For nearly a century, the internationally-acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) has achieved greatness by providing audiences with unforgettable performances, visionary maestros, and illustrious guest artists. The DSO's standards of musicianship and artistry on the stage of Orchestra Hall is admired throughout the world.
Founded in 1914, the DSO began when 10 young Detroit society women each contributed $100 and the pledge to find 100 additional subscribers to donate $10 each to support the symphony. Weston Gales, a 27-year-old church organist from Boston was hired as the music director and the first concert took place at the Old Detroit Opera House on Feb. 26, 1914.
Three years later, Gales left his position and was succeeded by Russian pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch. Son-in-law of famed American writer Mark Twain, Gabrilowitsch was also a friend to composers Gustav Mahler and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Gabrilowitsch insisted the symphony required a home of its own and oversaw the building of Orchestra Hall, which was designed by noted architect C. Howard Craine. The hall opened in 1919.
Over the next two decades, the DSO became one of the finest and most prominent orchestras in the United States, performing with guest artists such as Enrico Caruso, Richard Strauss, Marian Anderson, Anna Pavlova, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Gabrilowitsch brought the DSO cutting-edge exposure with the world's first radio broadcast of a symphonic concert in 1922 on WWJ-AM. In 1928, the DSO performed at New York's Carnegie Hall for the first time, and also made their first recording. During the 1930s, millions enjoyed the mastery of the DSO over the airwaves, as the symphony became the nation's first official radio broadcast orchestra, playing on the Ford Symphony Hour national radio show until 1942.
However, following Gabrilowitsch's death in 1936, the DSO entered troubled times. Financial difficulties forced the orchestra to disband twice and move from Orchestra Hall to a succession of three different Detroit venues.
After the DSO's departure, Orchestra Hall sat silent for two years until its new owners, Ben and Lou Cohen, reopened the Hall as the Paradise Theatre. Where once audiences came to hear Gershwin and Prokofiev, new audiences came to hear contemporary talent such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. The theatre's new name was taken from Paradise Valley, an area in Detroit which was home to the largest percentage of Detroit's African-American community, as well as the principal black entertainment district. The Paradise became a celebrated club, offering the best in jazz, bebop, and blues. Its golden era came to an end in the early 1950s - another casualty of the waning of big band era.
Meanwhile, the DSO continued its struggle for existence under various challenges and conductors. Finally, in 1951, John B. Ford brought Paul Paray to Detroit to lead the orchestra's resurgence. An acclaimed artist in his native France, Paray was an ideal choice for a music director. The DSO moved into a new golden era, making 70 records over 11 years, many award-winning, for the Mercury label. Paray also moved the DSO from its present home, the Masonic Auditorium, to Ford Auditorium, which remained its home for the next 33 years.
During those years, Orchestra Hall fell into disrepair after the Paradise Theatre closed. Once an acoustical legend, the hall was headed for the wrecking ball. A group of concerned citizens succeeded in saving Orchestra Hall. After 20 years of restoration at the expense of $6.8 million, the DSO made its triumphant move back into its historic home in 1989.
The DSO entered a new era in 2003 with the opening of the Max M. Fisher Music Center. Nicknamed "The Max," the project created a new music center complex consisting of the modernized Orchestra Hall and a 135,000-square-foot facility that includes additional performance spaces and a soaring four-story lobby.
Since its founding, accomplished musicians have been drawn to the DSO from around the world to share their musical gifts with audiences. The DSO is enjoyed live by more than 450,000 people annually in classical, pops, jazz, holiday festival, Young People's concerts and more. Each week, the DSO is heard nationwide on the GM/DSO National Radio Broadcast series, making it the most widely heard orchestra in the country.
Special events throughout the year include performances of Handel's "Magnificent Messiah" and visits from celebrated artists such as Yo-Yo Ma and John Williams. In addition to classical music, audiences are also treated to the music of Cole Porter and Benny Goodman. Audiences also soak in world influences with performances by the African Children's Choir; the Celtic energy of The Chieftans; and Latin Jazz with Tiempo Libre, for example.
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