Longtime Detroit Symphony Orchestra President and CEO

Anne Parsons, a respected leader in the orchestra field who served as president and CEO of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for more than 17 years, died on March 28, 2022, from lung cancer. She was 64 years old. Parsons was a longtime friend of the League of American Orchestras: she was in the first class of the League’s Orchestra Management Fellowship Program, a member of the Board of Directors, and had recently been elected to the League’s Emeritus Board.

Prior to joining the Detroit Symphony, she was 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. Parsons successfully navigated the DSO through extraordinary challenges—a national economic downturn, the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy, a musicians’ strike, and the pandemic—while forging a culture of resilience and financial stability and expanding the orchestra’s audience and donor base. Under her leadership, the DSO posted operating surpluses from 2013 to 2021. Parsons hired two music directors—Leonard Slatkin in 2007 and Jader Bignamini in 2020—and brought the DSO to widespread attention through touring and webcasts. She also diversified the DSO’s programming and launched several equity and inclusion initiatives. Parsons retired from the DSO in December 2021. 

“Anne Parsons was a legend in the orchestra field, and her impact is almost impossible to overstate,” said League President and CEO Simon Woods. “In addition to being an institutional and civic leader of tremendous vision, Anne was known across the orchestra profession as someone who led from culture—and it was through cultural transformation and humanity that she led the Detroit Symphony from a time of severe challenges to becoming one of the country’s most vibrant orchestral institutions. She was also a role model to many people: to those who aspired to leadership positions and to those already in leadership positions who aspired to her levels of skill, finesse, and authenticity. She was a longtime friend of the League, sitting on our Board of Directors, and elected in recent months to our Emeritus Board. We mourn her loss, but we celebrate with gratitude everything she brought us and to our field.”

Detroit Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Erik Rönmark and Board Chair Mark Davidoff issued a joint statement: “Anne led the Detroit Symphony 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 world for decades to come.” Music Director Jader Bignamini commented, “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 love for the orchestra and Detroit is our guide as we lead the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.”

The DSO celebrated Parsons’ life and accomplishments with a free concert at Orchestra Hall on May 17. Jader Bignamini led a program of music that held a special connection to Parsons. The DSO musicians donated their services for the concert. Parsons is survived by her husband, Donald Dietz, and a daughter, Cara Dietz.

Caption1: Anne Parsons welcomed delegates to the League of American Orchestra’s 2017 National Conference, which was hosted by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Photo by Doug Coombe.

Caption 2: Anne Parsons, at right, with (from left) Erik Rönmark, Mark Davidoff, and Jader Bignamini, who is shown signing his contract as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, January 2020. Photo courtesy of Detroit Symphony Orchestra.