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'A Feeling Of Home About It': Leonard Slatkin Returns To St. Louis And To The SLSO

Leonard Slatkin joined "St. Louis on the Air" Tuesday. April 23, 2019
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Leonard Slatkin’s career as a conductor has taken him to nearly every corner of the classical music world: from Lyon and Hong Kong to Washington, D.C.

But despite all of that traveling, he still considers St. Louis—where he debuted with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra as an assistant conductor in 1968 and served as music director from 1979 to 1996—to be his home base.

“My grandparents on my father's side emigrated here from Russia in 1911; my dad was born here and was assistant concertmaster when he was 19 years old; I was here for 27 years altogether and then retained this title of music director laureate and then my son was born here—so four generations of Slatkins are here,” he explained to St. Louis Public Radio reporter Jonathan Ahl on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air.

“So there is a feeling of home about it. I've spent more time here than in any other place,” Slatkin added.

Slatkin moved back to St. Louis last summer and over the next two weekends, he will conduct two concerts with the SLSO to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his debut with the orchestra. He said that returning to Powell Hall with so many new faces in the ensemble feels somewhere between rejoining an old band and being a guest.

“It doesn't feel exactly like being a guest conductor, but it certainly doesn't feel like being a music director at all,” he said. “So to me, it's just a regular set of visits where I see the change that occurs in the orchestra.”

For the anniversary concert, Slatkin said he intentionally selected a program that fits the mold of what he became famous for—championing new American music while performing the classics. The concert includes the world premiere of a new song cycle by Jeff Beal and a Samuel Barber symphony that Slatkin helped popularize when he recorded it with the SLSO.

Slatkin reiterated that he doesn’t being mind associated with certain kinds of compositions.

“At this point I think people want me to come and do what I'm known for doing, and that means American repertoire, Russian repertoire, British repertoire and French repertoire. That doesn't mean I don't do Austrian and German repertoire, but if you're going to give me those four, I'll take it,” he joked.

Listen to the full conversation:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. “St. Louis on the Air” producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan andJon Lewis give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Jon Lewis was the production intern at St. Louis Public Radio from January to May 2019. Originally from Pelham, New York, Jon came to St. Louis to attend Washington University in 2015. Previously, Jon has interned for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Eight by Eight, a soccer magazine based in Brooklyn.