DSO Musicians Fund for Artistic Excellence

Ralph Skiano speech"I understand the value in making what we do very accessible as well as the value in making what we do special, then inviting people into it. Not only do I want you to enjoy what we’re doing, but I also really want to be doing it at the highest level for you, because you deserve it. You should have great music right here in your city. Detroit deserves it."

 –Ralph Skiano, Principal Clarinet, Robert B. Semple Chair; DSO Musicians Representative

The idea of excellence is not a concept that can be easily defined and the pathway toward achieving heightened levels of greatness can be abstract. But there is something to be said for those moments of connection when artistic excellence unites musicians and audiences, producing profound feelings and creating lasting memories. That felt impact is what the Detroit Symphony Orchestra strives for in every performance in Orchestra Hall and around the community.

"As a musician or artist, you always want to try to achieve something that is aspirational. The hope is that you are reinvigorated or stirred by what you hear and have a moment and experience where you can connect to something that’s almost otherworldly or transcendent, in a sense," says Robert Stiles, Principal Librarian. "You have to have a connection with the orchestra, audience, and the music to make those things happen. When it gels, that’s what we’re after."

The DSO sound is crisp and exciting; articulate and intense, across musical genres. From classical to pops, jazz, contemporary, and the eclectic styles that permeate through The Cube and Sosnick Courtyard, DSO musicians are lauded for their precision and atmospheric, expressive musicality which establishes them as a world-class orchestra.

Under the baton of stellar music directors from Ossip Gabrilowitsch and Paul Paray to Leonard Slatkin and now, Jader Bignamini, the evolution of the orchestra and the visionary leadership and commitment from our donor family has put a stamp on what artistic excellence can embody, and that responsibility is taken to heart.

"Our job as musicians on the stage is to find new levels of artistic expression and artistic connection, and to inspire our audiences through that heightened level of experience and quality execution of the music," says Ralph Skiano, Principal Clarinet, Robert B. Semple Chair. "Every detail that goes into creating a performance has to be done with so much care, intention, training, and quality. It's important for us to remember that those things become life-changing because we've been dedicating ourselves to putting the artistic experience first."

"To be in the presence of such talent, dedication, and energy is incredible. We are so lucky to have these beautiful gems: the DSO and Orchestra Hall. I’m grateful for the experience."

–DSO Patron

This heightened level of musicianship and dedication to presenting a memorable experience was a priority when the DSO Musicians Fund for Artistic Excellence was conceptualized.

In 2016, on the heels of a focus on building institutional culture, Board Chair Emeritus Phillip Wm. Fisher and DSO musicians decided on an endowment fund that would support the organization’s artistic vision pillar. Together, they designed a fund that will sustain DSO musicians, attract top-tier global conductors and soloists to provide innovative and diverse musical experiences. The fund will also support the commission of new works to ensure the continued growth of the orchestral music canon. An additional aspiration is for the orchestra to return to making digital recordings to preserve the music of the DSO for generations to come.

patronsWith unprecedented participation across the entire orchestral industry, every DSO Musician contributed to the fund, and a collective $100,000 established the DSO Musicians Fund for Artistic Excellence. Launched the following year as a matching challenge to our donor community, with a goal of raising an additional $1 million, DSO Director Ric Huttenlocher and his wife, Carola, were inspired and led the way.

The foundational agenda of this fund is to keep the music playing and ensure that artistry and musicality of the highest quality shines through. In doing so, the musicians became active participants and investors in the cultural and artistic future of the organization, while illustrating a culture of giving and demonstrating a commitment that appeals to musicians who are new to the DSO or seeking an orchestral community to call home.

"Our orchestra is often taking a leadership role in the way we solve problems, and musical excellence is the primary mission in what we do," says Stiles, who served as the Orchestra Committee Chair during the 2015-2016 season. "We believed in our mission and creating this fund was a bold decision that expressed the musicians’ commitment to artistic excellence and our orchestra with hopes that it would inspire others to match what we are doing."

As a member of the DSO Impact Campaign Cabinet, Skiano was instrumental in organizing a celebration ceremony that acknowledged the donors who matched the musicians’ gifts. The highlight of the celebration was a custom-made lapel pin that was given to both groups symbolizing their connection in honor of the arts.

An artistic highpoint for Skiano was collaborating with jewelry designer and College of Creative Studies instructor PJ Chen to design the three-dimensional pin. This collaboration involved using old conductor textbooks and watching videos of Jader conducting the DSO for the first time as reference points to capture the aesthetic of a dancing baton.

"We traced some of the patterns that [Jader] was making while conducting and captured movement of a baton in space through the move of the pin," describes Skiano. "We want it to be a symbol of artistic leadership by the donors and when they wore it, the pattern would be recognized by musicians as a symbol of leadership."

The process was part of the magic that marked a special bond-building moment in DSO’s history. DSO musicians also exhibited their appreciation by presenting donors with a plaque that read:

"With most sincere gratitude for joining us in our Fund for Artistic Excellence. Your gift will give us direction, shape our sound, and help us maintain and expand the rich artistic heritage of the Detroit Symphony."

–Musicians of the DSO

"What’s been really moving, at each of these ceremonies someone has come forward and said, ‘I’m in. Count me in.’ It created this family of donors, and it happens right there in the room. It’s so cool!" Skiano shares.

Over a five-year period, the fund has so far been matched by 15 donors and reached 1.6 million dollars, exceeding their initial target goal of one million dollars.

"It’s inspirational for us, as musicians, and reassures that what we do is meaningful," Stiles expresses. "It’s been remarkable that people believe in the success of this orchestra and its future."

The DSO Musicians Fund for Artistic Excellence is an innovative representation of musicians choosing their artistic community and orchestral home along with their dedication to delivering exceptional performances on stage.

Thank you for believing and investing in the success and artistry of the DSO Musicians:

Ric & Carola Huttenlocher, Honorable Avern & Lois Cohn, Richard Sonenklar & Gregory Haynes, Lauren & Phillip Wm. Fisher, Marjorie S. Fisher Fund, Margie Dunn & Mark Davidoff, James G. Vella, Shari & Craig Morgan, Adel & Walter Dissett, Renato & Elizabeth Jamett, David Assemany & Jeffery Zook, Morgan & Danny Kaufman, Barbara Frankel & Ronald Michalak, Allan & Joy Nachman, and Eva Von Voss and Family.

Add YOUR name to the list!