed. After going through the standard repertoire many times in my life, I finally have developed a real sense of what I want to do with these pieces."

The NSO is still searching for a music director to replace Slatkin. Hungary-based Ivan Fischer had been expected to take the helm but negotiations broke down, and now Fischer will serve only as principal conductor when he comes to Washington for two years beginning next fall.

A principal conductor generally has authority only over the concerts that he or she conducts, while a music director sets the creative philosophy for the ensemble, oversees artistic operations and has the right to initiate the reseating, or even the replacement, of musicians, subject to conditions in the labor contract.

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