Detroit Symphony Orchestra

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) is an American orchestra based in Detroit, Michigan. Its main performance center is Orchestra Hall at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood. The DSO performs throughout the metro Detroit area in both paid neighborhood series concerts and free community concerts.

Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO)
Orchestra Hall at the Max M. Fisher Music Center
Concert hallOrchestra Hall at the Max M. Fisher Music Center
Principal conductorLeonard Slatkin


Founding and growth

The DSO performed the first concert of its first subscription season at 8:00 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 19, 1887 at the Detroit Opera House. The conductor was Rudolph Speil. He was succeeded in subsequent seasons by a variety of conductors until 1900 when Hugo Kalsow was appointed and served until the orchestra ceased operations in 1910. The Detroit Symphony resumed operations in 1914 when ten Detroit society women each contributed $100 to the organization and pledged to find 100 additional subscribers. They soon hired a music director, Weston Gales, a 27-year-old church organist from Boston, who led the first performance of the reconstituted orchestra on February 26, 1914, again at the old Detroit Opera House.

The appointment of the Russian pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch as music director in 1918 brought instant status to the new orchestra. A friend of composers Gustav Mahler and Sergei Rachmaninoff, Gabrilowitsch demanded a new auditorium be built as a condition of his accepting the position. Orchestra Hall was completed for the new music director in 1919 in four months and twenty-three days. Under Gabrilowitsch, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra quickly became one of the most prominent orchestras in the country, performing with the leading artists of the day. In 1922, the orchestra gave the world's first radio broadcast of a symphony orchestra concert with Gabrilowitsch conducting and guest artist Artur Schnabel at the piano. From 1934 to 1942, the orchestra performed for millions across the country as the official orchestra of The Ford Sunday Evening Hour (later the Ford Symphony Hour) national radio show.

In 1939, three years after Gabrilowitsch's premature death, the orchestra moved from Orchestra Hall to the Masonic Temple Theatre due to major financial problems caused by the Great Depression. In the 1940s, the orchestra disbanded twice and moved to three different performing venues. In 1946, the orchestra moved to the Wilson Theater which was renamed Music Hall. In 1956, the orchestra moved to Ford Auditorium on the waterfront of the Detroit River, where it remained for the next 33 years. The orchestra once again enjoyed national prestige under music director Paul Paray, winning numerous awards for its 70 recordings on the Mercury label. Paray was followed by noted music directors Sixten Ehrling, Aldo Ceccato, Antal Doráti, and Günther Herbig.

In popular music, members of the orchestra provided the recorded string accompaniments on many of Motown Records's classic hits of the 1960s, usually under the direction of the orchestra's concertmaster of the time, Gordon Staples. Two Motown albums featured the strings with the Motown rhythm section the Funk Brothers. The combined ensemble was known as the San Remo Golden Strings and enjoyed two hit singles: "Hungry for Love" (#3 Billboard Adult Contemporary) and "I'm Satisfied" (#89 U.S. Pop). In 1966, members of the orchestra were seen recording in the Motown studio on West Grand Boulevard with The Supremes for the ABC TV documentary "Anatomy of Pop: The Music Explosion." The song they perform is the hit "My World Is Empty Without You" by Holland, Dozier, and Holland. There were two full albums released by the group: "Hungry for Love" (1967) and "Swing" (1968) both on the Gordy label (a subsidiary of Motown).

In 1970, the DSO instituted the Detroit Symphony Youth Orchestra as a training group, under Paul Freeman.

The Neeme Järvi era

In 1989, following a 20-year rescue and restoration effort, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra returned to Orchestra Hall. Further renovations to the hall were completed in 2003, including a $60 million addition and a recital hall and education wing, the Max M. Fisher Music Center. A fine arts high school, the Detroit School of Arts, was added to the DSO campus in 2004.

Neeme Järvi began his music directorship in 1990, and served through 2005, the second-longest in the orchestra's history. Järvi now has the title of music director emeritus with the orchestra.[1] Following Järvi's departure, the DSO named Peter Oundjian as its principal guest conductor and artistic advisor for a 2-year period, from 2006 to 2008.[2] After a five-year search, the DSO announced on October 7, 2007, the appointment of Leonard Slatkin as its twelfth music director.[3] Prior to Slatkin's appointment, Peter Oundjian was the DSO's Artistic Advisor, and continues to hold the title of Principal Guest Conductor. In February 2010, the orchestra announced the extension of Slatkin's contract as DSO music director through the 2012–2013 season. Slatkin took a salary reduction to help relieve the orchestra's financial difficulties.[4] In December 2014, the DSO announced an extension of Slatkin's contract as music director through the 2017-2018 season, after which time he is scheduled to relinquish the music directorship of the orchestra and to become its first-ever music director laureate, the latter post through the 2019-2020 season.[5]

The symphony has produced many recordings on the Victor, London, Decca, Mercury, RCA, Chandos and DSO labels. The DSO recording of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring was the first CD to win the Grand Prix du Disque award. The DSO currently records for the Naxos label. Recent and upcoming releases include music of Rachmaninoff, Aaron Copland, and John Williams. In early 2010, George Blood Audio and Video [in Philadelphia, PA] began transferring recordings, dating back to the 1959-1960 concert season, to the digital medium.

