Archive for December 9th, 2010

Open Letter to the Communities of Metro Detroit from the DSO Executive Committee to the Board

December 9, 2010

Nobody loves the traditions, the character, the music, and the musicians – especially the music and the musicians – of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra more than we do. That’s why we proudly give our time, our energy and our financial support to keep the DSO a vibrant force in our community.

We are hugely disappointed to be in the position we are in, the tenth week of a heartbreaking strike that we hoped would never happen. Our foremost objective is to bring an end to this strike – a strike that no one wanted. We remain convinced that any resolution must be fiscally responsible and ensure not only the future viability, but also the future vitality, of the DSO – keys to successful future fundraising. We cannot and will not exceed what the DSO, its subscribers, patrons and donors can afford.

The DSO has been backed into a corner by the financial realities of the past several years that have devastated our community, and even before that had begun impacting the orchestra. Despite the DSO being among the very top fundraisers among all American orchestras, contributions to the arts are under an unprecedented level of stress. In Detroit, contributions have declined by nearly 30% (individual, corporate, foundation, state and federal funding) since 2008. Concurrently, as Michigan’s economy has been battered, the community’s ability to buy tickets has been impacted, resulting in a 20% decline in ticket sales and other earned income. These market forces have wrought havoc on our bottom line results and our future projections and are not different than the realities facing orchestras across the country. We continue to negotiate with our banks and reach out to our supporters as we dip precariously deeper into our endowment and watch potential revenues dry up as the strike now causes the cancellation of more holiday concerts. While we hope for, and work toward, a future economic recovery, we cannot spend more than we earn and what we reasonably expect to raise.

All of this is painful to watch and even more painful of which to be a part. And the longer it continues, the deeper we are being pushed into that corner.

As Board members we take our responsibility as custodians of the DSO very seriously. We speak with one voice with the management team in these negotiations and we share an unwavering conviction that the only way to arrive at a successful resolution in these negotiations is to reach one that is fiscally responsible and realistically achievable. In other words, as we’ve said before, there can be no artistic excellence without financial viability.

The Officers and Executive Committee of the DSO, on behalf of the Board of Directors, unanimously support Anne Parsons and her management team’s leadership in these negotiations and in building the organization for the future. We are joined at the hip in these efforts, are excited about the future and confident that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will come together again as a family to bring great music to Detroit and to the world. We hope that an agreement can be reached quickly and that we can return to listening to the music and the musicians we all love as soon as possible.


Executive Committee of the DSO Board of Directors

Stanley Frankel, Chairman

Janet Ankers

Lillian Bauder, Ph.D.

Penny B. Blumenstein

Marlies Castaing

Peter D. Cummings

Phillip Wm. Fisher

Herman Frankel

Ralph Gerson

Alfred R. Glancy III

Paul M. Huxley

Dr. Arthur L. Johnson

Richard P. Kughn

Melvin A. Lester, M.D.

Arthur C. Liebler

David Robert Nelson

James B. Nicholson

Bruce D. Peterson

Lloyd E. Reuss

Bernard I. Robertson

Jack A. Robinson


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DSO Annual Meeting Reveals Opportunities, Challenges; Special Guest Speakers Present Possible Visions for DSO

Today’s Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) Annual Meeting outlined the profile of an orchestra at a pivotal point in its history — beset by historic and immediate challenges yet replete with opportunities for greater future engagement and financial sustainability. 

Held at the Max M. Fisher Music Center at 12:30 p.m. and open to all members of the Corporation, the meeting opened with a video highlighting the positive impact of the pioneering Power of Dreams program – the product of a joint vision of fostering growth in youth music education shared between American Honda Motor Company and the DSO.  Led by Board Chairman, Stanley Frankel, the meeting featured remarks by President and CEO Anne Parsons and presentations by Executive Committee Member, Phillip Fisher, and Director of New Media for the New York Philharmonic, Vince Ford.  The keynote address was delivered by Bruce Coppock, industry expert and consultant, who presented a possible vision for a compelling future for the DSO.

