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Birthday Celebration, Strauss And Mozart Highlight Leonard Slatkin’s Return To Powell Hall

Leonard Slatkin conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in April 2019.
Dilip Vishwanat

This weekend’s concerts at Powell Hall are a homecoming for Leonard Slatkin in more ways than one.

In addition to returning last year to live in the St. Louis area, the conductor laureate of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is taking the podium, in part, to revisit his SLSO sendoff in 1996.

Slatkin will be conducting the world premiere of variations on a theme of Paganini composed for his recent 75th birthday. The compositions update five original themes inspired by the Italian-born composer that were first performed when Slatkin’s 17-year tenure with the SLSO was ending.

“I remembered these sets of variations and thought, 'Wouldn’t it be interesting to add more?'” Slatkin told St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske.

To arrange the compositions, Slatkin approached five orchestras with whom he’s had close associations, the orchestras in St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville, Washington, D.C., and Lyon, France.

The variations — each lasting between 30 and 90 seconds — are at times humorous and sometimes serious. Though the theme “Happy Birthday to You” was against the rules, Slatkin said two of the composers cheated.

“I think the audience is going to have a lot of fun with this, and if nothing else, in the span of these 16 or so minutes, they’re probably going to hear more American composers than they’ll hear in a whole season,” Slatkin said.

Also this weekend, the SLSO’s principal oboe, Jelena Dirks, will perform Mozart’s Oboe Concerto. The piece was composed in 1777 and is remarkably just making its SLSO debut. Also part of this weekend’s bill is Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben ("A Hero’s Life").

Related Event

What: "A Hero’s Life"
When: Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, at 3 p.m.
Where: Powell Hall, 718 N Grand Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63103
More information

The Saturday night concert will air live on St. Louis Public Radio. Coverage begins at 8 p.m.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan, Alexis Moore and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.