DSO storms New York's Carnegie Hall in rare appearance

Storm Large
The Detroit News

By Joe Lapointe

New York — An armed, black-clad swarm from Detroit invaded Midtown Manhattan Thursday night.

The gang members were armed with musical instruments, their street name was the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and their energetic performance drew ferocious applause from a capacity crowd at Carnegie Hall in the DSO's first appearance in this building in 17 years.

The night's highlight was the "The Seven Deadly Sins," a ballet chanté (sometimes called a one-act opera), created between the wars after Kurt Weill fled Nazi Germany for Paris and teamed up for one final time with Bertolt Brecht.

Getting the most out of the melodies and lyrics Thursday was soprano Storm Large of Portland, a big blond with a big voice, who sang and performed both parts of an ambitious woman's split personality.

Large started in rock music and cabaret. Among bands she has fronted: Storm and the Balls as well as Her Dirty Mouth. Large was to perform "Sins" with the Oregon Symphony during this week's "Spring For Music" festival but it could not come for financial reasons.

So the DSO filled in and backed her and looked smart in so doing. The Detroiters will change it up Friday night with Charles Ives' symphonies 1 through 4. Backstage, after Thursday's energetic debut, musical director Leonard Slatkin discussed what sort of message this visit sends about Detroit.

"There are powerful positives in Detroit," Slatkin said. "The outside perception of Detroit is of the ills of a city. We represent good health. Perhaps people will look at the city of Detroit in a slightly different way."

Even more enthused was Teddy Abrams, the assistant conductor.

"It sends a huge signal," he said. "If you didn't know about Detroit, you'd realize how vital it is. Look at the show of support."

Close to half of the 2,804-seat hall was filled with touring Detroiters who roared like a Red Wings playoff crowd when asked to make themselves heard while waving (coincidentally) little red towels.

Among them was Ethan Davidson, a recent returnee to Detroit and one of the trip's sponsors. His dad, Bill, used to own the Pistons. Davidson told the audience from the stage about Detroit's arts movement.

"It's a totally different city than the one I left," he said. "People are really pushing the envelope."

While exploring lower Manhattan Thursday, Davidson said, "Even the cool kids in Soho said 'Detroit? That is the place to be.'"

The two female characters played by Large — Anna I and Anna II — leave Louisiana and move from city to city to earn money to buy a home for themselves on the Mississippi.

"I feel like I've just finished a triathlon," Large said after Thursday's performance. Perhaps she was fatigued from all those curtain calls and all that bowing. When she went to shake Slatkin's hand at the end, he instead wrapped his arms around her as the cheering swelled amid Carnegie's legendary acoustics.

The ballet part of her performance included little dancing but many subtle touches, such as gazing into a compact mirror and putting on her lipstick when the two Annas land in Los Angeles and work in Hollywood for the "Anger" section of the story.

The "Pride" locale is Memphis, where the Annas find work in a strip club. Without nudity or vulgarity, Large performed her only dance of the evening, with a sexiness beyond mere carnality.

From the double bass section, veteran Linton Bodwin said the DSO performance had "good audience appeal" and was different than he remembered from 17 years ago.

"A little less formal," he said.

Brecht, according to the show's Playbill, agreed to write the lyrics (in German) if Weill allowed him to fashion them as a condemnation of capitalism.

"The great big cities where you go to make money," Large sang. " . . . Those who take what they need without shame. . . Gluttons never go to heaven." Afterward, Large said Brecht was "red and left."

Good thing her big voice didn't carry down these concrete canyons to Wall Street. But it might have drifted a few blocks to Broadway, where "Motown: the Musical" is doing well at the box office.