A review of the 2009-10 season highlighted numerous programs and initiatives that have built a foundation for achieving the orchestra’s Strategic Planning goals of greater community engagement and audience development.  Examples of these were the DSO’s critically-acclaimed six-city tour of Florida in February 2010, its new summer partnership with the Eleanor and Edsel Ford House, its new free community concert series, Your DSO in Your Neighborhood with Music Director Leonard Slatkin and new recordings on the Naxos label, to name a few.  See sections on Recordings and Community Concerts and Appearances for more detail.

Also reviewed were the DSO’s current challenges, including a $6.7 million unrestricted operating loss for Fiscal Year 2010 (FY 10), which was the result of increased contractual operating costs and decreasing subscription/ticket sales and giving within a region and state beset by an ongoing economic recession.  Going forward, Parsons reiterated the DSO’s urgent need to restructure its business and settle the ongoing musicians’ strike, now in its tenth week. 

An open letter to the community from the DSO’s Executive Committee to the Board of Directors was also shared and below is an excerpt.  To read the entire statement, please visit:

The DSO has been backed into a corner by the financial realities of the past several years that have devastated our community, and even before that had begun impacting the orchestra.  Despite the DSO being among the very top fundraisers among all American orchestras, contributions to the arts are under an unprecedented level of stress.  In Detroit, contributions have declined by nearly 30% (individual, corporate, foundation, state and federal funding) since 2008.  Concurrently, as Michigan’s economy has been battered, the community’s ability to buy tickets has been impacted, resulting in a 20% decline in ticket sales and other earned income.  These market forces have wrought havoc on our bottom line results and our future projections and are not different than the realities facing orchestras across the country. We continue to negotiate with our banks and reach out to our supporters as we dip precariously deeper into our endowment and watch potential revenues dry up as the strike now causes the cancellation of more holiday concerts.  While we hope for, and work toward, a future economic recovery, we cannot spend more than we earn and what we reasonably expect to raise.


The former president and managing director of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) (1999-2008) and former executive director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (1992-97) during Leonard Slatkin’s tenure as Music Director, Bruce Coppock has built a reputation for fostering innovation in musician engagement in the artistic leadership and governance of orchestras and the role therein of creating accessibility for audiences of all kinds. 

At the DSO’s request, Coppock outlined a possible vision for the DSO ten years hence which contemplates a vibrant and diverse DSO equally at home in educational settings, neighborhood churches and places of worship, the stage of Orchestra Hall and Carnegie Hall. 

Coppock’s vision set aside the “either or choices” that have animated the public debate about the DSO’s future and grounds a possible vision for the DSO in local community dynamics and the evolution of America’s musicians and composers.  A video with excerpts of Coppock’s speech will be available on the DSO’s website on Mon., Dec. 13. 


Executive Committee Board member, Phillip Fisher and industry consultant Vince Ford outlined how the effective use of technology can further the DSO’s goals of gaining international recognition, cultivating new and existing

audiences, and securing financial sustainability as outlined in its Strategic Plan.

Three key areas of growth were identified:

  1. Patron Engagement: Create engaging, convenient and all-access relationships with current and future patrons. 
  2. Digital Distribution: Create access to the DSO’s music and education programs to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
  3. Culture Change: Present an exciting concert experience from arrival to departure at the Max.

A video with excerpts of this presentation will be available on the DSO’s website on Mon., Dec. 13. 



+  $  8.0           Total earned revenue

+  $11.6           Total contributed revenue

+  $  3.1           Other revenue including endowment draw

– ($29.3)          Expenses

=  ($6.7)           Net unrestricted operating deficit

(in thousands (,000)  –  Year ended Aug., 31, 2010

In addition to a net unrestricted operating deficit shown above of $6.7 million, an additional $2 million in debt service on the Max M. Fisher Music Center and other property items as well as its pension obligations brought the organization’s total operating loss after all activities for FY 10 to $8.8 million on a total budget of $29.3 million.

