FRED ZLOTKIN REMINISCES
about growing up in the Slatkin
household with parents Felix and Eleanor Slatkin and brother Leonard
My earliest memory of my family and music goes back to around the time
when I was 4 or 5 years old (c. 1952). Everyone in the family had
absolute pitch, which is quite unusual, and perhaps shows that it might
be hereditary. Anyway, I was travelling in a car (we made a lot of
vacation trips to Palm Springs and Vegas) and I told my parents that I
really liked one of the quartet's recordings. It was their Dvorak
"American" quartet recording, as a matter of fact. They asked me to
sing the part I liked so much and so I started singing the Scherzo.
Little did I know, but I sang it in the correct key (F major). I can
still remember them looking at each other with a "oh boy, another one"
look in their eyes!
I was supposed to start studying the violin. My brother had begun his
studies and, at that age (about 7), as the 2 1/2 years younger brother,
I frequently followed his footsteps. I was scheduled to begin lessons
with my dad. Sometime before that was to occur, the quartet was
rehearsing. They always rehearsed at our house, since, among other
things, half of them lived there. They worked several times a week,
usually for 3 hours at a time. When they took a break, I asked them if
I could pluck the strings of the 3 instruments to hear and "feel" them.
I started with the violin. Violin pizzicatos, to this day, always sound
sort of thin and "banjo-like," no matter how expensive the instument.
The viola was a little better. But when I plucked those cello strings,
the resonance was extraordinary -- so I picked the cello. My parents
were delighted and decided that I would start lessons with my
grandfather, Gregory Aller.
Studying with my grandfather was an "other world" experience. Gregory
came from what I would describe as the Old Russian school. He didn't
hit me (except for one slightly firm smack on the face when I was
particularly rude!) but would tell me things like, "if you don't keep
your feet in the proper position I'll nail them to the floor!" At age 7
this had quite an impression! My parents had very little involvement
with my cello studies at this point -- they did not think it was good
idea for parent-musicians to teach their offspring, a philosophy that I
agree with now that both of my children study music!
The most famous person who visited our home that I recall was Sinatra.
Of course, all the neighbors got word of his visit so while we were
eating there were some heads peeking in through the windows! When it
was bedtime for me, I asked "Uncle Frank" to sing me a lullaby and he
did! (can't remember what it was). I remember my mother recalling that
Frank, who was having some marital difficulties possibly (?) commented
on how much he yearned to have what they had when he saw how
affectionate they were to each other.
Felix's dad had a passionate love for music and no doubt was a major
force in getting his son into the violin. He probably began playing the
violin around age 7 or 8, and studied with a violinist in the St. Louis
Symphony. His prodigous talent must have been evident from the
beginning. I have a videotape (transferred from 16 mm, no sound of
course) playing at this age and, to the trained eye, the talent busts
out all over the place.
By the time Felix was in his teens he was offered a scholarship to
study with Efrem Zimbalist at the The Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.
He also became a member of the St. Louis Symphony at the age of 15,
helping to support his family no doubt (his father was a barber, by the
My brother Leonard first started playing the violin and studied with my
dad. It was not particularly successful, partly because he didn't show
a lot of talent for the instrument and also because it's very difficult
to study with a parent. He then switched to the piano and worked with
Uncle Victor -- his piano playing was and still is excellent. He
continued by playing viola in the school orchestras and other
orchestras around L.A. We used to get a good laugh about him and that
viola! It was a very cheap instrument and he wrapped it in a silk scarf
-- he would open the case (which was a wreck) and ever-so-carefully
"reveal" the instrument, which looked like it had gone thru the war!
humor was a major force in our household, for everyone. My brother and
I used to play trust fund jobs (sponsored by the local union) which
paid $22.50 per concert. On one occasion we were playing for the Angel
City Symphony Orchestra, a children's concert. The conductor (his name
was Leroy Hirt, believe it or not, I remember it!) informed the
children that the magic word for this concert was "Abracadabra" and
that he would ask them for it when the music was about to begin. So we
got to that point in the program and he said, "ok, children, say the
magic word and the music will begin." And from the viola section,
Leonard whispered, "$22.50."
