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Detroit Symphony rebounds from strike with new season

for Journal Register Newspapers

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The Detroit Symphony Orchestra conductor and Music Director Leonard Slatkin didn’t choose Gioachino Rossini’s clarion “William Tell Overture” for its opening weekend to send a message.

But the fact is that the DSO is back.

Last year at this time the orchestra’s musicians began a strike that derailed the 2010-2011 season until April. Now, with a new contract in place, the DSO is ready to begin its season — 20 classical programs and 10 pops concerts — in relative peace, ready to reward those who stuck by the orchestra during the turmoil and win back any of the disaffected.

“I would like to say we’ve all just moved on,” Slatkin notes. “I don’t think everybody has — either the board or the management or the orchestra — but most people have. There seems to be a really well-defined energy among everybody. In rehearsals we saw it. Everybody was smiling.

“I think we’re all working together in a way that’s quite different than it was a year ago.”

DSO Constituent Communications Coordinator Gabrielle Poshadlo reports that despite the strike, subscription sales are up 10 percent from the orchestra’s 2009-2010 season, the result of an aggressive post-strike outreach strategy that included free concerts, summer performances and a week of free community performances leading up to the season start at Orchestra Hall — as well as a broader (and more affordable) array of ticket prices and subscription plans.

“I think what we will see now is a very strong emphasis on audience development,” Slatkin predicts. “The new pricing structures have made a strong impact. There’s nothing like seeing the seats full. Hopefully that will be the case for the majority of the season, and that will make a very big difference in the attitude of not only the orchestra but also the board members and the patrons.”

The DSO’s opening weekend Symphonie Fantastique! program — which includes the Hector Berlioz piece of the same name — is designed to give audiences a taste of the familiar and the new, as well as the breadth the orchestra can cover. The “William Tell Overture,” Slatkin says, “fits the hand like a glove.”

“The opening program sets a tone that lasts throughout the season, so you always want to start your season off with something that engages your audience right away.”

And that’s particularly because the DSO also will be presenting the American premiere of Michel Camilo’s Piano Concerto No. 2, “Tenerife,” which originally was scheduled for the scuttled 20010-11 season.

“(Camilo) just has this way with the orchestra and the audience of engaging everybody,” Slatkin says. “The concerto is absolutely spectacular. It has a little more edge and spikiness than the other concerto we played a couple of years ago, but it still has that infusion of spirit and energy that emanates from Michel’s work.

“I think the audience is going to go nuts with it. I think those who don’t know him will be quickly won over.”

Slatkin — who after opening weekend will be spending five weeks away at his other orchestral posts around the world — demures when asked to pick favorites from the rest of the DSO’s lineup, but he does predict the mid-November “Festival of Flutes” with James Galway and others will be “great fun” and is also looking forward to the following week and Mason Bates’ piece “B-sides,” which combines electronica and orchestral approaches, and to David Del Tredici’s “Final Alice” in March, which will be paired with Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”

The season also will feature classical “hits” such as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 — the “New World” symphony — and Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Johannes Brahms’ “A German Requiem” will be paired in late February with John Adams’ “On the Transmigration of the Souls” as a tribute to 9/11 victims, while Music Director Emeritus Neeme Jarvi returns March 29-April 1.

“I have to say, I’m looking forward to each and every program we do,” Slatkin says. “Nothing was programmed without a great deal of thought behind it about what’s best for the orchestra and a variety for the audience.”

Slatkin says the DSO also will get busy again on the recording front, most likely in November. The orchestra will continue it’s Sergei Rachmaninoff series with his Symphony No. 3, and continue John Williams’ concert cycle with his Cello Concerto, and it will also record an album of pieces by Slatkin’s fiancée Cindy McTee, which was planned before they became engaged. The DSO will perform two of McTee pieces, “Einstein’s Dream” and “Ballet For Orchestra,” during the season.

All of the action won’t be on stage, however. Under terms of the new contract, Slatkin notes that the DSO has had “a couple of very productive meetings” to determine “how we’re going to utilize members of the orchestra who wish to participate in events other than just playing in the orchestra.” And he’s hoping to begin auditioning in earnest for six of the DSO’s leadership positions, including concertmaster and five principal instrumentalists, all of which are filled by acting members of the orchestra at the moment.

“We’re getting a very good response from the music community in terms of people who are ... wanting to audition and wanting to be part of the Detroit Symphony,” Slatkin says. “There was a concern that would be diminished as a result of the strike and its aftermath, but that seems not to be the case, which is a relief. It looks like we have an outstanding talent pool to draw from, so we need to get the season up and running and go on from there.”

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra opens its 2011-2012 season at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9, with performances of Rossini’s “Overture to William Tell,” Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” and the North American premiere of Michael Camilo’s Piano Concerto No. 2, “Tenerife” at Orchestra Hall in the Max M. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit. For ticket and full season information, call 313-576-5111 or visit www.dso.org.

Web Site: www.dso.org

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