You may associate him just with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, but Leonard Slatkin has a literary side — and a new book on the music business that’s being released today.
The music director’s second book, “Leading Tones: Reflections on Music, Musicians, and the Music Industry” (Amadeus Press, $27.99), gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at a professional orchestra and what it’s like to be a classical musician.
“Leading Tones” follows on the heels of Slatkin’s 2012 “Conducting Business: Unveiling the Mystery Behind the Maestro,” which Hour Detroit called “spirited, sometimes enlightening, and frequently entertaining.”
Slatkin’s modest about his talents with the pen. “I don’t consider myself a professional writer,” he told The Detroit News. “I do it purely out of fun.”
And in a comment many wordsmiths would both envy and resent, the maestro said he doesn’t have to agonize in getting words down on the page.
“It’s not a question of waiting for the muse to strike,” Slatkin said. “I have way too many ideas floating in my head. Sometimes I’ll get up in the middle of the night and just start writing — whether music or writing.”
“Leading Tones,” which weighs in at 286 pages, is a collection of freestanding essays that range across the wide spectrum of Slatkin’s interests, from “The Audition: A Cautionary Tale” to “Slatkin on Slatkin.”
He also jots down memories about six famous musicians he’s had the good fortune to work with, from Eugene Ormandy to Isaac Stern to John Williams, the film composer.
Slatkin credits violinist Stern with jump-starting his career.
“He was instrumental in helping shape and guide my career,” Slatkin said, “and gave me opportunities when I was young that major artists just weren’t giving. He believed in me that much.”
The two grew close, and Slatkin would end up vacationing with Stern as well as conducting for him all around the world.
One of his favorite Stern stories concerns the musician’s impressive ability to multitask.
“I’ll never forget,” Slatkin said, “I walk into his hotel room and he’s watching tennis on TV, has his fiddle on his lap, and is on the phone with the prime minister of Israel.”
In the third and last section of his book, Slatkin dwells at length on changes in his industry over his career.
One of the biggest, he said, is the diminished role of the music director.
“In former eras, if you were a music director,” Slatkin explained, “you had total control over almost every aspect of your orchestra. That has changed.”
The shift reflects a tilt to the grass-roots — the musicians themselves — which Slatkin mostly thinks has been good for the profession.
Nowadays, for example, the orchestra itself has a much larger role in hiring and firing.
“In my era,” Slatkin added,, “the voice of the orchestra was determined by the conductor. But now when we have auditions at the DSO,” he said with a laugh, “I’m sent to my room.”
Reflections on Music, Musicians and the Music Industry’
by Leonard Slatkin