“Although we have an engaged and dedicated Board, many supportive funders and patrons and numerous exciting opportunities to grow and connect, it is essential that we recognize the seriousness of our financial situation and the necessity of building a new financial model that keeps our costs in line with what we can reasonably expect to raise and earn,” said Anne Parsons.  “The consequences of neglecting these realities and not capitalizing on opportunities are severe.  If we do not act responsibly now, we will be forced to expend our remaining cash resources.  To quote many of my board members, ‘When you are out of cash, you are out of business.’”

Over the past two years, the DSO has benefited from the substantial expertise of numerous independent consultants (most recently AlixPartners and TDC), to advise on its business model and operations.  Tom Harris, an independent consultant who was brought in by the Ford Foundation in 2008, said the following, which was shared with the DSO Board, staff and orchestra at that time:

With a structural deficit of $6 to $7 million, which has only become apparent in the last two years, the underlying business model can now be seen as untenable.  The facts suggest the only way the DSO can possibly become financially viable is by drastically reducing orchestral costs.  Barring such a change, the DSO will probably be forced to close.”


Over the past two years, and driven by musician contractual obligations coupled with unprecedented pressures on earned and contributed revenues, the DSO has experienced substantial annual operating losses.  The Executive Committee of the Board and the Management team has been in communication with the orchestra regarding the DSO’s financial picture for the past two years in an effort to better match costs with reduced revenue streams.

The DSO slashed administrative budgets by $2.1 million or 20% from FY 08 to FY 11 which included the elimination of one-third of the staff (30 people). The remaining staff – many who have experienced salary cuts in the past seven years – shouldered the responsibilities of those that were eliminated and experienced new pay cuts that are still in effect today along with reduced benefits and suspended matching contributions to staff pension plans.  In contrast, total orchestra costs rose 12% or $1.6 million from FY 08 to FY 10 during the course of the DSO’s three-year contract with the Players.

Contributed Revenue (Fundraising)

Although the DSO has remained at the very top of fundraising proficiency outside the five largest American orchestras (Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland and San Francisco) having raised over $36 million in three years and $11.6 million in FY 10 alone, it experienced a decline of three percent since 2008 in total giving to the Annual Fund which was driven by a 29% decrease in corporate giving.  This was offset by a 47% increase in Foundation support and a 6% increase in Individual (non-Board) giving since 2008.  During this time, Board giving remained steady and has increased 300% since 2002. 

Leadership gifts to the Annual Fund campaign from individuals and institutions of $100,000 or greater included Bank of America, Mrs. Cecilia Benner, Mr. and Mrs. Mandell L. Berman, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan (CFSEM), Mr. and Mrs. Peter D. Cummings, DTE Energy Foundation, The Erb Foundation, The Max M. Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, The Marjorie S. Fisher Fund, The Ford Foundation, Ford Motor Company, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Frankel, Honda North America, Hudson-Webber Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, The McGregor Fund, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Masco Corporation Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Mr. and Mrs. James B. Nicholson, PVS Chemicals, Target, Mrs. Richard C. Van Dusen and The Matilda R. Wilson Fund,.  See section on Community Concerts and Appearances for more detail.

Earned Revenue (Subscriptions, Tickets and Rentals)

Following strong ticket sales in 2007, the recession affected ticket-buying patterns and subscriptions and resulted in an overall decrease of 17% in sales since 2008.  Total ticket and subscription revenue for FY 10 was just under $7 million in comparison to $7.5 million for FY 09.  These results underscored the organization’s need to restructure its operating costs and create a model for greater engagement and sustainability. 

While the economy did have some effect on building rental sales during the 2009-10 season, the Max M. Fisher Music Center continued to serve as a major hub in the community for a wide array of activities from independent concerts and recording sessions to community group meetings and corporate launches to weddings.  Over this period, it hosted over 70 corporate, community, and private events attended by approximately 46,000 patrons. 


