Detroi t Sin g
MAX FISHER AND
TO THE ARTS
hen Max Fisher, the
dean of Detroit's
first came to the city in
1930, he used to
Pops concerts for 25
cents a ticket.
But times have changed since then.
The top price for tickets to premier
DSO concerts has risen over the $100
mark, and construction and mainte-
nance costs have taken a comparable
This month, the DSO unveils the
Max M. Fisher Music Center, a new
$60-million performing arts complex
on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.
"The Max," as it's known to promot-
ers and music-lovers alike, was made
possible by a $10-million contribution
from its 95-year-old benefactor — the
largest personal gift ever to the DSO
— as well as by generous donations by
Many of those underwriting the
Max are Jewish. And many are Detroit
natives, with roots in the same neigh-
borhood just north of downtown that
stands to profit the most from the
Max and other components of the
Orchestra Place project.
"I always felt, as chairman of Detroit
Renaissance (the nonprofit organiza-
tion founded in 1970 by business
leaders to facilitate the physical and
economic growth of Detroit and
Southeast Michigan), that the
Woodward corridor was the future of
the city, and it's finally developing into
that," Fisher said in a recent interview
with the Jewish News at his Franklin
Cultural life is vital to the renais-
sance of the city, he said.
"There's a decrease in population in
Detroit, but when people come to
Detroit to go visit, one of the first
questions they ask is, 'What are your
cultural activities? What about your
art museums, what about your sym-
'And those are very important
things in the life of the city," he said.
"Look, a great city has good institu-
tions, whether it's a museum or a sym-
phony," Fisher said. "When you think
about it, even Toledo, Cleveland,
Columbus ... they all have it. We just
fell behind. But now we're catching
Fisher was amused by recent reports
that he has no time for music and art.
"I read in the New York Times that I
don't like art," he said. "Where in the
hell did they get this? I wouldn't be
making a major investment if I didn't
In talking about his contributions,
Fisher said he wasn't the first to work
to keep the DSO in Detroit.
Beginning in 1970, a group of com-
munity members and musicians,
working as the Save Orchestra Hall
committee, successfully banded
together to reclaim the acoustically
superb orchestral venue.
"It was going to be torn down,"
Fisher said. "The fact that they stuck
to it and brought it to this stage is a
real tribute to the city and its citizens,
the people who were involved."
Fisher's words were echoed by those
of his son-in-law Peter Cummings of
"I love music and I love the city,"
said Cummings, DSO board chair-
man and the driving force behind the
creation of the Max. "Orchestral
music is my favorite type, but I like
practically all types — I just went to
the Bruce Springsteen concert."
' Cummings, of Bloomfield Hills,
said he wanted it made clear that, if it
weren't for activists such as DSO bas-
soonist Paul Ganson, impresario Dr.
Zalman "Tiny" Konikow and vision-
ary investor Sam Frankel, the acousti-
cally perfect hall that is the kernel of
the Max would no longer exist.
"Everything we're doing now is
_being built on the foundation of the
Save Orchestra Hall movement,"
Saving A Treasure
Sam Frankel is not one to mince
Ford Auditorium, the hall on
Jefferson at the foot of Woodward
Avenue where the DSO performed
1955-1989, was "not made for classi-
cal music," said the Bloomfield Hills
developer. "It was meant for drum
On the other hand, Orchestra Hall,
built in 1919, has acoustics that rival
those at New York City's peerless
Carnegie Hall, musicians agree.
But by the late 1960s, the hall was
deserted, with a leaky roof, shattered
stairways and practically no seats.
When Ganson began rallying support
to renovate the building, it already had
an appointment with the wrecking
Frankel, who grew up in Detroit,
said he used to hear the symphony
play at Orchestra Hall as a child, and
took violin lessons at a music conser-
vatory down Woodward Avenue.
"When the opportunity arises to
save something, you take it," he said.
"I couldn't believe it when I saw it —
the hall was dark and vandalized. I just
thought we should have a cultural
center, and here was the start."
Frankel followed his instincts and
led the group that bought out
Orchestra Hall's mortgage. He contin-
ues to make his presence known as a
donor to the Max.
Dr. Konikow, a pediatric dentist by
profession and former president of the