With a long, brutal strike plus a close brush with bankruptcy in the past few years, the DSO has been through hell. While it dodged bankruptcy, the strike led to the loss of many players, including principals and the concertmaster. Like any orchestra, the DSO has had better and worse music directors over the years. But no matter who's waving their arms in the air, it's always been a sleek musical instrument with bright colors, tight ensemble, and a whole lot of power under the hood. Now with the loss of so many old players and the gain of so many new ones, the orchestra can't be what it was, though what it is remains unknown.
Then there's Leonard Slatkin. No doubt he's a major American conductor, but he's a conductor with a past. He's gone from the St. Louis Symphony to the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., to the DSO, and his time with each orchestra has followed the same arc from love and marriage to disillusionment and divorce. Slatkin's stock had already started slipping before the strike, and some speculated his days were numbered.
Now, however, Slatkin has something to prove: that he can bring an orchestra back from near-death to artistic and financial success. Likewise, the DSO has something to prove: that it can be one of America's great orchestras again. The question is: can they do it, or is Slatkin too old and the DSO too beat?
[Originally published in January, 2013.]