Detroit Symphony Orchestra Achieves Surplus for Second Consecutive Year, with Increases in Annual Giving, Donor Base, Subscription Sales, and More in Fiscal Year 2014; Achievements and New Initiatives Celebrated at DSO’s Annual Meeting, Including Three Multi-Million Dollar Gifts for Expansion of Classical Music Education and Outreach Programs, and Extension of DSO Artistic and Executive Leadership Commitments Through 2016-17 Season

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Detroit Symphony Orchestra Achieves Surplus for Second Consecutive Year, with Increases in Annual Giving, Donor Base, Subscription Sales, and More in Fiscal Year 2014


Achievements and New Initiatives Celebrated at DSO’s Annual Meeting, Including Three Multi-Million Dollar Gifts for Expansion of Classical Music Education and Outreach Programs, and Extension of DSO Artistic and Executive Leadership Commitments Through 2016-17 Season



There was plenty of good news at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s annual meeting of the Governing Members on December 11. The DSO announced that Fiscal Year 2014 achieved a second consecutive surplus, in line with Blueprint: 2023, the organization’s ten-year plan. This achievement owes in large part to annual contributions of $17.4 million, exceeding budgeted goals. This is the third consecutive year of increased individual giving ($5.4 million), donor base (10,350 donors) and subscription sales growth (13,760 subscriptions). FY 14 concluded on August 31, 2014 and represents the 2013-14 concert season. These accomplishments buck the trend of fiscal woes plaguing many American orchestras, and are especially remarkable in the light of the Orchestra’s own near-death experience in the 2010-11 season. The DSO’s news comes on the heels of the announcement earlier this week of the city of Detroit’s successful exit from bankruptcy, allowing Michigan’s largest city to start a new chapter.


Some 250 DSO Directors, Trustees, Governing Members, Volunteer Council members, community leaders, Orchestra Musicians and staff members were in attendance at the annual meeting, led by Chairman Phillip Wm. Fisher. Assistant Conductor Michelle Merrill, who began her tenure in the fall, gave the keynote address on the future of learning and engagement at the DSO. The complete report of the DSO’s annual meeting can be viewed here and highlights follow.


New Initiatives in Education and Engagement

The DSO is making an overall investment in the future of learning and engagement through the creation of the Wu Family Academy. With the support of a seven-figure, multi-million dollar grant from DSO Lifetime Director Clyde Wu and his wife Helen, the DSO aims to expand its music education initiatives to benefit the Southeast Michigan region. Through live and digital partnerships, the organization will provide hands-on music education and training in classrooms, communities, and virtual settings, cultivating relationships that will change lives today and the trajectory of the community tomorrow.


The DSO has just launched its first Live From Orchestra Hall: Classroom Edition webcasts as part of a new interactive series bringing webcasts directly to students. Made possible by support from the Mandell L. and Madeleine H. Berman Foundation, last month’s pilot webcasts were viewed in 300 Detroit schools and 125 others nationwide – reaching a total of more than 50,000 students.


The DSO is expanding its pioneering Neighborhood Concert Series and Neighborhood Residency Initiative thanks to a $3.75 million multi-year commitment from the William Davidson Foundation.  In particular, this gift extends the reach of the DSO’s Soundcard program for students into all Neighborhood performances.


Tod Machover’s Symphony in D project, in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will unfold over the next season as a collaborative symphony with sound submissions and conceptual contributions from Detroit’s public. What does Detroit sound like? The work will receive its premiere at Orchestra Hall on November 16, 2015.


Digital Initiatives


Ever since launching the Live From Orchestra Hall webcasts in 2011, the DSO has continued to increase its investment in digital technology and remains at the vanguard of 21st century orchestra innovation. For the 2013-14 Live from Orchestra Hall season of webcasts – featuring such artists as Lang Lang, Hilary Hahn, and Yo-Yo Ma, the DSO presented 25 webcasts that reached 500,000 viewers worldwide, assisted last season by a partnership with PBS Digital Studios to deliver DSO webcasts nationwide via and the PBS app. The webcasts are presented by the Ford Motor Company and made possible with the generous support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. During this third full season of webcasts, the DSO implemented a state-of-the-art, six-angle robotic camera system in Orchestra Hall, making the DSO the first American orchestra to adopt technology of this kind. While many American orchestras have made forays into web streaming, the New York Times said, “The cutting edge for the phenomenon in this country lies here, where the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has the most ambitious free web-streaming program of any major American orchestra.”


Artistic Accomplishments

New contract

In January 2014, the DSO and its musicians ratified a new three-year contract an unprecedented eight months before the expiration of the previous agreement. Key terms provide for a contingent of 87, including 2 librarians, and 36 weeks of performances plus 4 weeks of vacation time. Total orchestra compensation, inclusive of salary and all benefits, fit within the parameters set forth in Blueprint 2023: over the life of the new contract, the total investment in the musicians of the DSO will increase 5.3 percent over the previous, three-year agreement. The Integrated Media Agreement, which allowed the DSO to become the first orchestra in the world to offer a series of free live webcasts in 2011, remains in force.


Auditions and new hires

Nine musicians joined the ranks of the DSO in the last year, with 10 auditions held, a rare volume among orchestral peers. Auditions attracted a total of 765 applicants from both national and international backgrounds. The appointment of Principal Cellist Wei Yu, who is coming to the DSO from the New York Philharmonic, was covered in the New York Times and Musical America.



