- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

Washington needs to become an arts destination in the 21st century, National Symphony Orchestra Music Director Leonard Slatkin said yesterday in a "newsmaker" speech to the National Press Club.

The Washington area possesses a wealth of arts, he said, but "outside this area, nobody knows this."

Washington may not have the resources to become a New York, Mr. Slatkin said, but "we need to show the rest of the country that arts are not a dying institution."

Mr. Slatkin is in his fifth year as conductor of the NSO he came here from St. Louis and his first as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London. He was asked whether the "peripatetic nature of top conductors" dilutes their energy, attention and commitment. "I've traveled all over the world as a conductor," he said, adding that he took the BBC job to try to narrow his conducting "bases" to two.

When conductors are young, said Mr. Slatkin, 56, they "want to conduct as much as possible."

Another reason he took the BBC job, he said, was to know what it's like to work for a fully subsidized organization. "I'm able to program in ways there that I never could do here. We looked at Aaron Copland in a way that was really abstract."

One of Mr. Slatkin's advocacies is education. What better forum for that than Washington, he said. He noted that when he was growing up in Los Angeles, his school had many musical offerings. "Today, it is an armed camp," he said.

Mr. Slatkin noted with pride that he had gained assurances from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors that it would not go ahead with some school arts program cuts. "Arts connect us with the past. Communities looking at cutting arts might fold them over into their history programs. They're just history looked at in a different way," he said.

Mr. Slatkin's father was concertmaster at 20th Century Fox and also conductor of the Hollywood Bowl orchestra for many years and his mother and uncle were affiliated with Warner Bros. "It was a great time. There were 11 studios back then. Five hundred musicians were employed in those 11 studios."

When he was growing up, Mr. Slatkin said, "we never knew there were boundaries in music. My father said, 'Good music is good music.' "

He views the NSO as following "an American agenda." Although the orchestra needs to play the works of composers such as Bach and Beethoven, "we need one orchestra that's recognized as playing the music of our own country," he said.

In answer to questions, Mr. Slatkin said he wasn't concerned about "the graying of symphony audiences." Symphony audiences always have been a little older and more affluent, he said. Although some organizations may be risking pricing themselves out of the market, the NSO is able to keep its prices in check despite increases in the past four or five years, he said. (Publicists said NSO ticket sales had increased the past two years, although they had fallen off slightly now, as they tend to do in election years.)

Although he listens to all kinds of music, Mr. Slatkin also conceded the need to play to different audiences, such as the NSO does with its pops program. He noted that Marvin Hamlisch is the NSO's new principal pops conductor.

When asked about criticism that the NSO program this fall is less daring than in the past, Mr. Slatkin said, "It's quite the opposite."

"We started with two weeks of Beethoven, but it was organized by Mahler. All the programs I'm doing [with the NSO] are quite adventurous."

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