Leonard Slatkin, a fixture of the U.S. symphonic scene, is especially noted for his performances of American, Russian, and British music, and for his numerous recordings of Haydn symphonies.
He was born September 1, 1944 in Los Angeles, into a famous musical family: his father was Felix Slatkin (1915-1963), a film-score and light-music conductor who founded the Hollywood String Quartet. His mother was Eleanor Aller, cellist of the quartet. Thanks to their combined efforts, their son was trained in violin, viola, piano, and conducting. Slatkin attended Indiana University (1962) and Los Angeles City College (1963), and studied with Walter Susskind, the music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, at the Aspen Music School in 1964. He then attended Juilliard School in New York, where he studied conducting with Jean Morel. In 1968 he became assistant conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under Susskind, and was promoted to associate conductor in 1971, associate principal conductor in 1974, and principal guest conductor in 1974. He founded the St. Louis Youth Symphony in 1969 and served as its conductor.
In 1979 he was appointed music director of the St. Louis Symphony, beginning a highly successful 17-year tenure that included five triumphal international tours and many recordings for the Vox, EMI, and RCA labels. He has recorded the complete Vaughan Williams and Elgar symphonies, a series of Haydn symphonies, and works of Britten, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev, and a noted series of symphonic music by American composers, among many others with top orchestras in the U.S. and Europe, amassing well over 100 releases. He has been nominated for Grammy awards more than 50 times and won six times. Slatkin was a U.S. National Medal of the Arts recipient in 2003. He is the author of the book, Conducting Business, for which he won a Deems Taylor special recognition award from ASCAP.
From 1992 to 1999, he served as director of the Cleveland Orchestra's Blossom Festival. In 1996 he took up the position of music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, and led them in successful tours and recordings. In 2000 he was appointed chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Slatkin was named music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 2008 and the Orchestre National de Lyon in 2011 (bouncing back from a 2009 heart attack while on tour).
Slatkin's tenure in Lyon ended in 2017, but his work with the Detroit Symphony continued. His work in Detroit coincided with that city's financial crisis, during which he voluntarily took a pay cut to help with the orchestra's financial situation, and subsequent renaissance, which saw him champion the ensemble's role in civic life. In Detroit, Slatkin released several Copland works on Naxos, including a pairing of the Symphony No. 3 and the Three Latin American Sketches in 2017, as well as cycles of Tchaikovsky and Brahms symphonies recorded live in the city's Orchestra Hall. He lives in Detroit with his wife, composer Cindy McTee. ~ Joseph Stevenson & James Manheim