Music fusion

It’s 8 o’clock. Do you know where the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is?

If it’s not on stage at the renovated classical music venue at 3711 Woodward Ave. known as Orchestra Hall, never fear: The DSO is alive and well and simply may be taking a night off to make room for live jazz, poetry, comedy or even techno music performances.

With the opening of the 2004-2005 season, event coordinators for the DSO and its year-old Max M. Fisher Music Center are greatly diversifying programming to reflect the varied interests of Detroiters. Judging by the 3,000 electronic rhythm fans who recently filtered into the building to hear techno pioneer Derrick May spin records until 6 a.m., the public is ready for what’s in store at the Music Center.

“We’re the only game in town doing this kind of stuff,” says Kendra Whitlock, director of pops and specials.

This year, the DSO’s 52-week season is divided into 26 weeks of classical performances, eight weeks of “pops,” or non-classical programs, and eight weeks of “specials,” such as holiday and special event performances, Whitlock explains. Herbie Hancock is the DSO’s Erb Jazz Chair and performs two concerts at the DSO this season, while Rodney Whitaker, who heads up the Professors of Jazz at Michigan State University, has collaborated with the DSO to create its Jazz Club at The Max series. Whitaker is the DSO’s music director for the youth ensembles, the Civic Jazz Band and the Civic Jazz Orchestra.

“We really want to be a venue that’s accessible to everyone,” she says.

The DSO will continue to incorporate jazz shows — performed by such contemporary greats as Al Jarreau — along with collaborations between the orchestra and commercial artists, including LeAnn Rimes.

Additionally, Whitlock says, there are plans through spring to host performance poetry, a genre brought to Orchestra Hall by the 2004 Detroit Slam Team, which went on to compete nationally at the annual St. Louis Slam contest.

“The fact that such a large venue with such corporate standing took an interest in us definitely got me jazzed,” says Slam Team member Cassie Poe.

It’s a big year for the DSO. In addition to the diversified musical and performance offerings, the orchestra is marking and honoring its music director, Neeme Järvi, who is in his 15th and final season at DSO. “The Year of Järvi” performances include the massive choral work, “Carmina Burana,” featuring the Estonian National Male Choir and the University Musical Society Choral Union.

The “Järvi Fest” tribute will feature Igor Stravinsky’s orchestral work “The Rite of Spring,” featuring the director’s sons Pavo and Christian as conductors and his daughter Maarika on flute. The tribute concerts will close out the season in 2005.

Other offerings include “Dear Mrs. Parks,” a celebration of Detroit resident and civil rights legend Rosa Parks in February and a Mother’s Day performance by vocalist Hayley Westenra.

For tickets and information call 313-576-5111.  Complete information can be found online at

See the DSO schedule here.

Eddie B. Allen Jr. is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]