Since the end of the epic six-month musicians strike in April, Detroit Symphony Orchestra officials have been sprinting -- rebooting spring concerts, dropping ticket prices for the future by up to 50%, rebuilding next season and hashing out ambitious programs designed to broaden the orchestra's reach.
Much of the immediate future remains under construction, but one major edifice is being announced today: the 2011-12 classical and pops seasons at Orchestra Hall.
This will be music director Leonard Slatkin's fourth season, and what's most interesting -- and rewarding -- is how consistently classical programming tracks with Slatkin's previous agenda: Roughly 20% of the works are contemporary, nearly all of them by living composers working in America, from elder statesmen like William Bolcom and David Del Tredici to up-and-comers like Mason Bates. Nearly a third of the season represents DSO premieres.
The post-strike DSO is reinventing big chunks of its operation to better relate to the lives of metro Detroiters, but it's significant that Slatkin doesn't need to gin up or water down his core programming. Musically, the DSO is already engaged with contemporary life and already values surprise.
Not that it couldn't dig deeper. Slatkin's taste in new music favors audience-friendly styles, and unfamiliar fare is obsessively balanced on every program by a beloved evergreen. The orchestra would reach a higher plane of creativity if it at least opened a dialogue with harder-edged modernism from America and abroad and truly let go of the reins once in a while. Slatkin is walking a tightrope, trying to cultivate adventure while also minimizing risk.
Next season highlights include:
• Bates' "B-Sides," which mixes orchestra and electronics; Del Tredici's "Final Alice," a polystylistic 1976 score that helped lead classical music back to tonality; John Adams' post-9/11 memoriam "On the Transmigration of Souls," and Osvaldo Golijov's "Sidereus," the first work by this important Argentine-American composer to be performed by the DSO.
• A world premiere by Chinese-born Du Yun, winner of the DSO's Lebenbom prize for female composers.
• The overdue return of music director emeritus Neeme Järvi, who will team with pianist Helene Grimaud in Brahms' Second Piano Concerto and lead an unusual 50-minute arrangement of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger." • Appearances by conductors Jerzy Semkow, Helene Bouchez and Louis Langree; pianists Emanuel Ax, Kirill Gerstein and Robert Levin; violinists Nicola Benedetti and Julian Rachlin, and saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
The DSO also is planning neighborhood and community concerts, which will take the orchestra into the suburbs, and chamber music and education initiatives made possible by the new contract.