At its Annual Meeting, DSO also announces financial successes, including eleventh consecutive balanced budget and $104 million in new endowment commitments over the past decade
Detroit, (December 7, 2023) – The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and President & CEO Erik Rönmark today announced the continuation of the extraordinary artistic partnership of Music Director Jader Bignamini and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with a five-year extension of Bignamini’s contract through the end of the 2030–31 season. The DSO and Bignamini also announced plans for their first recording together—Wynton Marsalis’s Blues Symphony—recorded live in Orchestra Hall, December 1–3, 2023, to be released by the Pentatone label.
Currently in the fourth season of his initial six-year contract, Jader Bignamini was introduced as the DSO’s 18th music director in January 2020. His appointment followed an initial spark of chemistry between him and the orchestra’s musicians during two guest conducting appearances in 2018 and 2019. Since this introduction, Bignamini and the DSO have charted a path of artistic excellence, innovation, and resilience, from online DSO Digital Concerts during his first year that kept the orchestra connected with its fans at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, to thrilling returning audiences in Orchestra Hall with performances of major symphonic works and music by underrepresented composers.
Bignamini and the DSO have also reinvigorated the orchestra’s annual summer residency at Interlochen Center for the Performing Arts, championed the music of contemporary African American composers including Jessie Montgomery, Carlos Simon, and Michael Abels, and announced plans for their first tour together—six concerts in Florida this coming February 13–20. Additionally, Bignamini has overseen successful auditions that have led to the appointment of ten new DSO musicians over the past three years, including Concertmaster Robyn Bollinger.
“I am so very proud of all that we have accomplished together, but especially of the outstanding music-making by the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra,” said Bignamini. “Although we did not know the challenges ahead of us when I first came to this great music city, we are rising to meet the demands of this new era. Our musicians’ dedication to their craft, and to being the best, makes my job a supreme pleasure as we build something remarkable here in Detroit and beyond. I look forward to showing the high quality of this orchestra through our recording of Marsalis’s Blues Symphony and on tour. I am deeply grateful to every musician of the orchestra, to Board Chair David T. Provost and our Board of Directors, to Erik Rönmark for his leadership, to the entire administrative staff, and to our amazing audiences—we couldn’t do what we do without you.”
“Jader has proven himself to be the right artistic leader at the right time for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as we chart an exciting new path into the future,” said Rönmark. “The DSO has historically prided itself on artistic excellence while also placing a high level of importance upon its role as a cultural cornerstone for Detroit. Jader’s expressive command of the orchestra and musical expertise continues to bring out the best in our musicians every week, whether he’s on the podium or we welcome a guest conductor. He understands the power of music to unite, inspire, and entertain us, and we couldn’t be happier to continue this journey together.”
Wynton Marsalis’s Blues Symphony is a triumphant ode to the power of the blues and the scope of America’s musical heritage. With a blend of influences that range from ragtime to habanera, the piece takes listeners on a sonic journey through America’s revolutionary era, the early beginnings of jazz in New Orleans, and a big city soundscape that serves as a nod to the Great Migration.
The DSO and Jader Bignamini’s release of the work on Pentatone will join a historically rich catalogue of treasured recordings made by the orchestra and their conductors over the past century. Many of these were recorded in Orchestra Hall, from 78 rpm singles with Ossip Gabrilowitsch on the Victrola label in the 1920s to Paul Paray’s renowned LPs for Mercury’s “Living Presence” series in the 1950s. Later highlights include Paul Freeman’s survey of Black composers for Columbia and Antal Dorati’s series for Decca (reissued in a deluxe box set earlier this year), Neeme Järvi’s American Series and other releases for Chandos, and Leonard Slatkin’s CDs and digital recordings for the Naxos label, including the Grammy-nominated disc of Aaron Copland’s ballet music for Billy the Kid and Grohg.
The news of Bignamini’s contract extension and the planned recording release of Marsalis’s Blues Symphony was announced today at the 2023 Annual Meeting. Orchestra leadership also celebrated recent artistic highlights, continuing community and educational impact, and financial successes of the 2022–23 DSO season and the 2023 fiscal year, which ended on August 31, 2023.
DSO leadership announced positive financial results for the year, including an eleventh consecutive annual operating surplus as well as growth of its endowment by $4 million to end FY23 at $75.3 million. The endowment campaign, co-chaired by DSO Board Chair Emeritus Phillip Wm. Fisher and Director Danny Kaufman, celebrated new endowment commitments over the past decade of $104 million, including $11.1 million in FY23.
The DSO’s Board of Directors elected a new slate of officers, including David T. Provost, Chair; Erik Rönmark, President & CEO; Shirley Stancato, Vice Chair; Laura Trudeau, Treasurer; James G. Vella, Secretary; Ric Huttenlocher, Officer at Large; and David Wu, Officer at Large. The DSO also was pleased to pay tribute to Dr. Glenda Price, elevating her to the role of Director Emerita.
Faye Nelson, 2023 Vice Chair of the Board of Directors and Chair of the DSO’s Detroit Strategy Taskforce, and Rochelle Riley, Director of Arts and Culture for the City of Detroit spoke about the importance of the DSO’s focused work and collaborations within the city, and guests enjoyed performances by the Civic Jazz Orchestra and the Detroit Pistons Bucket Band, both groups part of the DSO’s Civic Youth Ensembles training programs for students.
