Arts & Culture

Slatkin gets acquainted with FWSO ahead of 2017 Cliburn competition

Conductor Leonard Slatkin directs the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra during the 2013 Cliburn competition.
Conductor Leonard Slatkin directs the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra during the 2013 Cliburn competition. Star-Telegram archives

Maestro Leonard Slatkin wants to get to know Fort Worth.

The conductor, who led the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra during the finals of the 2013 Cliburn International Piano Competition, will return as jury chairman for the 2017 competition. He is back in town for a series of concerts with the symphony this weekend, he said, so he can become more familiar with the musicians.

“I thought maybe it would be a good idea to get to know the orchestra a little bit better,” Slatkin said in an interview Monday. “That’s why I agreed to come and do a week prior to the next Cliburn competition.

“I can spend a whole week working with them, and getting closer to them, and it would help me understand what their massive job is during the competition.”

In a change from past competitions, next year’s Cliburn will require all 12 semifinalists to perform a Mozart piano concerto with the FWSO, under the direction of Nicholas McGegan. Then, six finalists will perform a concerto of their choosing, with Slatkin conducting the FWSO.

As part of his “getting to know you” week with the symphony, Slatkin said he chose a variety of pieces, such as Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor, for the orchestra to perform.

He paired the popular symphony with several American works, including one — Double Play — by his wife, Cindy McTee.

I think of Cindy in this respect, as very much just another composer. I just happen to be married to her.

Leonard Slatkin

“I thought it would be nice to have three very contrasting American works, two of them by composers who are almost polar opposites, [Leonard] Bernstein and [Samuel] Barber, and then one that kind of combines their two worlds,” Slatkin said.

“I think of Cindy in this respect, as very much just another composer. I just happen to be married to her.”

McTee spent almost 30 years as a professor at the University of North Texas. She retired in 2011 and moved to Michigan, where she and Slatkin live.

Slatkin, who is music director of the Orchestre National de Lyon in France, as well as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, said he is aware of recent contentious contract talks between the Fort Worth orchestra management and musicians.

As a conductor, Slatkin said, he does not take sides in labor disputes but believes a conductor’s role is to look at the issues and help come up with creative solutions to problems facing a city’s symphony orchestra.

“Having gone through it in Detroit, maybe I can offer words of encouragement to both sides,” Slatkin said, noting that the Detroit musicians went on a six-month strike in the 2010-2011 season. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra signed a three-year contract that will expire in August 2017.

During his week here with the symphony, Slatkin said, he also wants to get to know the people of Fort Worth and the city.

“When I did the Cliburn the last time, I didn’t have the chance to take advantage of the museums and other things, so I have a little time to do that,” Slatkin said. “I think Fort Worth could be a truly fascinating place.”

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @STFeatures

Slatkin Conducts Tchaikovsky 5

  • 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
  • Bass Hall, Fort Worth
  • $20-$82
  • 817-665-6000; www.fwsymphony.org
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