Change we can believe in

Surprisingly, the date on this was September 23 and not April 1:

The Detroit Symphony has announced plans for a completely revamped season, starting with its concerts this week. The programs will not be changed, at least the ones advertised, but the manner in which the works are performed will be altered.

To begin, the orchestra will be seated with their backs to the audience. Music Director Leonard Slatkin said at a press conference yesterday, “I feel that the listeners are distracted by seeing the faces of the musicians. By turning around, people will tire of looking at backsides and focus purely on the music.”

But that is only the beginning of the new era. For the final work on the program, Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony, the conductor is not only going to reinstate the cuts sanctioned by the composer, but will add some additional ones as well. All in all the total performing time will be about 12 minutes.

“The piece is so long and repetitive. Once you have heard the main tunes, well, they are so memorable that they do not have to be played again.”

Slatkin went on to say, “It is my hope to perform a Bruckner cycle using this philosophy. In that way, we can get through all of them in one concert, perhaps with time for the two that have no number as well.”

Beethoven’s 5th will get a trimming, but with a different rationale.

“Many years ago, I did a production of Tosca in Hamburg. The director told me that since everyone knows the opera, he wanted to eliminate many of the traditions that have bogged the work down. So there was no church in the first act. The heroine did not leap to her death at the end. Yes, we were roundly booed, but I started wondering whether the same rationale could be applied to symphonic music.”

So for these performances of the overly familiar Beethoven score, the opening five bars will not be played, since everyone knows how they go. It will be straight into the 6th measure. In fact, every time the four-note motto comes in and is played loudly, the passage will either disappear or be performed softly.

Most of the soloists will be surprised to learn that the tuttis that usually herald the first entrance will go away. So no more three minute intro for either the Brahms 1st piano concerto or Violin Concerto.

Slatkin has a reason for this as well.

“We are not paying them to sit or stand around.”

Other emendations include orchestration changes. The opening of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, played by the bassoon in a high register, will now be intoned on the tuba, two octaves lower than printed.

“Tubists at the beginning of the 20th Century were not as facile as today’s artists. Bassoonists have plenty of solos. Why not let someone else have a chance at it?”

There will also be a chamber version of Mahler’s 8th Symphony. Sometimes referred to as the “Symphony of a Thousand,” Slatkin hope to get it down to 46.

“There are fine chamber versions of the 4th Symphony and Das Lied, so precedent is on our side.”

Another of Slatkin’s projects is to present the complete organ works of Cesar Franck, transcribed for accordion. These will be played at the orchestras pre-concert recitals.

Then there is the “Pictures Project,” a round-the-clock set of performances including the 33 known orchestrations of the Mussorgsky classic. Long an advocate of alternate versions of the Ravel, Slatkin said “It is impractical to include one on each of our subscription concerts. So we will start on a Friday, and keep playing until we get through all of them. If we lose a member of the orchestra along the way, so be it.”

Finally, in keeping with the new seating arrangement, the orchestra will perform in street clothes, but the audience is requested to come in formal attire.

“Let them learn how long it takes to put on white tie and tails.”

Season tickets, subscription renewals and cancellations can be taken care of directly with the DSO box office.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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