Anne Parsons, longtime President and CEO of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, passes away at 64

Detroit, (March 29, 2022) – The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) today announced the passing of DSO President Emeritus Anne Parsons late last night, following a courageous battle with cancer. Parsons, 64, served as President and CEO of the DSO for more than 17 years, from July 2004 to December 20, 2021. She is survived by her husband Donald Dietz and daughter Cara Dietz. Plans by the DSO to celebrate Anne Parsons’ life and legacy are forthcoming.

DSO President and CEO Erik Rönmark and Board Chair Mark Davidoff said in a statement: “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. 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.” 

DSO Music Director Jader Bignamini said, “I am honored to have been appointed music director during Anne’s tenure as CEO and to have been able to become close with her, Donald, and Cara. I will never forget Anne’s smile, strength, professionalism, deep humility, and innate sensitivity. Her enthusiasm for the orchestra and Detroit is our guide as we lead the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.” 

A respected leader in the orchestra world, Parsons was among the first class of American Symphony Orchestra League Fellows. Prior to joining the DSO, she served in leadership positions for a variety of major arts organizations, including General Manager of New York City Ballet, General Manager of the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, and Orchestra Manager of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Parsons began her career at the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Smith College in Massachusetts.

Following her appointment at the DSO in 2004, Parsons instilled a culture of resilience and financial stability and grew the audience and donor base, all while successfully navigating local and national economic downturns and a global pandemic. Under her leadership, the DSO posted nine consecutive operating surpluses from 2013 to 2021. Parsons was also responsible for bringing two new music directors to Detroit—Leonard Slatkin in 2007 and Jader Bignamini in 2020—and returning the orchestra to national and international prominence through touring and webcasts.   

Parsons’ vision of transforming the DSO into the “most accessible orchestra on the planet” led to an increased focus on serving audiences through innovative new programs. In 2011, she oversaw the launch of “Live from Orchestra Hall,” establishing the DSO as among the first orchestras in the world to offer free, live high-definition webcasts to reach 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 reaching Detroiters and DSO fans across the region offered unique ways to connect with the organization, including 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. During her tenure, the DSO reestablished itself as a critical community organization.

Most recently, Parsons’ leadership enabled significant investments in the DSO’s Detroit Strategy to fuel two new plans: 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.

Under Parsons’ leadership, the DSO launched a multi-year process to develop a comprehensive DEI strategy, and concurrently launched a Mission and Values Taskforce to reexamine and reinforce the organization’s cultural evolution during her tenure. These critical steps have already left an indelible mark on the orchestra and charted a course of continued growth for the organization to follow for years to come. 

From late 2018 until her retirement in December 2021, Parsons led the DSO with distinction while undergoing treatment for lung cancer, a period that included the centennial celebration of the DSO’s acoustically and architecturally magnificent home Orchestra Hall, the announcement of Italian conductor Jader Bignamini as the DSO’s new music director, the 20th anniversary of the Paradise Jazz Series, and the 50th anniversary of the orchestra’s Civic Youth Ensembles training programs.

“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,” Parsons said when announcing her retirement in April 2021. “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.”