When exploring a city for the first time, there’s always a “to-do” list of attractions you just have to experience first-hand. When I think of Detroit, this list includes things like catching a game at Comerica Park, scrutinizing Picasso’s handiwork at the Detroit Institute of Arts, or taking in a musical at the Detroit Opera House. One line item, however, has taken me three years to get around to–and that’s a visit to Orchestra Hall to see the amazing Detroit Symphony Orchestra. As a veteran clarinet player and music geek, I’m kind of surprised that I didn’t acquaint myself with the DSO sooner–but waiting paid off when I got the chance to attend the 2014 Heroes Gala and DSO benefit concert, featuring Academy Award-winning composer John Williams and iconic film director, Steven Spielberg. After all, if I’m going to spend an evening at the symphony, I might as well do it right, don’t you think?
Boasting everything from a ball gown-studded red carpet to a jazz-filled cocktail hour, the fourth annual DSO Heroes Gala brought Hollywood glamour straight to the heart of Detroit. My first experience at “The Max” involved slipping into a crowd of celebrities and dignitaries, where I attempted to blend in among all of the mingling and hob-knobbing. Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert and Rock Ventures CEO Matt Cullen were recognized for their support of Detroit and the DSO that evening, while over $1.25 million was raised by attendees for the DSO and worldwide music efforts.
Then, of course, it was time for the show. Never in a million years would my teenage self (who frequently listened to the Harry Potter soundtrack on repeat) dream that I would one day attend a live concert conducted by the John Williams. When the 82 year-old maestro walked out, his authoritative presence filled the room and I could hardly contain my excitement. Magnificent themes from movies such as Star Wars came to life, and after intermission, long-time collaborative partner, Steven Spielberg, joined Williams onstage. That’s when the real magic of the evening began.
While Williams presented a fairly reserved persona throughout the first half of the show, Spielberg’s charisma brought about a lighter mood. The post-intermission program featured selections from Spielberg movies such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Schindler’s List, with introductions by the filmmaker that included amusing anecdotes such as “how desperately” Spielberg depended on “Johnny” to make his movies more entertaining. To further drive home this point, the audience was shown a clip of “The Circus Train Chase” scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade–once with just dialogue and sound effects, and once with music. Do you know how much more exciting a chase scene is when it’s accompanied by strings, winds, and percussion? I’ll give you a minute to mull that one over.
While Spielberg’s stage presence was hard to beat, Williams did not let the director have every laugh to himself. After a soloist rolled out the first two notes of the unmistakable theme from Jaws, the audience collectively burst into laughter. Rather than let this interrupt the integrity of his music, the conductor slowly turned around and put a finger to his lips to silence the crowd. This unexpected response, of course, caused even more laughter, but everyone soon quieted down because, hey–John Williams said so.
Other pieces that night included “The Duel” from The Adventures of Tintin (complete with a movie montage of sword fighting scenes) and selections from Lincoln, which came along during the Hollywood duo’s encore. The audience couldn’t get enough, and after wrapping with the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark theme, Williams and Spielberg responded to an extended standing ovation with multiple bows and curtain calls.
When it was time to clear out for the evening, I marveled at the spectacle I had just witnessed. Glitz and glamour aren’t always the first things we associate with Detroit, but the fact that this city continues to organize events similar to ones that popped up during its “glory days” is a great indicator that D-Town is far from becoming extinct. After all, isn’t it obvious? Detroit is totally the new Tinseltown–and it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world starts to see that, too.
What’s the most exciting place or event you’ve experienced while visiting Detroit? Is it something that would surprise people who are unfamiliar with the area? Comment with your stories below!