DSO Lets Its Hair Down for 8 Days in June

What is 8 Days in June, the eclectic festival that begins this Friday at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, really all about?

Sure, it appears on the surface to be about altering perceptions of what its host, the esteemed Detroit Symphony Orchestra, is supposed to be. You know, a stodgy, stuffy organization that serves its elite patronage the way classical music institutions and traditional museums seem to have always done: by taking few risks and giving supporters exactly what they want.

But the times they-are-a-changin' for high-end cultural institutions, to paraphrase young Bob Dylan, and changin' fast. It's more than just about perceiving things differently, says the festival's creative consultant Tom Allen.

"We are trying to make real connections to daily life, for artists to reflect and address the issues of the day," says Allen, who hosts one of North America's top classical music programs, CBC Radio Two's Music & Company.

The bourgie, aristocratic air of symphony orchestras over the past 150 years is a by-product of smug Victorian narrowmindedness and social conservatism, Allen says. "Creative people have always had enormous power to enlighten and bring about change. The knock against classical music is that it has lost touch with the real. This festival allows artists to perform music as a living thing, not isolate it as an exhibit in a museum."

So, yes, imagine 8 Days in June as an organic process, a way out of the institutional and moral restraints placed on programmers and artists, a flight into uncharted air space. But also trust that it will be grounded by the weight of great talent and high standards that have been a part of the DSO repertoire since its inception in 1914, says Anne Parsons, the organization's president and executive director.    

"We want to strike a balance between experimentation and pushing things to another level and remaining respectful of what the audience wants," Parsons says. "But the world is changing fast and the DSO must change with it."

Forget the world for a minute and just look at the changes going on in the immediate neighborhood, where the restored DIA, the gritty Museum of Contemporary an Art Detroit (MOCAD) and the multiple venues at the Max have brought energy and urgency to the cultural landscape in Midtown. All three institutions, very wisely, have invested in a hardscrabble Detroitness, a collective regional voice that demands to be heard out.

Power of change      

A festival like 8 Days in June, now in its second year, is a reflection of the casual, edgy but still welcoming nature of this urban environment, both physical and psychological. We've called it a vibe before, something better experienced than put into words. And we're calling it that again. The DSO has captured it and is using the Detroit vibe as a starting point for its festival.

Last year's title was the attention-grabbing Creation and Conflict, with a festival theme based around creativity within times of crisis. The wide-ranging program included music by Shostakovich and Stravinsky, New Orleans jazz and contemporary hip hop.

This year it's called The Power of Change, and it's a celebration of trying new things as a kind of evolutionary artistic necessity.

Scan through the schedule and delight in what mysteries you find, beginning with Friday's opening night Spiritual Progression, packed with activity that includes an introductory talk by Allen, a DSO concert featuring Mozart's "Jupiter Symphony" and Holst's "The Planets" conducted by Festival Artistic Director Peter Oundjian; a post-concert party in the atrium featuring percussionist Tony Bahu; and then a post-post-concert bash at MOCAD with music by the New Music Detroit ensemble.

Day two (make a note, it is Sunday, June 15) is devoted to The Changing Earth, and it includes a talk and presentation with live frogs in the Music Box (2:30 p.m.), and an afternoon DSO performance in Orchestra Hall featuring the music of Philip Glass set to images of National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting (4 p.m.); then a live bat exhibit (5 p.m.) on level 2 of the atrium courtesy of the Cranbrook Institute of Science winds things down on a wild note. Take that, Queen Vicky.

Other highlights should come from Monday's (June 16) program, The Technological Mind, which features Hyperscore Composition Stations (enabling users to write their own music scores with innovative software) in the festival lounge beginning at 6 p.m.; followed by a chamber concert in the Music Box at 8 p.m. featuring the FLUX Quartet with pianist Michael Chertock performing the music of Tod Machover of the famed MIT Media Lab.

Machover will be one of the guests at a post-concert reception along with festival host Allen.

On Tuesday (June 17), minimalism is explored through the music of modernists Steve Reich, John Adams and Frederic Rzewski; on Thursday (June 19), John Cage's "Lecture on the Weather" is performed by Donna Feore, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Oundjian, Allen and others; and Friday's (June 20) Spontaneous Creation program begins with a Model D forum at 5:30 p.m. in the Music Box, slides into a cocktail reception in the atrium with live electronic music and video by nospectacle [Ed. Note: Walter Wasacz is part of the nospectacle group], moves into Orchestra Hall for a concert by the Bill Frisell Quintet, then finishes with an afterglow (featuring a nospectacle DJ set) back in the atrium.

Accessible and stimulating

The festival concludes Saturday with Allen hosting a festival review and the DSO, under the direction of Oundjian, performing pieces by Mendelssohn (Overture to "A Midsummer Night's Dream"), Scnittke ("Not a Midsummer Night's Dream"), Beethoven and Stravinsky.

A post-concert reception hosted by Allied Media will be held in the Music Box.

Oundjian, who splits time between Toronto, Connecticut and Detroit says he feels honored to be able to direct a festival in a city he has come to love.

"Detroit is not like any other place, is it?" he says. "It feels like the Midwest, but it isn't really. It feels like Canada, but it's not. There is something warm and vital about it. I'm delighted to be part what I see as an arts renaissance going on here."

Oundjian says the inspiration for 8 Days in June comes from the present information age, when the Internet has changed the way we think and do nearly everything.

"We are much more curious know about all sorts of things, and we desire to find out about them instantly," he says. "We set out to do a festival that reflects the modern world of information gathering in this way and Detroit's place in it. We want people to become stimulated by what the DSO has to offer. Nothing pompous about it, something very accessible and contemporary, that's what we're aiming for."     

A complete schedule for 8 Days in June can be found here.

Bonus: Model D readers get a 20 percent discount on the June 20 8 Days in June show, the same night as our 3rd Anniversary bash.  Purchase tickets at the box office or online here. Use the promotional code 08Days.

FilterD editor Walter Wasacz is feeling that evolutionary artistic vibe.


Tom Allen and New Music Ensemble - courtesy photo


Photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Metromode & Model D.

Read more articles by Walter Wasacz.

Walter Wasacz is a writer and the former managing editor of Model D. You can find more of his writings here.
Signup for Email Alerts