Detroit, (April 21, 2021) – The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) today announced that President and CEO Anne Parsons (James B. and Ann V. Nicholson Chair) plans to retire in fall 2022, following an 18-year tenure helming the organization. Parsons has successfully navigated the DSO through local and national economic downturns and the current global pandemic, all while greatly improving the orchestra’s financial outlook and growing the audience and donor base, which has resulted in eight consecutive operating surpluses from 2013 to 2020. Parsons was also responsible for helping bring two new music directors to Detroit and returning the orchestra to national and international prominence through touring and webcasts.
Parsons’ vision of making the DSO more accessible led to an increased focus on serving audiences through innovative new products. In 2011, she oversaw the launch of “Live from Orchestra Hall,” the DSO’s industry-leading series of free, live HD webcasts that engages audiences worldwide. The series was expanded in 2014 with “Classroom Edition,” educational concerts by the DSO reaching tens of thousands of students in Detroit schools and around the world each year. The DSO’s early adoption of digital technology, plus its emphasis on webcasting every Classical Series subscription concert—leading to a robust archive—allowed the orchestra to pivot successfully and quickly to virtual programming during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time, Parsons’ emphasis on engaging local audiences has enabled fans in Detroit and across the region to enjoy DSO musicians in chamber music programs, senior engagement concerts, music therapy partnerships, in-school appearances, and full orchestra performances through the DTE Energy Foundation Community Concerts and the William Davidson Neighborhood Concert Series.
Most recently, the DSO has invested in its Detroit Strategy, encompassing two new plans: the Detroit Neighborhood Initiative, a community-driven process to create unique musical experiences throughout Detroit while aligning with the priorities of the city’s neighborhoods, and Detroit Harmony, a collaborative project to provide an instrument and music education to any interested Detroit student and create hundreds of related jobs through workforce development partnerships. Under Parsons’ leadership, the DSO is also in the middle of a multi-year process to develop a comprehensive DEI strategy, and concurrently has launched a Mission and Values Taskforce to reexamine and continue improvements made in the organization’s internal culture during her tenure.
Since late 2018, Parsons has led the DSO with distinction while undergoing treatment for lung cancer, a period that has included the centennial celebration of the DSO’s acoustically and architecturally magnificent home Orchestra Hall, the announcement of the gifted Italian conductor Jader Bignamini as the DSO’s new music director succeeding Leonard Slatkin, the 20th anniversary of the Paradise Jazz Series, and the 50th anniversary of the orchestras’ Civic Youth Ensembles training programs. Parsons is currently on medical leave to address a new treatment protocol for her cancer, during which time the DSO is being co-led by Vice Presidents Jill Elder, Linda Lutz, and Erik Rönmark, reporting to Board of Directors Chairman Mark Davidoff.
“I have been honored to serve the remarkable Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the people of this vibrant and resilient city for the past 17 years,” said Parsons. “Even before my cancer diagnosis, I had been looking at my 65th birthday in 2022 as a favorable time to close this chapter of my life, and for the past two and half years, it has been my absolute joy to be able to balance work, life, and cancer treatments with full commitment, determination, and optimism. Everyone in the DSO family has been a source of critical strength and sustenance, from our dedicated and passionate governance and staff to our extraordinary DSO musicians and music director Jader Bignamini—whose performances together have filled me with so much happiness. I can never give enough recognition for all we have accomplished together.”
“Anne Parsons is a true leader who drives with passion, vision, and empathy,” said Davidoff. “During her tenure, Anne has successfully leveraged opportunities and navigated challenges, positioning our DSO for an extraordinarily bright future as one of the world’s finest orchestras. Simply put, we love Anne and look forward to celebrating her legacy as her retirement in 2022 approaches.”
Beginning this spring, Davidoff will co-chair the search committee for the DSO’s next president with Director Emerita Chacona Baugh. The executive search firm Isaacson, Miller has been retained to assist with the search.
“I owe Anne a great debt for bringing me to the DSO to work with this incredible orchestra,” said DSO Music Director Jader Bignamini. “The three things that really excited me about coming to Detroit were the orchestra, the staff, and the city, and Anne has had significant, lasting impact on all three. She leaves with our orchestra in excellent shape artistically and with commitments to community engagement and music education, which are so important for us to continue to strengthen.”
