Born on September 1, 1944, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Felix Slatkin (a violinist and conductor) and Eleanor Aller (a cellist); married Linda Hohenfeld, 1986. Education: Attended Indiana University, 1962, and Los Angles City College, 1963; graduated Juilliard School of Music, 1968. Addresses: Office--National Symphony Orchestra, John F. Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. 20566. Management--Sylvie Bigar, International Public Relations, 125 West 72nd St., Suite 5R, New York, NY 10023.

When the curtain rises on some of the world's best-known symphony orchestras and opera companies, it is often Leonard Slatkin holding the conductor's baton. In the United States, Slatkin is the director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Symphony Orchestra, with which he tours. In addition, he was named chief conductor of England's BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) Symphony Orchestra. Slatkin has also served in concert halls across America, and in Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, and Tel Aviv. More than 100 recordings bear Slatkin's name.

A native of Los Angeles, Slatkin came by his musical leanings through his parents, both studio musicians working in the film industry. His mother, Eleanor Aller, a cellist, and father Felix Slatkin, a violinist-conductor, were founding members of the Hollywood String Quartet. At age three Slatkin began his violin lessons; by the time he was 20, Slatkin had learned viola, piano, and composition; he also studied conducting with several maestros, including his father. Responding to a query on a BBC online interview, Slatkin gave his opinion on whether musical talent was a product of nature or nurture. "I think it can be taught but it doesn't hurt to have it in the family," he said. "On the other hand my father, who was possibly the most musical of anyone in our family, came from a decidedly unmusical household. He happened to pass down his genes and I have a seven-year-old son who is turning out to be quite a talented young pianist."

Stints at the University of Indiana and Los Angeles City College were followed by advanced training under Walter Susskind at New York's prestigious Juilliard School of Music, from which Slatkin received his bachelor's degree in 1968. That same year the young musician joined the St. Louis Symphony as an assistant conductor, moving up the ranks until Slatkin was named principal conductor in 1975.

As musical director of the St. Louis Symphony, Slatkin enhanced awareness of the orchestra via a major international tour in 1985; five years later the city of St. Louis returned the favor by naming the conductor to its Walk of Fame. Slatkin diversified his efforts with conducting roles around the United States at the Great Woods Performing Arts Center and the Blossom Music Center. In October of 1991, he reached New York City with his Metropolitan Opera debut conducting La Faniciulla del West.

The year 1996 marked Slatkin's debut as musical director of the National Symphony Orchestra. In this role he is an advocate for the arts in America, and his musical interests are wide-ranging. While an interpreter of such historic names as Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky, he is also a champion of twentieth-century composers like John Corigliano, Elliott Carter, and John Zorn; at the same time, Slatkin seeks out new talent, especially from Americans of diverse cultural backgrounds. In a article, he singled out Tan Dun, Roberto Sierra, and Bright Sheng as three rising composers who "are primarily American, looking back to their heritage, just as other Americans earlier looked back to their Russian or German heritage."

Slatkin's commitment to music extends to the artists of the future. As early as 1969, he founded the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra; Slatkin also is associated with the D.C. Youth Orchestra. When funding for the latter organization was threatened, Slatkin spearheaded a campaign to raise the needed money. In an April of 2002 letter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Slatkin pleaded his case for the support of musical education. "The importance of music education in the lives of our children has been demonstrated time and time again," he wrote. "Recent studies show a direct correlation between music study at an early age, and increased scores on SAT tests later in that person's life." Slatkin recalled growing up in Los Angeles, and how when "Mrs. Otto, my fourth grade music teacher, walked in the room, all of the pressures of early academic life were put into an entirely different perspective....We could imagine ourselves to be the best band in the world. Maybe we were."

A recording artist, Slatkin received recognition with five Grammy Awards and about 50 Grammy nominations. But for all his acclaim, the conductor has not been without controversy. He caused a flap when he remarked to the London Times that overweight musicians, especially female ones, gave him pause. "I tend to favor covered arms, especially among the violinists," commented the conductor. "You don't want to see too much flapping about." While some criticized Slatkin, others agreed with his views: "Leonard is right," Cindi Hubbard of the Women's Philharmonic was quoted on "My feeling is that all musicians ... should be professional in their appearance onstage."

Appointed chief conductor of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Symphony Orchestra in 2000, Slatkin was also the first American to lead the popular "Proms" festival, a yearly concert event held in London, the following year. Slatkin was preparing for the September 15, 2001, spectacle, the Last Night of the Proms, usually a lively occasion that invites a crowd of 6,000 to sing along with the orchestra and chorus as a worldwide audience listens in via live television and radio broadcasts. It was September 11, and the conductor was on his way to the BBC studios to work on his introductory speech. "I was feeling exhilarated," Slatkin recalled in a letter posted to the National Symphony Orchestra website. "As I stepped into a taxi, I could vaguely make out the voices on the radio ... words like 'twin towers,' 'Pentagon,' 'terrorists' were coming from the announcer. I asked the driver to turn it up and, like almost everyone else, was taken to a place I did not want to be."

The musicians arrived, and the talk was all about the day's tragic events. "I told them that we had not yet decided on the appropriate course of action for the concert, but asked for a moment of silence for all those who perished," wrote Slatkin. "We then did what we do best, played music." The Last Night concert went on as scheduled, with United States and British flags waving in the Royal Albert Hall. A minute's silence was observed by the players and audience, and Slatkin's introduction reflected the mood of the occasion. "One thing became very clear to us," he said to the audience, "that the very special nature of the Last Night of the Proms for this night would not be the same. What was to be a celebration of the new--me--and the traditions--you--would have to be put aside for a moment. We use music tonight to express all the emotions we all feel." Samuel Barber's somber Adagio for Strings was added to the program as a tribute to the victims of September 11. According to a BBC report, "one traditional favourite was retained, however--the rousing hymn Jerusalem was sung as an encore."

The 2001 Proms was likely a nerve-wracking occasion for conductor and orchestra alike; but as Slatkin was quoted in a BBC interview, "My father taught me something a long time ago about being nervous.... He said if you are prepared and you have worked hard you have to go out there and do your best, and if you can come off saying you have tried your best then you have no reason to be nervous because you have prepared--if you have not prepared you have no reason being on the stage."

by Susan Salter

Leonard Slatkin's Career

Made conducting debut as assistant conductor, Youth Symphony of New York, 1966; named assistant conductor, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis, MO, 1968, became principal conductor and musical director, currently conductor laureate; founded St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, 1969; National Symphony Orchestra, Washington, D.C., musical director, 1996-; BBC Symphony Orchestra, London, England, chief conductor, 2000-; guest conductor for orchestras and opera companies worldwide; conductor for more than 100 recordings.

Leonard Slatkin's Awards

Grammy Award, Best Classical Orchestral Performance (with others) for Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 in B Flat, 1984; Declaration of Honor in Sliver, Austrian Government, 1986; named to city of St. Louis Walk of Fame, 1990; Laurel Leaf Award, American Composers Alliance, 1993; Grammy Award, Best Classical Album (with others) for Corigliano: Of Rage and Remembrance, 1996; Anti-Defamation League, Community Service award, 1998; honorary member, Royal Academy of Music, London, England; several honorary doctorates.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

November 12, 2003: Slatkin was honored with a National Medal of Art award, which was presented by President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. Source: E! Online,, November 11, 2003.

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 16 years ago

I have both box sets of Rachmaninov Sym's and the Orchestral music. For my taste you have the magic touch with this composers music. I have the CD sets on the vox label.