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Returning To Bowl : Slatkin Learning Art Of Turning Down Work

August 23, 1986|DANIEL CARIAGA | Times Music Writer

"I've finally learned to say no," boasts Leonard Slatkin. "I even turned down some engagements offered me last week."

The Los Angeles-born conductor, on the phone from Minneapolis--there leading a seventh season of the monthlong summer festival of the Minnesota Orchestra--says he is a musician who until recently felt he had to take "every opportunity that came my way.

"But now I've realized that one can be sane and healthy and successful and turn down work," says the music director of the St. Louis Symphony, who will be 44 years old Sept. 1. "I don't have to say yes every time the phone rings."

Slatkin admits this attitude is new and came about gradually. "At a certain point in a career, one mellows. Suddenly things seem to fall into place."

That doesn't, of course, mean working less, he points out. Coming to Los Angeles next week after a brief vacation with his wife, the conductor will lead two Hollywood Bowl concerts and immediately move on to his next major engagement--his debut at Chicago Lyric Opera, leading Mozart's "Zauberfloete." Then on to Europe for the remainder of the fall season.

"It's because I return to so many of the same places regularly that I can turn down some one-shot jobs," Slatkin explains. "I've been very lucky."

Also very astute. Formerly an assistant and later an associate conductor at St. Louis, he has been music director of that Missouri ensemble seven years; his current contract runs through 1991.

He remains director of the Minnesota Orchestra "Sommerfest"--which he describes as "the only indoor, major-orchestra festival in this country"--and has "an informal agreement" with the Chicago Symphony "to conduct there annually." His guesting with the New York Philharmonic is regular, and he also leads selected winter concerts of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Then, too, Slatkin appends: "I spend at least two months a year in Europe, so that doesn't leave much time for vacations. But this season I insisted on taking some time off, and scheduled a total of six weeks away from conducting."

The symphonic life has been Slatkin's since he was 19 and first began conducting, at Aspen. Through subsequent years of study at the Juilliard School in New York--he grew up in Los Angeles, the son of musicians--and beyond, the focus of his interest has been on symphonic and chamber-music literature.

"Except for Mozart, who is the great exception in everything, I never knew that a real connection between opera and chamber music could exist," he says. "The two areas always seemed mutually exclusive--two different worlds."

That is, until he discovered Richard Strauss' "Ariadne auf Naxos," which is, Slatkin proposes, "both an opera and a work for a chamber-sized instrumental ensemble."

He first conducted "Ariadne" for Opera Theatre of St. Louis in 1979. Next month, he makes what he calls "my big-company operatic debut" with Chicago Lyric.

Two weeks ago, however, his thoughts were on the immediate future. "Tomorrow night we have a (concert performance of) 'Fidelio'; tonight, a chamber music concert. I love playing the piano, and do a lot of that here." Slatkin's wife, soprano Linda Hohenfeld, is one of the resident artists at the Minnesota Orchestra summer festival.

"This festival does not have an unlimited budget," the conductor specifies, "but it does have a growing, enthusiastic following, people who aren't the same people as the winter audience. Also, the participants are all good friends, so we can use a lot of imagination in repertory and scheduling.

"Even though it started out as a 19th-Century type of festival, Sommerfest has now evolved into the kind of freewheeling event that can even commission new works, which we did this year. It's an exciting place to be."

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