Anne Parsons, a 30-year veteran arts administrator with deep connections in the national funding community, has served as President & CEO of the DSO since 2004.

2010–2011 DSO musicians strike and aftermath

A labor dispute prompted DSO musicians to strike on October 4, 2010.[6] On February 19, 2011, after the musicians rejected a final offer made on February 15, 2011, DSO management announced it would suspend the remainder of the 2010-2011 concert season. Following a six-month strike, the musicians and management reached an agreement on April 3, 2011.[7] Concerts resumed April 9, 2011, with a weekend of free concerts. The DSO's first weekend back, tickets for all concerts were priced at $20. The DSO instituted similar "patron-minded pricing" for the 2011-12 season with most seats to all classical concerts priced at $15 or $25.[8]

On the anniversary of the strike a member of the musicians' negotiating committee, violinist Marian Tanau, spoke to the World Socialist Web Site about the new conditions. He remarked on the loss of significant members of the orchestra and the prevalence of substitute musicians, leading to a slight decline in quality. Tanau claimed that the 30% wage cut and loss of prestige meant that the DSO could no longer attract the "best of the best".[9]

Since the DSO returned to the stage in April 2011, the orchestra reorganised its activities under the umbrella term of 'OneDSO', with new work in such areas as community engagement and digital accessibility. The Neighborhood Series attracted new subscribers for the orchestra in venues around metro Detroit, helping to increase total subscription growth of nearly 25% from 2011 to 2014.[10] In 2013, the DSO returned to Carnegie Hall for the first time in 17 years to perform in the Spring for Music Festival.[11] In January 2014, the DSO announced that board, musicians, and management agreed to a new three-year contract eight months before the current one expired.[12]

On April 10, 2011, the DSO launched Live from Orchestra Hall, the first free webcast series by an orchestra. During classical weekends, DSO concerts are streamed live to a worldwide audience. On October 9, 2010, the DSO expanded the series to mobile devices through the DSO to Go mobile app for iOS and Android devices. Live from Orchestra Hall has been viewed by more than 550,000 viewers in over 100 countries since its inception.[13] On October 7, 2012, the DSO webcast its first Pops concert, 'Cirque de la Symphonie', which was also projected onto the building for the general public for the orchestra's first ever, larger-than-life "MaxCast."

Music directors

DSO Heroes Gala and Benefit Concert

Year Honorees Performer
2010 James B. Nicholson
2012 Lloyd Reuss
2013 Barbara Van Dusen
2014 Dan Gilbert & Matt Cullen John Williams & Steven Spielberg
2015 The Davidson & Gerson Family Randy Newman
2016 John A. Boll Megan Hilty
2017 Mandell & Madeleine Berman Michelle Merrill, John Kimura Parker & Wei Yu
2018 Penny & Harold Blumenstein Michel Camilo
2019 Mort Harris Leslie Odom Jr.

See also


  1. Stryker, Mark (2014-12-15). "Joyful noise: Jarvi and DSO reunite at Orchestra Hall". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  2. Stryker, Mark (2006-06-20). "Oundjian takes big DSO role". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  3. Stryker, Mark (October 7, 2007). "World-class maestro is heading to Detroit". Detroit Free Press. PopMatters. Retrieved 2014-05-08.
  4. Stryker, Mark (February 11, 2010). "Slatkin extends contract with Detroit Symphony Orchestra, takes pay cut". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 2014-05-08.
  5. "Leonard Slatkin, DSO Forge New Deal" (Press release). Detroit Symphony Orchestra. 2015-12-03. Archived from the original on 2015-12-08. Retrieved 2015-12-05.
  6. Stryker, Mark (October 4, 2010). "DSO musicians go on strike". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 2010-12-01.
  7. "DSO, striking musicians reach tentative agreement". Detroit Free Press. April 4, 2011. Retrieved 2014-05-08.
  8. "Musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Ratify New Contract" (Press release). Detroit Symphony Orchestra. April 8, 2011. Archived from the original on July 13, 2012. Retrieved 2014-05-08.
  9. Jones, Shannon (October 10, 2011). "Interview with Detroit Symphony violinist: "We went on strike because we didn't want the orchestra to be destroyed"". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 2014-05-08.
  10. "Detroit Symphony Orchestra Marks Three Years of Subscription Growth". International Musician. July 21, 2014. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
  11. Oestreich, James R. (2013-05-13). "Detroit Stands Up for Ives, and Stands In for Oregon". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  12. Stryker, Mark (2014-01-15). "DSO musicians ratify 3-year contract - this time, without public drama". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 2015-12-06.
  13. Cooper, Michael; Schmid, Rebecca (2014-03-21). "Detroit Symphony Dives Headlong Into Streaming". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-12-06.


  • Gavrilovich, Peter and Bill McGraw. The Detroit Almanac, Detroit Free Press (2000, ISBN 0-937247-34-0).
  • Heiles, Ann Mischakoff, America's Concertmasters (Detroit Monographs in Musicology). Harmonie Park (2007, ISBN 0-89990-139-5).
  • Woodford, Arthur M., This is Detroit 1701–2001. Wayne State University Press (2001, ISBN 0-8143-2914-4).
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