Artistic Highlights

The 2009-10 season featured a wide variety of artistic highlights that made many enduring memories for DSO patrons.  Among these, three singular moments stand apart: Leonard Slatkin’s triumphant return to Orchestra Hall Jan. 14-17, 2010 following his heart attack in the Fall of 2009 for a sold-out concert that featured Beethoven’s Eroica symphony with DSO Concertmaster Emmanuelle Boisvert; the world premiere of a Violin Concerto by jazz pianist Billy Childs, written for and performed by jazz violinist and Detroit-native Regina Carter and co-commissioned by DSO, Oakland East Bay Symphony and the Notre Dame Symphony with generous support from the Multi-Arts Production Fund as part of the Classical Roots series (Jan. 29 & 30, 2010) and Peter Oundjian’s final concert as DSO Principal Guest Conductor May 13-14, 2010 with guest violinist Henning Kraggerud in a special all Mozart program.

Educational Engagement

In education, the DSO continued to train more than 700 students onsite weekly through the Civic Youth Ensembles (CYE) and other training programs.  CYE is divided into three groups: Civic Orchestra, Civic Jazz Orchestra, and Civic Wind Symphony which are comprised of more than 100 students from high schools and universities in southeastern Michigan.

Civic Orchestra provides advanced young musicians the highest level of musical instruction and members participate in a three-concert season at Orchestra Hall, Civic Jazz Orchestra is designed to give aspiring young jazz musicians pre-professional training that builds upon the great tradition of jazz in Detroit and the Civic Wind Symphony provides top-notch training for advanced woodwind, brass and percussion students. All CYE performances are broadcasted live by WRCJ-FM. 

In 2009-10 CYE members received exposure to DSO musicians, conductors, and staff and had opportunities to work and perform with internationally renowned artists such as Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Jazz Creative Director Chair Michel Camilo, Music Director Leonard Slatkin, composer Billy Childs, violinist Regina Carter and jazz bassists John Clayton and Christian McBride.

CYE celebrated its 40th anniversary on Apr. 24 at Orchestra Hall which featured the Civic Orchestra, Civic Jazz Orchestra and the Civic Wind Symphony and was broadcasted live by WRCJ-FM and conducted by Education Director Charles Burke in performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor and Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait.”   

In addition to the activities within CYE, approximately 20,000 students experienced the DSO in field trips to concerts at Orchestra Hall.

Community Concerts & Appearances

The Marjorie S. Fisher Fund provided support for the DSO’s critically-acclaimed February 2010 tour of Florida with Leonard Slatkin and cellist Sol Gabetta.  Six tour visits included the Indian River Symphonic Association at Vero Beach Community Church, the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts of West Palm Beach, the Philharmonic Center of Naples, Northland, A Church Distributed of Longwood; the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall of Sarasota and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami.  Generous additional sponsorship was provided by The Forbes Company.

The DSO and Leonard Slatkin presented two separate installments of week-long free concerts with the DSO Community Series: Your DSO in Your Community in September 2009 and June 2010 which were concluded with two free Open Houses at Orchestra Hall at the end of each week. 

Concert performances took place at 14 locations throughout metro Detroit including Beverly Hills, Canton, Dearborn, Detroit neighborhoods, Flatrock and Warren.  Your DSO in Your Community was made possible by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Additional support is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.

As part of an innovative partnership, the DSO, Henry Ford Health System and Leonard Slatkin hosted a second free community concert titled “Music and Healing” to Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in June 2010.  In addition to this special concert event, the DSO and Henry Ford continued to stream live DSO concerts in the 2009-10 season via digital feed to patient rooms at the Henry Ford West Bloomfield facility.

The DSO’s largest annual fundraiser in June 2010 became the Heroes Gala & Benefit and yielded one of its greatest dividends with a total goal reached of $684,000.  Created to honor the remarkable men and women who impact the vision, values, and success of the DSO, the program was led by DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin featured a special tribute to inaugural honoree, civic leader and DSO Chairman Emeritus Jim Nicholson. 

The 18th annual Salute to America concerts featuring the DSO and conductor Steven Reineke at The Henry Ford experienced record attendance of 30,123 people in July 2010.  The previous record was held at 30,011 in 2008. 