During the 2013-14 season, the DSO released two discs on the Naxos label: a pairing of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 and Symphonic Dances (the final installment in a three-disc series) and Cindy McTee’s Symphony No. 1: Ballet for Orchestra. The orchestra recorded Copland’s Three Latin American Sketches and Hear Ye! Hear Ye! last season for the second in a three-disc series on the Naxos label of Copland’s complete ballets. The DSO also recorded flute and tuba concertos by John Williams for a digital Naxos compilation of the composer’s complete concertos.


Fiscal Health

Earned Revenue

While reported national trends reveal waning orchestra subscription rates and a greater reliance on single ticket sales, the DSO finished its 2013-14 season with its third consecutive year of subscription growth across all product lines. In the aggregate, 86 percent of classical, pops, and jazz series subscribers renewed for the 2014-15 season.


Classical ticket revenue – inclusive of subscriptions and single tickets – increased by 15 percent ($360,000). This result was achieved with the addition of 12 classical performances since the 2012-13 season but without raising ticket prices. Family subscriptions (Young People’s Family Concerts and Tiny Tots) saw a 14 percent increase in subscription base in Teddy Abrams’s final season as Assistant Conductor with revenue up 27 percent. Overall family programming revenue was up 42 percent.


Contributed Revenue

In fiscal year 2014, the DSO raised $17.4 million in annual, event and project contributions, exceeding its ambitious goal of $17.23 million. Individual giving, which saw an increase in every constituency, is owing to the generosity of 10,350 donors who represent the fourth consecutive year of donor base growth.


Largely inspired by the DSO’s dedication to modernizing the role of a 21st-century orchestra through digital and community outreach, FY 14 saw extraordinary generosity from several major new donors.


  • The William Davidson Foundation, as noted above, gave $3.75 million in support of the Neighborhood Concert Series, which has experienced sold out concerts since its launch in 2011 with six metro Detroit performance residencies.
  • Chairman Emeritus Al Glancy, the Ford Motor Company Fund and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation contributed a collective $150,000 to open and furnish the Al Glancy Control Room, from which the Live From Orchestra Hall webcast control team mans a group of six robotic cameras.
  • The General Motors Foundation contributed $400,000 toward a 10-day tour of Southern Florida during which the DSO played to sold-out audiences in West Palm Beach, Miami, Vero Beach, Sarasota and Naples.


The Most Accessible Orchestra on the Planet

The DSO is proud to be a community-supported orchestra, and it strives to support its community in return. As thanks for the generous support that makes programming possible at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, around metro Detroit and across the world through global webcasts, in FY 14 DSO staff and musicians donated approximately 5,000 hours of service to the community through engagements at hospitals, schools, libraries and the like. Through the Neighborhood Residency Initiative, small ensembles and individual musicians delivered more than 400 community engagement services throughout the city last season: musical therapy, hospital lobby concerts, masterclasses and sectionals for aspiring musicians, chamber music recitals, special performances for seniors, featured appearances at major civic events and more. This commitment runs deep with participation from nearly all DSO musicians. In FY 14, these initiatives reached over 12,000 citizens. In the wellness sector alone DSO musicians made 120 service appearances for more than 3,500 citizens.


A 21st-century DSO campus

Among the highlights of the annual meeting was a presentation by the Re-Visioning Taskforce, in partnership with the Boston-based planning and design firm Sasaki, of renderings envisioning what the DSO’s home, the Max M. Fisher Music Center, and its surrounding areas could look like as it adapts to the needs of an evolving Detroit Midtown. The DSO historically has led the growth and driven the development of the area, first by returning to Orchestra Hall 25 years ago to anchor Midtown’s redevelopment, followed by the $60-million dollar expansion of Orchestra Hall into the Max M. Fisher Music Center in 2003. Now the DSO is imagining new ways to open up its campus as the city continues its revitalization in the new century. The organization is also committed to shaping a more diverse DSO, from the audience, to the staff, to the stage. The Diversity & Inclusion Taskforce unveiled as its guiding vision a commitment to making “the DSO an inclusive and culturally relevant community where all people can experience their world through music.”


Executive and Artistic Leadership

Chairman Fisher closed the meeting by announcing that Anne Parsons, President and CEO, and Music Director Leonard Slatkin have both extended their commitments to the DSO through the 2016-17 season, further ensuring executive and artistic stability for the Orchestra in the coming years.


2013-14 Highlights At-a-Glance

  • 2013-14 season = second consecutive operating surplus
  • Subscription sales – in terms of revenue, units sold, and households subscribing – grew in every product for the third consecutive season
  • $17.4 million in annual fundraising supported operations with an additional $5.6 raised toward endowment
  • 500,000+ = total audience across metro Detroit and around the world via Live From Orchestra Hall webcast series
  • 765 = number of applicants, from across the globe, for 10 orchestra auditions
  • $1.2 million = amount raised at the 2013 Heroes Gala honoring Dan Gilbert and Matt Cullen following a performance conducted by John Williams and narrated by Steven Spielberg, both of whom donated their services to the DSO
  • Soundcard, the $25, all-access student pass for Classical, Pops and Jazz concerts at Orchestra Hall: during the 2013-14 season, 952 Soundcards were issued to students who used them to attend concerts 2,376 times throughout the season, a 27 percent increase in usage over the previous year.
  • Patron-minded pricing: reduced ticket prices for classical concerts were retained last season to maintain accessibility. Prices reflect those of 1999, allowing patrons to attend an Orchestra Hall concert for as little as $15 with half the seats at $25 or less.


For the complete news release of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s annual meeting, click here.

To read the DSO’s annual report, click here.




© 21C Media Group, December 2014

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