Len had an almost monomaniacal passion for music. I would arrive home
late in the evening and he'd be passed out on the sofa, the stereo set
blaring some more music that I had never heard. He started conducting
for school events, including a memorable performance of "West Side
Story." Then he went to Indiana University for about a year and studied
composition, and finally he went to The Juilliard School to major in
The Hollywood String Quartet rehearsed regularly in our house for the
12-13 years that they were in existence. In addition to these
rehearsals, individual practicing, music lessons and numerous impromptu
chamber music gatherings the stereo was almost always blaring
something. I have at least one special memory that occurred
around age 8 or 9 for me. My grandfather Gregory Aller wrote a
for beginning cellists which I had learned around that time.
(Nelson Riddle/Billy May/Felix?) made an arrangement for a small
chamber group to accompany and my father conducted while I performed it
at the house. I may even be able to dig up a photo from that
In addition, around age 10 or so, a string quartet of youngsters was
formed: Glenn Dicterow (now Concertmaster of the NY Phil and my
colleague in the Lyric Piano Quartet) was 1st violinist. His
Maurice played 2nd. Alan DeVeritch (he later served as Principal
Violist for the LA Phil) and myself studied for a number of coachings
Of course there were other impromptu musical gatherings. For
birthday, my father Leonard and I collaborated on a trio of Happy
Birthday variations. Each of us wrote things that were so
could barely play them!
FURTHER INTERVIEW QUESTIONS FOR FRED
Tell me some of the family
history of the Zlotkins and the Allers, such as:
- when your forebears came to
- when the Zlotkin family name was
changed to Slatkin;
- were your forebears musical, or
did the music start with your parents?
- Did your family go back and
visit St. Louis where your father grew up?
The Zlotkin/Slatkin lineage is Russian Jewish. The first Zlotkin
arrival to the US was Felix's father, grandpa Chaim Peretz Zlotkin,
who came to settle with relatives in St. Louis in 1913; he (or the
clerk at Ellis Island) changed the name. He probably
came from the town of Mogilev, from a shtetl (the Russians forced most
Jews to live in villages outside of the major cities). He came to
America and settled with relatives in St. Louis in 1913. In 1923, his
father came over and lived in St. Louis. He (Levik, our great great
grandfather) was killed by an automobile in 1927.
Re the surname: I researched this quite a bit. The original spelling of
the name, from the Russian and the Hebrew inscription on our great
grandfather's tombstone, was ZLATKIN. A Russian 'a' sounds more like an
American 'o', hence, Zlotkin. The name was spelled "Zlotchin" on the
ship's passenger record, and "Zlatkine" when Levik (Louis) came over in
'23. It is quite plausible that Chaim changed the name to Americanize
it, to forget about the hard times they had in Russia and start anew in
There were no other musicians on the Zlotkin side of the tree.
I don't think the family ever went to visit "Felix's" St. Louis until
after his death in 1963 (where Leonard obviously spent a major portion
of his life).
The Altschuler/Aller side was very musical. Of course my mom, one of
the great cellists, perhaps the most gifted of all of them!
My grandfather Gregory Aller's name, prior to his coming to America at
the turn of the century, was Grisha Altschuler. He changed the named to
"Aller" because (or so I was told) there were so many Altschulers --
indeed, it is a very common name. The Altschuler side of the family is
really rife with musicians. Grisha's uncle, Modest Altschuler, was a
cellist (making me 4th generation) and he had quite a career. Among
other things, he did the St. Petersburg premiere of Tchaikowsky's
"Souvenir de Florence" Sextet. When he came to America
he formed the Russian Symphony Orchestra (early 1900's). The orchestra
premiered numerous works of Russian composers including Scriabin,
Rimsky-Korsakoff and Ippolitov-Ivanov. Misha Elman debuted with them
and Rachmaninoff contributed a rather large sum of money to the
Victor Aller (Eleanor's brother) was a fabulous pianist and his work
can be heard in collaboration with the Hollywood String Quartet (all
the Brahms Piano Quartets and the Quintett), Shostakovich Quintet,
Schumann Quintett, Franck Quintett. He also recorded the Saint-Saens
"Carnival of the Animals" that my dad recorded (my mom played "The
Swan" of course), Hindemith's "Four Temperaments," for piano and
Shostakovich's Piano Concerto (with trumpet and strings) and Dohnanyi's
"Variations on a Nursery Theme."