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and Ford Motor Company provided their support to the DSO’s exciting new summer concert offering: The DSO @ Ford House – which energized the shores of Grosse Pointe with beautiful music, families, great weather and cheer in early July 2010.  The concerts were a joint effort between the DSO and the historic estate, the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House and treated more than 5,000 attendees to two separate lakeside concerts with the music of Benny Goodman and popular classical music.

New Recordings

Following the release of three DSO CDs in late 2009, Melody of Rhythm (Koch) featuring Edgar Meyer/Bela Fleck/Zakir Hussain (which received a Grammy nomination for Best Classical Crossover album in 2009), Fire and Blood, with music commissioned from Michael Daugherty and Hannibal Lokumbe’s Dear Mrs. Parks featuring the DSO with the Brazeal Dennard Chorale and the Rackham Symphony Choir, conducted by Thomas Wilkins, two new releases went on sale in 2010.  Both recorded on the Naxos label, the releases are:

  • Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 and Vocalise, featuring the DSO conducted by Leonard Slatkin (recorded live in September 2009 and on sale January 2010).  Known as one of the composer’s most challenging and monumental works, this is the first time the DSO has recorded the Second Symphony, a Russian masterpiece.
  • John Williams: Horn Concerto featuring the DSO, Music Director Leonard Slatkin and DSO Principal Horn Karl Pituch.  Recorded in June 2007 and on sale digitally in September 2010, it is the first in a series of John Williams works the DSO has been performing and recording live since 2007 for sale exclusively via iTunes on the Naxos label featuring Leonard Slatkin and DSO principals.  The recordings will continue through 2011 with the composer’s Cello Concerto (Jan. 21-23, 2010), featuring DSO Principal Cellist Robert deMaine.  Already recorded (January 2010) and pending release is his Violin Concerto featuring DSO Concertmaster Emmanuelle Boisvert.

DSO Naxos Recordings are made possible in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Looking Forward – Strike Update

DSO management’s most recent offer to the union representing the musicians of its orchestra was delivered on Sat., Dec. 4 and incorporated modifications to salary and work rules.  At the time of this printing, a union response had not yet been received by the DSO.  Management remains eager to reach an agreement so the DSO can return to the business of making music for the communities of metro Detroit.

All orchestral concerts after Dec. 11 remain scheduled as planned conditional upon the DSO negotiating a settlement with its musicians.  Patrons can visit  for updates and information on concerts or call the DSO hotline at (313)576-5123 or the Box Office at (313)576-5111.

The DSO is offering patrons with tickets to DSO orchestral concerts through Dec. 11 ticket exchanges for any future 2010-11 DSO or Orchestra Hall concert or event, in any series.  Subscribers can also apply the value of their tickets toward a subscription to the 2011-12 season and all patrons may convert their tickets to an annual fund donation, supporting the DSO’s general operation and the many education and outreach programs it offers to the community.  If a patron elects not to exchange their tickets or consider a donation, the DSO will honor requests for refunds for any cancelled concert.

DSO Year-End Giving

Already, nearly $3 million has been pledged in support of the new fiscal year.  Year-end gifts can be made to the DSO through Dec. 31 and still qualify for a 2010 tax deduction.  Donations must be received by phone or mail no later than 3 p.m. on Dec. 31, stock transfers must be received at one of the DSO brokerage accounts before 5 p.m. on Dec. 31 and checks must be post-marked no later than Dec. 31. 

DSO development staff will be available on or before Dec. 31 to answer questions about year-end gifts or to process donations by credit card at (313) 576-5400.  Donations may also be made online at or by mail to Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Attn: Development, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI 48201. 

About the DSO

The internationally acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the fourth-oldest symphony orchestra in the United States, is known for trailblazing performances, visionary maestros and collaborations with the world’s foremost musical artists.  Esteemed conductor Leonard Slatkin, called “America’s Music Director” by the Los Angeles Times, became the 12th Music Director of the DSO during the 2008-09 season.  The DSO offers a year-round performance schedule that includes classical, pops, jazz, young people’s concerts and festivals.  The DSO makes its home in historic Orchestra Hall, one of America’s most acoustically perfect concert halls, and actively pursues a mission to impact and serve the community through music.  For more information visit

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