Jader Bignamini launches DSO career with virtual fall season

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Corrections: This story has been updated to reflect the correct donation amount for accessing the digital concerts, $125, and correct that livestreamed concerts will not be available for free thereafter on DSO Replay. Also, it corrects that Nokuthula Ngwenyama is a violist.

Music lovers rejoice — the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's fall Classical and Pops seasons will go ahead, pandemic or no. But concerts will be smaller, shorter and virtual, available to stream live.

Works to relish in the classical series include Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," which will open the classical season Sept. 10, Dvořák's Serenade for Wind Instruments, Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings in C Major and the Brandenburg Concerto.

Other high points will be 10 works by Black composers, including world premieres by two musician-composers -- drummer Tyshawn Sorey and violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, whose "Primal Message" will have its orchestral debut.

Performances will be streamed live on DSO Digital Concerts, available only at dso.org. Series subscribers and those who donate over $125 to the orchestra can enjoy the live streams, as well as those who purchase tickets for single concerts.

COVID-19 precautions, naturally, will be everywhere.

Ensembles will be smaller this season, to guarantee adequate social distancing among the musicians on stage. September programs will feature 32-35 players, less than half the full orchestra.

All musicians will wear masks except for those playing wind instruments. Concerts will be shorter than usual -- about 45 minutes -- to limit the amount of time players spend in proximity to one another.

"People miss performing together," said Erik Rönmark, DSO vice-president and general manager. "We’ve been having great conversations with the orchestra throughout the pandemic. We asked recently if they’d be comfortable performing at Orchestra Hall, and so far the majority say they are."

The Detroit Symphony will  stream live performance on DSO Digital Concerts, available only at dso.org.

Musicians who aren't comfortable will not be banished. "They might then work in our educational programming," Rönmark said, "which is virtual."

Not surprisingly, concert planning in this odd epoch presented unusual challenges.

"When you curate a season," he said, "it’s almost like paint-by-numbers – you know how the layout is going to look, and then you just fill it in. But this season started out as a completely blank canvas, because we didn’t know what we’d be allowed to do, or which guest artists would be willing to travel here – or, for those overseas, would even be allowed to."

The choice of "Fanfare for the Common Man," Rönmark said, was driven by the orchestra's new music director, Jader Bignamini, who will conduct the first four concerts next month to inaugurate his career with the DSO, and then will return Dec. 10-11.

"As we looked at the program," said Rönmark, "Jader said, 'We’re meant to give hope during this time. People are worried.' He said we need something to open that’s positive and uplifting, and suggested starting with Copland and kicking off the season that way."

Guest conductors will include Music Director Laureate Leonard Slatkin, Matthias Pintscher, Donald Runnicles, and Thomas Wilkins, while guest soloist include violinist Jennifer Koh, soprano Jacquelyn Stucker, and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.


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