The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (= DSO) was founded in 1914 when ten young Detroit society women each contributed $100 and pledged to find 100 additional subscribers to donate $10 to support the symphony. They organized quickly, hiring Weston Gales, a 27-year-old church organist from Boston, as music director. The orchestra's first concert took place at the old Detroit Opera House on February 26, 1914.
Gales left his position in 1917 and was succeeded the following year by renowned Russian pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch. A friend to composers Gustav Mahler and Sergei Rachmaninov, and son-in-law of famed American writer Mark Twain, Ossip Gabrilowitsch brought instant credibility to the DSO. Insisting the orchestra needed a home of its own, Ossip Gabrilowitsch oversaw the building of Orchestra Hall, which was designed by noted architect C. Howard Crane. The hall opened on October 23, 1919.
During the early 1920's, the DSO fast become one of the finest and most prominent orchestras in the country. Over the next two decades, the orchestra performed with spectacular guest artists such as Enrico Caruso, Igor Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Marian Anderson, Sergei Rachmaninov, Isadora Duncan, Anna Pavlova, Jascha Heifetz, Pablo Casals and others.
In 1922, Ossip Gabrilowitsch led the orchestra and guest pianist Artur Schnabel in the world's first radio broadcast of a symphonic concert on WWJ-AM. The DSO performed at New York's Carnegie Hall for the first time in 1928 and, also that year, made their first recording. In 1934, the DSO became the nation's first official radio broadcast orchestra, performing for millions of Americans over the airwaves on the Ford Symphony Hour national radio show until 1942.
Following Ossip Gabrilowitsch's death in 1936, the DSO entered into a troubled time in which financial difficulties forced the orchestra to disband twice and move from Orchestra Hall to a succession of three different Detroit venues. The final move, in 1956, was to Ford Auditorium, which remained their permanent hall for the next 33 years. By this time, Paul Paray was Music Director and the orchestra was enjoying a golden era in which they had become one of the country's most recorded orchestras, making 70 records over 11 years, many award-winning, for the Mercury label.
Paray stepped down as Music Director in 1963 and was followed by a number of internationally renowned directors including Sixten Ehrling, Aldo Ceccato, Antal Doráti and Günther Herbig. In the 1970's, a group of concerned citizens rallied to save a neglected and run-down Orchestra Hall from the wrecking ball, while the Orchestra continued to perform at Ford Auditorium. Following nearly 20 years of restoration, the DSO moved back into the Hall in 1989. With Neeme Järvi's appointment as Music Director the following year, the DSO entered into a new era of reinvigorated performance and commitment to the city of Detroit.
In the 1999-2000 season, the DSO released a new CD recording of works by African-American composers, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the DSO/Unisys African-American Composer Residency Program. In the 1997-98 season, the DSO released four new recordings including two on the Chandos label, plus Encore Live! From Orchestra Hall, a disc of encores performed by the DSO at various concerts in recent years and Joy! A Celebration of Holiday Music, a collection of modern and classical holiday music. Between January 1991 and May 1998, 27 new DSO/Neeme Järvi recordings were released on the Chandos label, including ten in the acclaimed American Series, with two devoted exclusively to the works of African-American composers.
Neeme Järvi served as Music Director through 2005, the second-longest in the orchestra's history. After a five-year search, the DSO announced on October 7, 2007, the appointment of Leonard Slatkin as its 12th Music Director. Prior to Leonard Slatkin's appointment, Peter Oundjian was the DSO's Artistic Advisor, and continues to hold the title of Principal Guest Conductor. In February 2010, the orchestra announced the extension of Leonard Slatkin's contract as DSO music director through the 2012-2013 season. This also included an annnoucement that Leonard Slatkin would take a salary reduction to help relieve the financial difficulties of the orchestra.