The last note played, Slatkin reflects on his experience

Posted Sunday, Jun. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Minutes after the final note was played on Sunday, conductor Leonard Slatkin was headed to the jury room to give his assessment of the six finalists. Before he did, he spoke to the Star-Telegram.

“You start by looking, I start looking, who commanded the most attention from the orchestra as they played?” he said. “That’s one way of looking at it. That’s pretty easy to tell. Which ones really drew the orchestra into what they were doing, or me, for that matter. It’s my job to be equal with them, and the orchestra’s, too. But was there a kind of personality in the playing that pulls an orchestra into what they are doing? You can hear it more with some than others.”

And who were those pianists in the finals?

“ (Beatrice) Rana and Vadym (Kholodenko), is that his name?” he said. “Those were the two who consistently got the orchestra to sit a little bit more on the edge of their seats. I think Sean (Chen) did as well. He was musically quite free with what he did. In the rehearsals and what he did in the concerts were different enough and spontaneous but always musical to make us interested in what he was doing.

“I think it became pretty clear, in the concertos anyway, how it was going to stack up,” he said. “ But I have no idea how it stacks up in relation to the solo playing or the chamber music, so the end result should not totally reflect what we did here over the last four days. It needs to reflect the totality.

“I think there was a fatigue factor for a couple of them,” he said. “Fei-Fei (Dong) really suffered because it was really too much for her. But she’s so talented I’m not really worried about her. (Tomoki) Sakata also had a little of the fatigue factor. It’s hard. It’s hard. It’s a marathon.”

Slatkin said he would also tell the jury that the pianists who played first in the finals may have been at a disadvantage.

“It was the first night. We were still feeling our way through this, me and the orchestra,” he said. “So I think there was just a little bit of tentativeness on everyone’s part.”

Finally, as it did for so many in the hall on Sunday, performances of Tchaikovsky’s First and Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto brought back Slatkin’s memories of the competition’s namesake.”

“More than any other night the specter of Van was here for me,” he said. “I just started thinking about him. It’s hard to explain. I can’t imagine anybody here who knew him or heard him play in his prime who can’t help but think about him when those pieces are played. They’re signature works. It’s just a reminder of him when I hear these pieces.

“Many things come to mind,” he said. “For me it was never about the politics of it all. It was really about a pianist who we had not seen or heard in American play in this way, in the big sweeping manner that he had. Any time your heard those opening chords of Tchaikovsky, nobody ever played them like that. It was like an orchestra came out of the piano. Those are the kinds of things that struck me tonight as we were going though.”

--TIM MADIGAN

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