The orchestra also remembered those who it had lost over the past year. Concertmaster Robyn Bollinger, Associate Concertmaster Kimberly Kaloyanides Kennedy, Principal Viola Eric Nowlin, and Principal Cello Wei Yu provided a powerful performance of the second movement of Dvořák’s “American” Quartet, Op. 96, to remember those lost, including recently retired DSO violist Shanda Lowery-Sachs and stagehand Steve Kemp. Principal Trombone Kenneth Thompkins and Cello Peter McCaffrey spoke on behalf of the orchestra’s musicians.
- For the fiscal year ended August 31, 2023, the DSO reported an operating surplus for the eleventh consecutive year. Total operating revenue was $34.41 million, while operating expenses totaled $34.09 million, therefore generating an operating surplus of $330,000.
- The DSO’s endowment grew by nearly $4 million, attributable to $1.7 million in pledge payments received and a 9.1% return on endowment assets, to end the year at $75.3 million. The DSO Impact Campaign inspired $11.1 million in new endowment investments and pledges during the 2022-23 season.
- New Director Emerita – The Board of Directors unanimously elected Dr. Glenda Price to the role of Director Emerita.
- New and reelected Directors – The DSO Governing Members elected or reelected the following individuals to the Board of Directors: Reverend Nicholas Hood, Renato Jamett, Arthur T. O’Reilly, and David Wu.
- New Officers – The DSO Board of Directors elected David T. Provost (Chair), Shirley Stancato (Vice Chair), Erik Rönmark (President and CEO), Laura Trudeau (Treasurer), James G. Vella (Secretary), Ric Huttenlocher (Officer at Large), and David Wu (Officer at Large).
- Reelected Trustee Chair and Governing Members Chair – The Board of Directors reelected to 1-year terms Renato Jamett as Trustee Chair and David Assemany as Governing Members Chair.
- New Trustees – The DSO Board of Directors elected seven new Trustees: Cara Dietz, Amanda Fisher, Gene LoVasco, Elliot Shafer, Shiv Shivaraman, Dean P. Simmer, and Nate Wallace.
About Jader Bignamini
Jader Bignamini was introduced as the 18th music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in January 2020, commencing with the 2020–2021 season. His infectious passion and artistic excellence set the tone for the seasons ahead, creating extraordinary music and establishing a close relationship with the orchestra. A jazz aficionado, he has immersed himself in Detroit’s rich jazz culture and the influences of American music.
A native of Crema, Italy, Bignamini studied at the Piacenza Music Conservatory and began his career as a musician (clarinet) with Orchestra Sinfonica La Verdi in Milan, later serving as the group’s resident conductor. Captivated by the works of legends like Mahler and Tchaikovsky, Bignamini explored their complexity and power, puzzling out the role that each instrument played in creating a larger-than-life sound. When he conducted his first professional concert at the age of 28, it didn’t feel like a departure, but an arrival.
In the years since, Bignamini has conducted some of the world’s most acclaimed orchestras and opera companies in venues across the globe including working with Riccardo Chailly on concerts of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony in 2013 and his concert debut at La Scala in 2015 for the opening season of La Verdi Orchestra. Recent highlights include debuts with Opera de Paris conducting La Forza del Destino and with Deutsche Opera Berlin conducting Simon Boccanegra; appearances with the Pittsburgh and Toronto symphonies; debuts with the Houston, Dallas, and Minnesota symphonies; Osaka Philharmonic and Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo; with the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, and Dutch National Opera (Madama Butterfly); Bayerische Staatsoper (La Traviata); I Puritani in Montpellier for the Festival of Radio France; Traviata in Tokyo directed by Sofia Coppola; return engagements with Oper Frankfurt (La forza del destino) and Santa Fe Opera (La bohème); Manon Lescaut at the Bolshoi; Traviata, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot at Arena of Verona; Il Trovatore and Aida at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera; Madama Butterfly, I Puritani, and Manon Lescaut at Teatro Massimo in Palermo; Simon Boccanegra and La Forza del Destino at the Verdi Festival in Parma; Ciro in Babilonia at Rossini Opera Festival, and La bohème, Madama Butterfly, and Elisir d’amore at La Fenice in Venice.
When Bignamini leads an orchestra in symphonic repertoire, he conducts without a score, preferring to make direct eye contact with the musicians. He conducts from the heart, forging a profound connection with his musicians that shines through both onstage and off. He both embodies and exudes the excellence and enthusiasm that has long distinguished the DSO’s artistry.
About the DSO
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. Led by Music Director Jader Bignamini since 2020, the DSO makes its home at historic Orchestra Hall within the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, offering a performance schedule that features the PVS Classical, PNC Pops, Paradise Jazz, and Young People’s Family Concert series. In addition, the DSO presents the William Davidson Neighborhood Concert Series in metro area venues, as well as 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 live radio broadcast of a concert and continues today with the groundbreaking Live from Orchestra Hall series of free webcasts.
Since its first school concerts a century ago, and particularly since the founding of the Civic Youth Ensembles in 1970, the DSO has been a national leader in bringing the benefits of music education to students, teachers, and families in Detroit and surrounding communities. The DSO remains committed to expanding its participation in the growth and well-being of Detroit through programs like its Detroit Neighborhood Initiative—cultural events co-created with community partners and residents—and Detroit Harmony, a promise to provide an instrument and instruction to any student in the city who wants to learn. With unwavering support from the people of Detroit, the DSO actively pursues a mission to impact lives through the power of unforgettable musical experiences.