Growth and Transformation
The fifth installment of the Orchestral Hall series, where we will see the renovation and reopening of the acoustically magical building. Part 5 of 6.
- The hall has certainly had its ups and downs
and the fact that it was almost demolished
when you think back at that.
There's certain aspects of that
that you just feel lucky about.
And the fact that the orchestra didn't leave the city.
That we stayed here and that we came back
to the hall ultimately
- We had to bring a fresh,
complete, overcoming spirit to this place.
To rebuild it in a sense.
To recapture what happened in that summer of 1919.
- When you would come to Detroit
it was there, it was the immovable object.
I really can't imagine the Detroit Symphony
playing somewhere else.
I think this building is an essential part
of the Detroit Renaissance.
- [Narrator] The revitalization of Orchestra Hall
was a monumental accomplishment
but the orchestra itself was still in the red.
Hit by a struggling Detroit economy
and cuts in funding for the arts,
it would take a special personality
to grow both the orchestra and its venue
back to the kind of international
prominence it knew during the early 20th century.
- I think back to the days of Paray and Ehrling,
Ceccato, Antal Doráti was a significant
part of building the quality of the orchestra.
Günther Herbig brought a gravitas
to the sound that I think
was very special and then Neeme
comes in and takes all of that
and adds sparkle, adds a polish, a sheen to it
that I think was possibly missing
from the immediate period earlier.
- The music directors that we've had
historically all speak to the unique
history of the orchestra.
They have been passionate,
sometimes very colorful leaders
and Neeme was no exception.
- The 1990s were very good years for the Detroit Symphony
they're back in their historic home,
they have a very charismatic new music director
named Neeme Järvi who's Estonian born
who makes a kind of instant connection with the audience.
- To me, Neeme was a jewel.
He was something that the orchestra needed.
He provided a lot of energy,
he provided a lot of musical charisma.
- You knew that he was the person in charge.
But at the same time it was a very jovial quality.
It was something that had a warmth to it.
There was a little bit of sparkle in his eye
no matter what he was doing.
- And I think he really enjoyed this hall
because of the proximity of the audience
to the orchestra.
In many modern halls, the audience is
more removed from the stage
and Neeme always enjoyed looking up
at the boxes and you know kind of giving
a little, a wink sometimes.
- I loved watching him conduct,
he had this sort of humor
this impishness to him
that if you got to know him
he could be a lot of fun.
- [Narrator] With Järvi at the helm,
the Detroit Symphony Orchestra
and Orchestra Hall were rejuvenated.,
making over 40 recordings and undertaking
numerous international tours.
Their success during the closing decade
of the 20th century once again cemented
Orchestra Hall's position as a world class symphonic home.
More importantly though, Neeme Järvi,
like Ossip Gabrilowitsch, championed
the idea of an orchestra's importance
to the greater community.
If the orchestra were to stay
in Orchestra Hall for good,
it would take more than just
a revival of the old hall,
it would take a transformation.
- When I first came to a concert
which was in 1991,
the neighborhood was not at all inviting.
- By that time we had lost half of our population
from our peak in the 1950s.
The auto factories had left
population and jobs and businesses
were fleeing the city.
And so there's a lot of sense
of why bother you know who cares about Detroit.
- We just knew that we needed to revitalize
this immediate neighborhood
and it was sort of out of that kind of thinking
that the Orchestra Place Project emerged.
- When he talked to my father
about this dream, my father told him
you know you're not thinking big enough.
You've gotta think bigger, the city
needs DSO and the hall in a way
that you can't even anticipate at this point.
- Education and outreach and everything else,
we had talked about those things for years.
That is the central spirit
that got this hall built.
That got this hall saved,
that got this hall restored to a point
where people said okay
let's take that ball and let's make a game here.
The hall was built 100 years ago
so it didn't have dressing rooms,
we had people in trailers
and it didn't have a place
for the patrons to assemble
before the program so it needed some updating
and Peter Cummings led that
and then Stanley Frankel.
And they did a marvelous job with it
I mean they were able to add those facilities
without interfering with the acoustics of the hall.
- It can't just be monolithic.
The building needed to expand
and they needed to adapt to its surroundings
but what it is and what it represents
is the same as what it's always been.
- C. Howard Crane gave us this magnificent
hall for classical music but that's
what this building is and all that other stuff
that is now considered part of the complex
of a major symphony hall was left out
because people that just wasn't on their radar
in those days so to have this beautiful
building attached, I think helped
everybody, staff, musicians, audience members.
I think it was critical again to make this
significant statement that we're here,
we're going to stay here, we're going
to help be a part of this community.
- You know what the orchestra did here
is they started buying up land
all around Orchestra Hall to make
expansion possible and then
they bought the Winkleman's warehouse
a block south of here
and built an office building
which they then leased
to the Detroit Medical Center
and there was ground floor retail.
Then they donate land to the
Detroit Public Schools so now
we've got this incredible performing
arts high school going up
so in Detroit what is more central
than reinventing an entire city block
which is basically what the orchestra did.
- When the orchestra hall finally reopened
that was one of the markers that said
we think we're back, we think Detroit has turned around.
It was early, we had a long way to go,
we still have a long way to go I think
but it was one of those ones that say
hey we can do this
and I think it was a point of civic pride
that's hard to equal.
- The only one event that will always
be embedded in my mind was the first night
we opened after we redid the hall.
I stood in the back and I had
this great fear that when I did the hall
I would've screwed up the acoustics.
So at the break, two people were next to me
who really knew and I said how are the acoustics?
They said they're fabulous, I said oh thank goodness.
I'll never forget that moment.
- [Narrator] The Max, as it was known,
had cemented a new cornerstone
for music and culture in the city
and lit the spark of further
revitalization down Woodward.
The hall would face one more challenge
though as health problems forced Neeme Järvi
to announce that after the ribbon was cut
on the DSO's expanded home, he would be moving on.
This time it would be the orchestra's
musical directorship and not the hall itself
that would sit empty, just when it needed it most.
- When I arrived in 2004 everyone
was feeling hopeful that the city
was coming back, that the cultural anchors
really stayed with the city
and the community and kept their doors open
in spite of everything and everything
was soon to be quite difficult again.