Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert, left, and Matt Cullen, center, are presented the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Heroes Award by DSO's Chairman of the Board Phillip Fisher, right, before the John Williams/Steven Spielberg benefit concert on Saturday. At back left are DSO marketing director Anne Wilczak, left, and DSO President and CEO Anne Parsons. (John Galloway / Special to The Detroit News)
Detroit— Tinseltown came to the Motor City Saturday evening, and in the process helped the Detroit Symphony Orchestra raise $1.25 million.
Film legend Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams, who wrote scores for 27 of Spielberg’s films, headlined the DSO’s fourth-annual Heroes Gala and concert at Orchestra Hall.
“It was the best concert of my life!” said Mary Beth Nicholson, whose father-in-law Jim Nicholson is a past chairman of the DSO board. Summing up the general mood, she added, “It was a fantastically amazing night for Detroit.”
Indeed, everyone in the packed hall seemed thrilled by the star power of the two visitors from Los Angeles. Befitting the occasion, tuxedos and a rainbow of gowns, worn by those going to the after-concert dinner, mingled with the casual hip of others who came just for the concert.
Spotted in the crowd were General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra, former DSO board chairman Peter Cummings, former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, and Rock Ventures’ Matt Cullen and Kid Rock, who sat together in the box seats.
Conductor Williams led off the evening with “Hooray for Hollywood” while a montage of magic movie moments — you’ve seen this very clip on the Academy Awards — played on a giant screen over the orchestra.
The first half of the concert involved Williams’ scores he wrote for other directors, including a selection from George Lucas’ “Star Wars.”
Spielberg came on stage only after intermission, and explained that what appealed to him about the evening was the chance to show how music helps narrate a film. Indeed, he added, “Film music directs the traffic of our emotions.”
One of the evening’s most-amusing set-ups involved a several-minute clip from the circus-train chase in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” which played the first time with voice and sound effects, but no music — and then again with the full orchestra behind it.
By way of explanation, Spielberg said, “I want to show you how boring my films are without Johnny’s music. Then you’ll see why I desperately need his help.”
The evening included musical selections from 10 films, including “Raiders,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “The Adventures of Tintin” and “Schindler’s List.” It goes without saying that the finale was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation so lengthy that Spielberg and Williams had to come back on stage three times to wave and bow.
Not surprisingly, virtually everyone in the audience had a firm opinion on which of Spielberg’s films was his best.
On the red carpet outside shortly before the evening started, Archer pondered which was his favorite.
“I love them all,” Archer finally said diplomatically, “but I guess I'd have to say ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’” an assessment echoed by Kresge Foundation president and CEO Rip Rapson.
For his part, Cummings said, “I’d have to say ‘Schindler's List.’ But then,” he added, “an old high-school friend was just telling me I’m too serious.”
Early in the evening, just a half hour before curtain, DSO board chairman Peter Wm. Fisher presented Detroit Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert and Rock Ventures’ Cullen with the orchestra’s Hero’s Award for their contributions to Detroit, and their help in ending the 2010-2011 labor dispute at the DSO.
The $1.25 million the gala raised tops even the $1 million from the 2012 DSO fundraiser with Kid Rock, regarded at the time as an astonishing take for one event.