Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Everything's up to date in......Detroit?

Pillaged by fire and crime, Detroit has struggled for over 60 years
Back in 2013, the city became the largest municipality in the nation to declare bankruptcy. Concerning population, Detroit has lost 61% of its residents since 1950 (down from 1.8 million to 700,000). The public schools have become, individually and collectively, an educational nightmare, guided by one of Michigan's emergency managers (this guy used to be in Flint) as well as administrators who have ended up in jail after bribery charges and convictions. A tumultuous work stoppage at the Symphony (DSO) dragged on for months. Could things get any worse?

Financial straits are still dire, and the schools still suffer. There are signs that the population has begun to stabilize, and new construction and renovation of old are combining to offer a renaissance of this once great city. The city was recently named one of the "52 Places to Go in 2017" by the New York Times. Challenges remain, but many community leaders in the public and private sectors are meeting them head on.

The once crime laden "Cass Corridor" is morphing into "The District."
Anchored by the new ice arena, it will include easy access to all of
Detroit's professional sports venues, theaters, loads of restaurants,
and lots more reasons to come into the city.
In the fall, the DSO announced the formation of an adult amateur ensemble, expanding the organization's educational components to a new group of stakeholders. In financial terms, Crain's Detroit Business is boasting a "resounding success" for both the DSO and the Michigan Opera Theater. The symphony ended the fiscal year over $130,000 in the black. Individual donors are up over 30%, surpassing 10,000, up from 7,000 last year. Gifts earmarked for the endowment were over $5.1 million.

Detroit's magnificent Orchestra Hall, reclaimed in 1989
As a result, the orchestra and its musicians negotiated a new three-year contract, achieved well ahead (eight months) of the end of the current agreement. According to the Detroit News, the terms include:
  • A 4-percent raise by 2020, the last year of the contract, lifting base pay from $91,259 to $96,096.
  • A stipend to tide them over in the 10 unpaid, nonperformance weeks, so they don’t have to file for unemployment insurance.
  • More flexible work rules boosted the number of performance weeks from 36 to 38 and will shoulder more of any increases in health-insurance premiums. The number of musicians will stay at 87, well beneath the 96 before 2011.
DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin has been the catalyst behind much of the orchestra's rebirth and growth. He has made a significant commitment to American music and the orchestra's Carnegie Hall concerts, including all four symphonies of Charles Ives, garnered praise from the oft-critical New York press. A little over a year ago, Slatkin announced that he would be leaving the DSO at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, offering the organization plenty of time for a search, hire, and transition to a new leader.

In July, the orchestra will embark on its first international tour since 2001, presenting eleven concerts in China and Japan. One would expect the repertoire to include (unlike too many other U.S. orchestras) a healthy dose of American music and the Detroiters do not disappoint. According to the DSO website, Asian audiences will hear Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Bernstein’s Candide Overture, Cindy McTee’s Double Play, and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

It was a long decline from the city's heyday in 1950 to its nadir in 2013. But things are looking up all over. People are starting to believe in their city and at least some of its prestigious institutions. One hopes that this will carry over to the Detroit Public Schools. Change has to start somewhere and new minds, new leaders, can start to make that change work.

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