We Can Be Heroes
The DSO honors supporters Penny and Harold Blumenstein and Leonard Slatkin.
Although Leonard Slatkin has had a role very different from those of Penny and Harold Blumenstein in advancing the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO), all three share a commitment to encouraging musical interests in young people.
That shared commitment has resulted in their selection for honors at the eighth annual Heroes Gala and Benefit Concert to be held Saturday evening, June 23, at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center in Detroit.
The event marks the transition of Slatkin from 10 years as music director of the orchestra into work as music director laureate while a new director is being selected. It also marks the leadership of the Blumensteins as they continue to donate time and funds to elevate symphony initiatives.
Slatkin and his wife, composer Cindy McTee, have established a $100,000 Emerging Artists Fund to provide support for up-and-coming artists in performance with the symphony. The Blumensteins have been at the helm of subsidizing student and teacher ticket costs for concert attendance.
The gala will be held after the concert, which features conductor Teddy Abrams, music director of the Louisville Orchestra and former DSO assistant conductor. He will lead the musicians in classical and pop selections.
Singer Storm Large will present her original renditions of Cole Porter hits, and Grammy Award-winning pianist and former Erb Jazz Chair Michel Camilo will play selections by George Gershwin and others. Eighteen-year-old cellist Joshua McClendon, a Sphinx Competition laureate, will be soloist in the third movement of Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1.
Also on the program will be McTee’s arrangement of the folk song “Shenandoah.”
“A virtual committee chooses the honorees, and the choices were unanimous,” says Anne Parsons, president and CEO of the DSO, of the tradition begun in 2010. “We have a lot of people on our radar to celebrate. Former honorees, board chairs and the staff leadership team make recommendations, and we think about the timing.”
Among other Jewish members of the community selected as Heroes have been Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Rock Ventures, in 2014; the Davidson/Gerson family, supporters of the DSO’s William Davidson Neighborhood Concert Series, in 2015; and the late Mandell and Madeleine (Bill and Madge) Berman, also supporters of DSO education programs, in 2017.
Slatkin expressed surprise at being named an honoree.
“In the past, the honor has always gone to people who have given philanthropically to the orchestra and city,” he says. “I am just a musician and never thought about what my contributions to Detroit have been.”
During his DSO tenure, Slatkin has led the way in bringing variety programming to the symphony, an approach fostered by his late parents: Felix Slatkin, a violinist and conductor, and Eleanor Aller Slatkin, a cellist. Community-performed concerts and international webcasts — along with the introduction of works by contemporary composers — have been hallmarks of this honoree’s actions.
“I grew up in a musical environment that embraced pretty much every genre of music as long as it was good so my programming usually reflects that background,” Slatkin says in looking forward to the variety of the gala lineup. “I was the one who suggested that my wife compose [the ‘Shenandoah’ arrangement], and I even contributed the first and last few bars.”
Parsons, who has established friendships with the honorees, knew Slatkin before joining the DSO. She met him in 1980 while fulfilling an internship at the Minnesota Orchestra, where he served as artistic music director. She went on to work at the National Symphony, where he was later music director. During her employment at the Boston Symphony, he regularly guest conducted.
The Blumensteins have been an important presence in Parsons’ sphere since she came to Detroit. Penny Blumenstein, a DSO trustee, was part of Parsons’ early interview process.
“The orchestra is so lucky that the Blumensteins love music and this orchestra, and it’s all meant so much to their lives as well. Harold was involved with the Save Orchestra Hall [campaign when there was a call to tear it down], and they both have a history of coming to Orchestra Hall,” Parsons says.
The Blumensteins join Slatkin in having a wide interest in music as reflected in the gala concert program.
“We are honored to be chosen to be Heroes of the DSO for this year and pleased to share this evening with Leonard, who has taken our DSO out to the community in an important way to show the quality of our orchestra to a wider audience,” says Penny Blumenstein, also board chairman of the Joint Distribution Committee, board member of the Jewish Fund and an affiliate of the Washington Institute and AIPAC.
“My mother, Lee Bernstein, was a trained concert pianist. She instilled in me a love for classical music. It seemed natural for me to find a way to incorporate that with my volunteerism,” she says.
The Blumensteins, both of whom have studied and played piano, extended their DSO involvement with a personal dimension.
“Harold and I have particularly enjoyed being with the symphony on their visits to Florida,” Penny Blumenstein says. “We arranged golf outings and liked seeing them in a relaxed setting outside of a work environment.”
The gala concert is the culmination of the DSO’s Downtown and neighborhood season, and it kicks off the summer season. Each Heroes celebration is planned to be both unique and centric to the honorees.
“Teddy was chosen as conductor because he was Leonard’s first assistant conductor,” Parsons says.
“Leonard brought back the position of assistant conductor and emphasized that this position should be limited to a certain number of years and be an opportunity to identify and help develop young talent. Teddy is the poster child for that because he has gone on to a very successful music directorship in Louisville. He was a community ambassador, which is what we call our assistant conductor.”
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The Detroit Symphony Orchestra Heroes Gala and Benefit Concert begins the performance at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 23, at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Hall in Detroit. The formal dinner starts at 8:30 p.m. Concert-only tickets start at $15 and can be purchased at dso.org or by calling (313) 576-5111. For information about the black-tie gala, visit dso.org/heroes or call (313) 576-5120.