The Healing Power of Music

Leonard Slatkin is one of the world’s most famous conductors, but for the last several weeks, he’s taken on a much different role in the music world, as jury chairman for the Cliburn International Piano Competition.

Part of his duties have been to announce which of the thirty pianists would advance from each round, and which young musicians would not. Late on Monday afternoon, I sat down with the maestro at Bass Hall for a wide-ranging interview, parts of which will appear in the Star-Telegram on Saturday. But it’s the last thing we discussed that I wanted to share here.

Leonard Slatkin

In a few hours, Slatkin said, he would announce the Cliburn’s six finalists.

“I thought about what I was going to say tonight when we announce these awards,” he said. “I never know in advance what I’m going to say but I kind of frame it out. Again, I’m trying to talk to the contestants. It will probably be something about taking us all out of the crap that is going on in the world.

“It’s not a political thing,” he said. “What was it Saturday, when we finished here about this time? We went to the hotel. I thought I was going to go to dinner and turned on the TV and there’s London. Yesterday, same thing. I go back and it’s Portland, Oregon. And then it’s Orlando.

“This society of hate and violence. But what happens. You come here (to Bass Hall and the competition.) And whether you advance or not, the pianists have brought people to a place in the world where we’d all like to be. And that, to me, is the importance of music in today’s society. It’s why we all need to advocate more for the culture. Culture is going to be one of the things that is going to help ease the tensions in the world.

Slatkin, conducting in the 2013 Cliburn finals

“Everybody does it in a different way. But with all the arts, everybody gravitates to something. Last year when I went to Istanbul, I heard the call to prayer, and it’s sung. It’s about music. And look at the event in Manchester yesterday. All those people came to get over their grief through what? Through music. So it has this ability to do that.

“This hall the last couple of weeks, it becomes a safe haven. It’s a place where we preserve what is great. We don’t destroy it. If any pianist can get that message through, they’ve accomplished even more than winning this.”