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Detroit Symphony Orchestra conductor Leonard Slatkin was greeted with cheers and an orchestral version of “Happy Birthday” when he landed at Metro Airport on Tuesday afternoon.

The musical director was returning from a trip to Lyon, France, where he turned 70 on Sept. 1. A few dozen well-dressed friends, DSO board members, staff and musicians welcomed Slatkin back to the Motor City with signs, noisemakers, banners and balloons.

“Surprised is not the word,” said a shocked and happy-looking Slatkin to the crowd of well-wishers. He took off his Detroit Tigers baseball cap and absorbed the scene. “It’s amazing. Thank you.”

“We welcome you home with open arms,” said DSO chairman Phillip Fisher. “We are happy to have him home.”

The Maestro’s milestone birthday celebration continues Oct. 10-12 when the DSO’s 2014-15 classical season opens. Slatkin will lead the orchestra in performing William Bolcom’s “Circus Overture,” Brahms’ “Symphony No. 1” and others, with featured violinist Sarah Chang.

Before Slatkin’s arrival Tuesday, the International Arrivals area was atwitter with young musicians practicing “Happy Birthday” and passing out party hats and noisemakers.

“I’m very excited ... it’s Maestro Slatkin’s 70th birthday,” said flutist Larry Williams, 15, who was part of Civic Youth Ensembles group that played “Happy Birthday” at the airport. “It’s a joy to perform for a person like this. We don’t always get to see him, not as much as the DSO does.”

The birthday celebration travels to New York City on Oct. 29, where Slatkin and the DSO will perform at the SubCulture performing arts venue. The group will be joined by Branford Marsalis, Joyce Yang, Fred Zlotkin and more.

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/melodybaetens

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