Tag Archives: dso

Detroit Symphony Orchestra Agrees to One-Year Modification

At the end of January, ahead of schedule and pre-COVID-19, musicians and management of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) had agreed on terms for a three-year contract, to go into effect September 7, 2020. The two sides have now agreed to a modification of the first year of that contract, with salary reduced to approximately 80%. Other language has been instituted to address the challenges of COVID-19—for example, musicians at higher risk for COVID-19 will not be required to perform in group settings, but will be required to perform alternative services.

Terms of the three-year contract include changes to health insurance premiums, with a set cost-sharing amount established for any premium increases; changes to audition rules, including setting a standard audition committee size of seven to nine members or 11 for the concertmaster position (auditions are postponed until they can be held safely); and changes to work rules, including a dress code that allows musicians to self-identify with regard to gender.

DSO musicians are members of Local 5 (Detroit, MI).

Detroit Symphony Gift Ties with Largest in Its History

Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) has received a $15 million gift from the William Davidson Foundation. Of that pledge, $5 million comes in the form of a challenge grant to grow the orchestra’s endowment. Three other foundations—Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Foundation, and Dresner Foundation—have already pledged
$3.5 million toward the challenge. DSO’s endowment has increased significantly over the past five years. If fully matched, the challenge grant will bring it to $56.3 million.

The Davidson Foundation has a long history of supporting DSO, and has sponsored DSO’s neighborhood concert series for seven years. The gift ties with one from the Fisher family as the largest single donation in DSO history. The atrium at Fisher Music Center will be named the William Davidson Atrium. Musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra are members of Local 5 (Detroit, MI).

Rick Robinson

Rick Robinson: Classical Music Delivered to the Masses

Rick Robinson

In 2011 bassist Rick Robinson of Local 5 (Detroit, MI) set out on a mission to bring classical music to the masses.

Just after the 2010-2011 Detroit Symphony Orchestra strike, and during an especially difficult time in his life (including the death of his father), longtime DSO bassist Rick Robinson of Local 5 (Detroit, MI) says it seemed like the time to take a risk. “You’ve got one life to live. I decided I should take it all the way.”

He left the orchestra to work full-time with his own production company, CutTime Productions. Robinson, a Kresge fellowship winning composer says he’s focused on “demystifying the huge classical tradition for broader humanity.” He aims to change the way classical music is presented for the lay audience, utilizing nontraditional settings—casual venues, cafés, clubs, restaurants, classrooms, and festivals.

The ensembles include CutTime Players (a mixed octet), which performs full and abridged symphonic masterpieces and CutTime Simfonica (with strings and percussion), featuring abridged openings of symphonies and Robinson’s own compositions, blending urban pop with neo-classicism. He calls it “an on-ramp to Schubert, Mozart, and Brahms, the music I love so much.”

What makes these programs unique is that Robinson and his musicians are willing to play in noise—in bars, clubs, and restaurants. “That’s a deal breaker for most symphony musicians,” says Robinson. “We play lively music to show that aspects of dance are in classical music. We pass out toy percussion instruments to the audience and ask them to join in. We talk about the development and the significance of instrumental music.” And then there are the burning questions, Robinson says, like, “Why is it called classical in the first place?” and “Why do you guys wear tails?”

Classical music can be adaptive, Robinson insists. In its reconstituted form, it can be spiritual and spontaneous all at once. Instead of centering on the art in the concert sanctuary, CutTime centers on the audience. “Once we focus on the audience, it doesn’t matter how precisely we play. The excellence comes from whether we can draw them into the music,” he says.

In the 25 to 40-year-old crowd he has a particularly captive audience. “In the orchestra world we learn to serve knowledgeable audiences within our arts bubble, which I realized was kind of a church-like experience. But I started thinking, what about everybody else? How are they being served by classical music? Some people hear better on their feet or with a drink in their hand, eating food, or with friends and family.”

“Jazzing up Mozart can make it more relevant,” he says. “The industry has always referred to this as ‘dumbing down.’ But we need to get beyond dumbing down to smarten up for a new audience.”

Robinson grew up in Highland Park, Michigan, in a fourth-generation musical family. His mother played the piano and sang. When he was 10 years old, his older sister and brother took him to a chamber orchestra rehearsal led by Joseph Striplin, one of the first black musicians to play in the Detroit Symphony. “When I first heard Brandenburg No. 3,” Robinson says, “I cried. That’s when I decided to take up cello.”

By eighth grade, he had changed to double bass. After Interlochen Arts Academy, Robinson went to the Cleveland Institute of Music and then New England Conservatory to study with Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) member Larry Wolfe. In 1987 Robinson won the Haddonfield (NJ) Symphony Concerto Competition playing Bottesini’s Concerto No. 2.

Following school, Robinson became principal bass of the Portland Symphony Orchestra in Maine and assistant principal of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, led by John Williams of Locals 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and 9-535.

In 1989, Robinson returned to his hometown to become the second African-American to hold a chair in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. That’s when Robinson began adapting solo works from other instruments.

“The AFM is a major partner of DSO musicians, particularly through negotiation times, and especially during the six-month strike of 2010-2011,” he says. “The Detroit Federation of Musicians has shown it’s flexible to the changing times we’re all facing, with audience decline and reprioritization of foundation grants. The union—particularly the collective bargaining agreement—of major orchestra musicians is critical to maintaining benefits and working conditions.”

Robinson hopes to train and hire hundreds of resilient musicians in what he calls the new classical tradition. He says, “Bringing this fine art into a commercial ecosystem will bring balance to the force of classical music and change the conversation.” In the meantime, Robinson says, he’s having fun—a lot of fun!

Community Connection Is Key to Rebirth of DSO

dso logoIn the fall of 2010, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) experienced a devastating six-month strike. Following its settlement the orchestra quickly put the bad times behind it and set to work on a remarkable comeback. Its latest three-year contract was settled in January 2014—eight months ahead of the expiration date.

“The strike, of course, was very painful for the musicians. It resulted in considerable sacrifice,” says Local 5 (Detroit, MI) President George Troia, Jr. “But we prefer to look forward; that is the spirit with which we concluded our negotiations last year, and that is the spirit with which we work with the DSO every day.”

“The musicians of the orchestra are grateful for the steadfast support of Local 5 throughout the negotiations,” says Ken Thompkins, DSO principal trombone and orchestra committee member. “We were ever mindful of our primary goal, which was to craft an agreement that retains and attracts the finest musicians. Our solidarity and shared values of honesty and mutual respect guided us toward a successful conclusion.”

Much of the orchestra’s recovery can be credited to taking a long hard look at its community, and connecting with it. DSO now plays a leading role in the overall regeneration of the City of Detroit.

The orchestra’s performances reach more than 400,000 people a year—more than any other American orchestra, and its subscriptions have grown 24.7% since 2011. Key to its community/global connection is its live, weekly webcast series. Other initiatives include: more extra services per year; a concert series with “patron-minded prices” that has brought the orchestra to seven neighborhoods; wellness music therapy performances; and a dedicated education program that serves more than 20,000 children.

On the fundraising side, the number of people who donated to the orchestra has grown. Those individual donors gave a total of $5.4 million. Market appreciation and new gifts raised the endowment by $10 million, to $38.6 million.