There were other cousins on the Altschuler side who were musical as
well. At one point, I played in a piano trio coached by my parents and
Victor with my 1st cousin, Judith Aller.
Do you have any additional background
information on the albums that Felix did for Capitol in 1958:
CHARGE! and The Military Band. Was your father a big
fan of military music? How did he and Leo Arnaud get together on
this project? Did Arnaud do any other arrangements that you know
From the discography alone we know that Felix recorded several dozen
albums for Capitol and Liberty between 1958 and his death. It is
most important to note that both Felix and Eleanor, through their total
immersion in all facets of the recording industry of Hollywood, knew
literally everyone. As a result, all the albums of commercial
music and those using the Concert Arts Orchestra were hand-picked
musicians from the crème
de la crème of the huge
pool of talent that
settled there. Not only were there more names than I can possibly
remember but, in addition, because not everyone was always available,
the "list" shifted. So much so that I can still remember one
night when my father came into my room in a sort of daze and started
blurting out names of trombonists he could get for some session until
he realized I wasn't going to be of much help! Though I can't say
that Felix was a particular fan of military music per se, Felix loved
any music that had spirit, heart, soul and said something to him.
He was most excited about CHARGE and The Military Band and loved
working with Arnaud, whom he obviously admired greatly. I don't
remember Arnaud's association with Felix much after that but have a
vague recollection that he may have been a percussionist (?).
[I'd guess a google search would tell us more]. I also remember
that Arnaud was often involved with Peter Meremblum and the California
Junior Symphony, of which I was Principal Cellist.
What about Felix' relationship with
Liberty Records? Did Felix do all the arrangements on those
albums? Did he talk about those projects with you while he was
working on them? Did you visit any of those recording sessions?
Felix's relationship with Liberty was linked to his close relationship
to the former President of that company, Sy Waronker. The two of
them often got together and came up with ideas that ended up being
fairly substantial projects (the somewhat aborted Hawaiian album being
one of them). Felix did some arrangements, and/or collaborated
with others to do them. Another major contributor was Amerigo
"Ricky" Marino. I'm sure that Billy May often was involved, or
least consulted and Felix's camaraderie with all of the top arrangers
would have enabled him to get any kind of help he needed. He was
working on arrangements for a session the night he died. All of
these recordings were the talk of the household, and Felix would stay
up late, blasting playbacks/acetates on the stereo, especially if he
really liked them. I not only attended numerous sessions but
actually was allowed to sit and play several takes with the "big guns"
on at least one album, "Fantastic Themes"; what a thrill!
When Sinatra started Reprise Records,
was Felix planning to leave Liberty Records for Reprise?
I never knew anything about Felix's wanting to switch over to Reprise.
Did Felix do radio or TV appearances
or live concert engagements in support of his non-classical recordings
for Capitol and Liberty? Do you have a listing of these
Felix certainly was anxious to promote his career, particularly his
conducting and was involved with many in the industry through his
numerous connections and habitats (20th Century Fox, for one). He
appeared with "Capt. Kangaroo" for a TV show. He tried to make a
"smash" single with his 45rpm of "Theme from the Sundowners" (much
Max Steiner had done). I have no "listings" of these various
events. I do have one interview, very late in his career/life,
where he is talking to a radio host and trying very hard to "push" his
Did Felix often conduct the Hollywood
Bowl Symphony Orchestra live at the Bowl, or was this mainly a studio
recording group? Do you have a listing of any such live
appearances? What classical works did you hear him conduct
in concert? In the studio?
The Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra was actually the summer name for
the LA Philharmonic. Felix conducted them for about a dozen or so
recordings and conducted them at the Hollywood Bowl at least once that
I recall; I think it was an evening of waltzes but I'm not sure.
Re the classical recording sessions I remember going to several, in
particular "The Magic Bow" sessions featuring violinist Michael Rabin.
Eleanor was the cellist on the
soundtrack of "Deception"�. Did you ever meet E.W.
Did your mother or father ever speak of working with him? Have
you worked with any of the Korngold heirs on musical projects?
I never met Korngold. As I think I may have told you Bill,
Leonard and I did record the Cello Concerto and we also did a DVD
documentary for the BBC in '03. I could provide you with that and
another that illustrates the film noire era
and the composers such as EWK.
Who were your father's favorite
This is not a good question to ask of a consummate musician (no
offense). Felix loved all the greats and many others. The
quartet's selection of repertory shows that quite clearly. He did
like some "contemporary" composers. He loved jazz, big bands and
many contemporary sounds as well. I can tell you that he was not
a particular fan of opera or 12-tone music.
Felix recorded an album of Delius tone
poems in 1952. Did he continue to have an interest in Delius
throughout the rest of his life? Did he or the Hollywood String
Quartet ever perform any Delius after 1952?
The Delius album was Felix's 1st recording for Capitol, so he obviously
had a great interest in this composer at that time. I do not
remember he or the HSQ performing or recording Delius after that
How about you, Fred? How do feel
about Delius' music, and do you include any Delius in your repertoire?
I am a fan, though not as much as some other colleagues of mine.
I think the selections on Felix's recording are extraordinarily
beautiful. One of the features my mom doing a cello solo and I'd
like to play that some time as well.
Do you have any interesting pictures
of Felix, such as:
- Pictures of him promoting his
- Pictures of him receiving his
- Pictures of him with other
- Slatkin family portraits
This part involves some digging and scanning. If you'll be
patient I'll try and send some. Needless to say, there are too
many so I'll try and do a few of the ones that might be more of general
interest. I had a fabulous one of Sinatra and my mom but I don't
know where it is; I'm hoping it's buried somewhere.
You mentioned that you have collected
some rare recordings by both Felix and Eleanor. Could you
describe these in detail?
I have a video (from '57 I think) of the HSQ! I also
have a live concert of Eleanor performing the Korngold ('46 or '47) and
I have Felix playing the Franck Sonata (age 21) and a violin sonata by
Sol Kaplan. All the rest of the recordings of them would be in
movies and on the LPs.
What about Eleanor's work as a soloist
after your father's death? If you can provide me with
information on her career, I will put together a separate page about
I would love to put together some stuff on Eleanor. I may
have written a bio for her; I'll look. Else, I have been trying
to get the Violoncello Society to let me do an evening centered on her
career and musical life but they haven't come thru yet.
From your perspective, how would you
sum up and describe your father's musical legacy? Are any CD
re-releases planned for any of his Liberty recordings?
Thus far, for a variety of reasons, there are numerous recordings of
Felix with the Concert Arts Orchestra that are not available on CD, in
addition to the many Liberty recordings. His legacy? Well,
let's start out with the simple fact that Felix accomplished more in
his 47 years with us than 4 or 5 musicians who lived a lot
longer. It's really mind-boggling. I didn't get as much
time with him as I wanted (what kid does?) but he was there for me as a
father as well and I loved him dearly. Losing a father at the age
of 15 leaves a permanent scar and, in my fantasy world, I like to
imagine him watching his 2 sons having the large musical careers that
Any other personal memories of Felix
that you would like to share?
Just one: Felix had a fabulous sense of humor, sort of a cross
between Sid Caesar and Jackie Gleason. He used to crack us all up
by walking around in boxer shorts, putting on something crazy like a
straw hat, and mimicking an opera singer. It was priceless!
If only we had the handy-cams back then!
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