Not surprisingly, perhaps, Leonard Slatkin is nuts about Prokofiev. 

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra music director laureate will open the 2018-2019 classical season Friday, and Prokofiev’s “Violin Concerto No. 1” is item one on the menu. 

Of the Soviet composer’s two concertos, the first, Slatkin said, is “the more subdued and restrained — almost intimate. It’s got a lovely ending,” he added, “like a bird flying off, very soft and quiet, and quite unusual for a concerto.”

Slatkin spoke a week ago over a surprisingly clear long-distance line from Mallorca, Spain, where he was conducting the local Orquesta Sinfónica de las Islas Baleares.

The week before, the peripatetic conductor was in Russia to lead the Moscow Philharmonic, a “phenomenal experience” he called one of the most pleasurable of his life.

If all that sounds like a lot of work for someone who had heart-bypass surgery in May, it doesn’t seem to faze Slatkin. 

“I feel really good,” he said. “The first conducting I did post-surgery was just two weeks ago at a violin competition, which turned out to be a good way to start back — not quite as physically active as doing concertos all night.”

Performing the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1 will be Gil Shaham, whom Slatkin describes as one of the most important violinists of the 20th or 21st centuries. The Orchestra Hall audience, he said, is in for a treat. 

“Gil is in demand all over the world,” Slatkin said, “and has an infectious way of relating to an audience” — something you can’t claim about every soloist. 

Opening the evening will be “The Seventh Trumpet” by modernist composer Donald Erb. 

“The name comes from the Book of Revelations,” Slatkin said. “Hopefully the earth won’t come crashing down when we finish it.” 

Published in 1969, the work had an immediate impact.

“People couldn’t figure it out,” Slatkin said. “There were strange sounds — bassoons took their reeds out, string players used pencils rather than bows. You’re not going to come out humming the tunes,” he promised, “but you will remember the rhythms and sounds.”

The final work of the evening will be Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.”

Written in the late 1890s, the idea behind the 14 variations, Slatkin explained, “was that each one was based on a different friend. Elgar felt only the people he was portraying would recognize themselves, but over the year scholars have pretty much figured out their identities.”

In any case, he added, “It’s a great showpiece for the orchestra.” And the audience, Slatkin suggested, will likely recognize one of the middle variations.

“It’s called ‘Nimrod,’<TH>” he said, “which people will likely recognize. It was written for Elgar’s publisher, but it’s often used in funeral services in Britain.” 

All in all, this amounts to a homecoming to relish. 

Even though Slatkin’s entered an “emeritus” role while the DSO searches for a new music director, “I still think of them very much as ‘my orchestra,’<TH>” he admitted.

“And I always look forward to returning to Orchestra Hall,” he added. “Such a jewel, so amazing.” 


(313) 222-6021


Opening Classical Weekend — Detroit Symphony Orchestra 

Erb: “The Seventh Trumpet” 

Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 1

Elgar: “Enigma Variations” 

8 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday 

Orchestra Hall, 3711 Woodward, Detroit 

Tickets: $15-$100 

(313) 576-1111



Read or Share this story: