Leonard Slatkin is one of the world's leading conductors, noted for his performances of American, Russian, and British music, and Haydn symphonies.
He was born to a famous musical family. His father was Felix Slatkin (1915-1963), a Saint Louis-born violinist who rose to become a film score and light music conductor, and founder of the Hollywood String Quartet. Leonard's mother was the excellent cello soloist Eleanor Aller, cellist of the quartet. Between them, they trained their boy in violin, viola, piano, and conducting.
He attended Indiana University (1962) and Los Angeles City College (1963), and studied with Walter Susskind (music director of the Saint 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, graduating in 1968 with a B. Mus. Degree. In that same year he became assistant conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra under Susskind, and was promoted to Associate Conductor in 1971, Associate Principal Conductor in 1974, and Principal Guest Conductor in 1974. During this period he showed his career-long commitment to musical training for young people by founding the Saint Louis Youth Symphony in 1969 and conducting it.
In 1974 he made his European debut as a guest conductor with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and made his debut with the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C. in 1978. He was Artistic Adviser of the New Orleans Philharmonic (1977-1980). In 1979 he founded the Minnesota Orchestra's Sommerfest series and served as its director for ten years.
In 1979 he was appointed Music Director of the Saint Louis Symphony, beginning a highly successful seventeen-year tenure including five triumphal international tours and many recordings with Vox, EMI, and RCA records. With the Saint Louis orchestra he conducted a notable series of discs of music by American symphonic masters including Bernstein, Copland, Schuman, and Piston. He also has recorded the complete Vaughan Williams and Elgar symphonies, a series of Haydn symphonies, and works of Britten, Shostakovich and Prokofiev, among many others. He has also recorded with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia (London), the London Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, totaling well over a hundred releases. He has been nominated for Grammy awards more than fifty times and won four times.
In 1990 he became music director of the Great Woods Performing Arts Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts, the summer home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Beginning in 1992 he has been Festival Director of the Cleveland Orchestra's Blossom Festival; the position was created so he could exercise his flair for creative and wide-ranging programming. In 1994 he was the artistic director of the 1994 Festival of American Music at London's South Bank Centre.
In 1996 he took up the position of Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra, and led them in successful tours and recordings. Slatkin was named music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 2008 and the Orchestre National de Lyon in 2011. He continues his commitment to youth orchestras, and also conducts opera in many of the world's major houses and festivals. ~ Joseph Stevenson, Rovi