Anne Parsons, who led the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for more than 17 years, expanding its reach and championing programs that focused on local students and neighborhoods, died Monday.
She was 64.
Before retiring last year, Parsons was the longest-serving executive leader in the DSO’s modern era, and prior to coming to Detroit was general manager of the New York City Ballet.
From late 2018 until she retired in December 2021, Parsons led the DSO as president and CEO while undergoing treatment for lung cancer.
She helped guide the DSO to fiscal stability, along with global acclaim for a series of pioneering digital initiatives after taking the reins in 2004.
“Anne led our beloved orchestra with grace, courage, and conviction, never wavering from her strongly held belief that the DSO is the best in the world, and that Detroit is a vibrant and resilient city that deserves an orchestra to match," said DSO CEO Erik Rönmark and Chairman Mark Davidoff in a statement. “Anne’s accomplishments as our President and CEO are immeasurable and will resonate deeply within our organization, across our local communities, and in the orchestra industry for decades to come.”
Under her leadership, the DSO posted nine consecutive operating surpluses from 2013 to 2021 and saw the launch of “Live from Orchestra Hall” in 2011,offering free, live webcasts to audiences worldwide. The series was expanded in 2014 with “Classroom Edition,” educational concerts reaching tens of thousands of students in Detroit schools and around the world.
Parsons also oversaw the appointment of two music directors, Leonard Slatkin in 2007 and Jader Bignamini in 2020.
"I will never forget Anne’s smile, strength, professionalism, deep humility, and innate sensitivity," Bignamini said. "Her love for the orchestra and Detroit is our guide as we lead the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.”
During Parsons' tenure, the DSO reached Detroiters and DSO fans across the region with 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.
"She was a true friend to the Music Hall and to me," said Vince Paul, president and artistic director of Music Hall Center for Performing Arts, "a person of integrity and deeply strong character, or as we say in the Jewish community – a mensch. Honoring Music Hall’s history as a former home to the DSO (1944 – 1953), she was always ready to join forces in ways large and small, if together we could be of greater service to Detroit and our performing arts community."
The DSO pointed to two recent initiatives spearheaded by Parsons that focused on reaching Detroiters: "The Detroit Neighborhood Initiative creates unique, community-driven musical experiences throughout Detroit while aligning with the priorities of the city’s neighborhoods. Detroit Harmony is a landmark collaborative project to provide an instrument and music education to any interested Detroit student and create hundreds of related jobs through workforce development partnerships.”
Parsons was among the first class of the American Symphony Orchestra League Fellows.
Prior to joining the DSO, she served in leadership positions for a variety of major arts organizations, including the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.
“It has been my absolute joy to be able to balance work, life, and cancer treatments with full commitment, determination, and optimism," Parsons said when she announced her retirement in April 2021.
"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.”
She is survived by her husband, Donald Dietz, and daughter Cara Dietz.
A private funeral will be held for family.
Plans by the DSO to celebrate Anne Parsons’ life and legacy are forthcoming.
In the coming days, classical music radio station 90.9 WRCJ and Detroit Public TV plan to honor Parsons with a variety of programming.
Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum contributed to this report.
Brendel Hightower is an assistant editor at the Detroit Free Press. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Anne Parsons, former Detroit Symphony Orchestra leaders, dies