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A Symphony for Detroit

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 07 August 2011

In this Sunday Feature, Petroc Trelawny visits the American city of Detroit to look at how the ravages of economic decline have affected the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

In the good old days, cars flew off the production lines and the motor industry made generous donations to the orchestra in an act of civic pride. The orchestra responded, under the batons of conductors like Paul Paray and Antal Dorati, by becoming one of the pre-eminent American institutions, renowned the world over for its motor-like mechanical precision and musicality, as well as providing the string sound to many Motown hits.

However, the recession hit Detroit years before it took a strangle-hold on the rest of the world and the Detroit of today is marked by crime, unemployment, depopulation and, crucially, the dramatic decline of commerce and industry. This has had a knock-on effect on the arts.

At the start of 2011, the city's grand Orchestra Hall lay empty; the only noise coming from Detroit Symphony Orchestra players, picketing on the street outside. Their six month strike ranked as one of the most bitter in American musical history, with players accusing management of effectively trying to erase decades of proud artistic endeavour; managers pleading that the current orchestral model just doesn't pay.

Now the strike is over and players and management are reflecting on what happened and how they should face the future, both as an orchestra and as a city.

Produced by Paul Frankl.


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