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Dialogue for Two Cellos and Orchestra

About the Work

Leonard Slatkin
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Quick Look Composer: Leonard Slatkin
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Salute to Slatkin/Yo-Yo Ma, cello Sun., Jun. 29, 2008, 7:00 PM
© Richard Freed
While Leonard Slatkin has focused almost solely on conducting since his early twenties, he has been composing music all his life, and several of his works have circulated in published form. Dialogue, a reminder that the cello has been as prominent in Mr. Slatkin’s family background as in that of the NSO itself, was composed for a "family concert" of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra which Mr. Slatkin conducted on February 23, 1975, and now is receiving its first performance since then. For this occasion the score has been revised, as Mr. Slatkin advises in the following note of his own.


During my early years in Saint Louis, as assistant conductor, I had the opportunity to create Sunday afternoon concerts intended for families and younger audiences. Some of the programs included performers from the pop culture, and some were more traditional. In order to fit into a given theme, I would occasionally write a piece, as dictated by the nature of the program. For example, for a Hallowe’en concert we had the actor Vincent Price (a native of Saint Louis) as narrator, and for him I composed a setting of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven. Another time, when minimalism was just coming into vogue, I fashioned a work based on Terry Riley's In C.

A later program, early in 1975, was headed "All in the Family." In this concert some of the married couples in the orchestra took part, as did some of the musicians who had children in the orchestra, and I decided to include my own family as well. My mother, Eleanor Aller, was a distinguished cellist: she was first chair in the Warner Brothers studio orchestra, and one-fourth of the Hollywood String Quartet. My brother, Fred, is also a cellist, currently principal in the New York City Ballet orchestra. When that 1975 concert was scheduled, the only piece I knew for two cellos and orchestra was a concerto by Vivaldi, so I sat down and composed Dialogue for my mother and brother.

The work, which I’ve revised a bit since then, is in three sections, played without pause. The first, PRELUDE, begins with a cadenza, in which the two soloists toss phrases back and forth, getting faster and faster as the orchestra gradually joins in. The second part, headed ELEGY, was intended as a memorial to my father, the violinist, conductor and arranger Felix Slatkin, who was also co-founder and first violinist of the Hollywood String Quartet: following a brief passage for the orchestra, the two cellists engage in another "conversation," which is interrupted by a percussion ostinato. The concluding section, TOCCATA, is dancelike, leaning toward a Latin-American character.

This evening’s performance of Dialogues is the first since the premiere in Saint Louis, 33 years ago. I am very grateful to Yo-Yo and Sol for agreeing to learn the piece and participate in this evening’s very special concert.

LEONARD SLATKIN