DSO 2019-20 season celebrates Orchestra Hall's 100th anniversary

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News
Detroit's Orchestra Hall.

The announcement of the new classical season at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is always an event to celebrate. But the season opening Oct. 4 also marks Orchestra Hall's 100th anniversary, making this a year for unusual rejoicing.  

Fittingly, the 2019-20 season will kick off by reprising the very first program ever played on the hall's august stage, back in 1919 under the direction of the legendary Ossip Gabrilowitsch. 

With A Centennial Celebration, opening-weekend audiences will be treated to Weber's Overture to Oberon, Mozart's E-flat Concerto for Two Pianos, Bach's Concerto No. 2 for Three Pianos and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.

Conducting will be Michael Francis, music director of the Florida Orchestra and Mainly Mozart, San Diego. Piano soloists will include twins Christina and Michelle Naughton, as well as Keun-A Lee.

This will, of course, be the first season when Leonard Slatkin, now music director laureate, doesn't handle the opening honors. He will, however, return for four programs later in the season, including two back-to-back weeks in May. 

Leonard Slatkin

"With the welcome return of soloists Joshua Bell and Garrick Ohlsson," said Slatkin, alluding to the violinist and pianist who will play in his programs, "Orchestra Hall will be alive with music and invention. I look forward to sharing this special year and celebrating my 75th birthday with both the orchestra and audience."

Something well worth anticipating will be an original centennial brass fanfare the orchestra commissioned from married composers Kristin Kuster and William Lucas. The latter is a member of the DSO trumpet section. 

The coming year is also the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, so the second half of the season will see a trio of major works, including his Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral;" the “Emperor” Concerto; and a season-closing performance of his Violin Concerto. 

Among the season's 14 guest conductors will be Jader Bignamini, who stepped in to direct the end-of-season performances of Puccini's "Turandot" in June, when Slatkin was sidelined by heart surgery.

New works commissioned by the DSO this year include pieces by American composers Mohammed Fairouz, Michigan-born James Lee III, Nkeiru Okoye and Julia Wolfe. 

The orchestra will return to the centennial theme with other pieces later in the season that were also performed in 1919-1920. Among these will be Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique," Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto and Dvorak's "New World" Symphony. 

Composer Lee's commissioned work is "Amer’ican," a response to "New World" that comments on the cultural appropriation embedded in the classic work. 

"Lee is an outstanding African-American composer," said Erik Rönmark, DSO vice-president and general manager. "For him to write a new work as a companion piece to 'New World' that looks at issues of appropriation from Mexican and Native-American history is very exciting."  

Fittingly, the yearlong centennial celebration will also nod to Orchestra Hall's incarnation as the Paradise Theatre from 1941-51, when the DSO was playing in other venues.

The Paradise was a top destination for jazz, bebop and blues artists. To salute that legacy, the Duke Ellington Orchestra will perform in December as part of the DSO's Paradise Jazz Series, which is celebrating its own 20th anniversary this season. 


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