DSO Principal Trombone Kenneth Thompkins said, “Anne Parsons has been a tireless advocate for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra throughout her tenure. Over the past ten years—first working with Chairman Emeritus Phillip Fisher and today through the Mission and Values Taskforce—Anne has created a collaborative environment that positions us to successfully move forward into the future.”
About Anne Parsons
Anne Parsons was named President and Chief Executive Officer of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in April 2004. Under her leadership, the DSO has increased ticket sales and expanded its donor base, greatly improved its financial outlook leading to eight consecutive operating surpluses, and returned to the international stage through tours and webcasts.
More than ever before, fans in Detroit and across the region can enjoy DSO musicians in chamber music programs, senior engagement concerts, music therapy sessions, educational in-school appearances, and full orchestra performances through its DTE Energy Foundation Community Concerts and William Davidson Neighborhood Concerts. Anne has also expanded programming at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, which include not only DSO concerts in Orchestra Hall, but also a robust lineup of multi-disciplinary arts offerings in its black-box style theater, the Peter D. and Julie F. Cummings Cube.
In 2011, Anne oversaw the launch of “Live from Orchestra Hall,” the orchestra’s industry-leading series of live HD webcasts that engage audiences worldwide. The series was expanded with “Classroom Edition” in 2014, with educational concerts by the DSO reaching tens of thousands of students in Detroit schools and around the world online each year. To date, “Live from Orchestra Hall” has reached well over two million views.
In 2013, the DSO took the stage at Carnegie Hall for the first time in 17 years as part of the “Spring for Music” festival and presented a special one-night-only performance at Lincoln Center. The DSO embarked on a tour to Florida in 2014, and in 2017, the orchestra toured Japan and China, performing its first international concerts in 16 years while partnering with many Detroit-based companies including Ford, General Motors, and Little Caesars. In summer 2019, the orchestra returned to Interlochen Center for the Arts for the first time in 13 years, reestablishing a valued annual partnership with the renowned arts camp and academy.
Prior to joining the DSO, Anne served in management positions for a variety of major arts organizations, including New York City Ballet, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Smith College in Massachusetts. Post-graduation, Parsons was among the first class of American Symphony Orchestra League Fellows.
Anne has served as a board member for several other Detroit-area cultural organizations. She was a founding board member of the Cultural Alliance of Southeast Michigan (now CultureSource) and recently served on the board of the Eastern Market Partnership; she volunteers as a mentor for Women of Tomorrow and recently joined International Women’s Forum – Michigan. She has previously served on the boards of New Detroit, Sphinx Organization, and the League of American Orchestras.
About the DSO
The most accessible orchestra on the planet, the acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra is known for trailblazing performances, collaborations with the world’s foremost musical artists, and a deep connection to its city. As a community-supported orchestra, generous giving by individuals and institutions at all levels drives the continued success and growth of the organization. In January 2020, Italian conductor Jader Bignamini was named the DSO’s next music director to commence with the 2020-2021 season. Conductor Leonard Slatkin, who concluded a decade-long tenure at the helm in 2018, now serves as the DSO’s Music Director Laureate. Celebrated conductor, arranger, and trumpeter Jeff Tyzik is the orchestra’s Principal Pops Conductor, while the outstanding trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard holds the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Jazz Creative Director Chair. Making its home at historic Orchestra Hall within the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, the DSO offers a performance schedule that features Classical, PNC Pops, Paradise Jazz, and Young People’s Family Concert series. One of the world’s most acoustically perfect concert halls, Orchestra Hall celebrated its centennial in 2019-2020. In addition, the DSO presents the William Davidson Neighborhood Concert Series in eight metro area venues, as well as a robust schedule of eclectic multi-genre performances in its mid-size venue The Cube, constructed and curated with support from Peter D. & Julie F. Cummings. A dedication to broadcast innovation began in 1922, when the DSO became the first orchestra in the world to present a radio broadcast and continues today with the free Live from Orchestra Hall webcast series, which also reaches tens of thousands of children with the Classroom Edition expansion. With growing attendance and unwavering philanthropic support from the people of Detroit, the DSO actively pursues a mission to embrace and inspire individuals, families, and communities through unsurpassed musical experiences.