DSO finances solid for sixth year in a row

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Remember when Detroit cultural institutions were all plagued by financial woes? 

At its annual meeting Thursday, the once-beleaguered Detroit Symphony Orchestra announced its sixth consecutive year in the black, and its fourth year in a row of steadily rising ticket revenue. 

"While we celebrate all that we have accomplished," DSO Board Chairman Mark A. Davidoff told the meeting, "we continue to think big and plan for even greater impact in the future." 

DSO President and CEO Anne Parsons laid out three goals for the near term — continuing to cement the orchestra's finances, growing and diversifying audiences and strengthening the DSO brand. 

"The city of Detroit is changing — the state and the world are changing — and the DSO must continue to change with it," she told the assembled guests.  

The economic good news capped a year marked by a parade of world premieres of contemporary music, and yet another successful three-week winter festival, this time devoted to French music and culture.

"Live from Orchestra Hall" webcasts, now in their seventh year, reached 400,000 viewers worldwide, and the hugely popular William Davidson Neighborhood Concert Series was renewed for another five years.

It was also Leonard Slatkin's 10th and final season as music director, and he was duly honored at the 2018 Heroes Gala. Slatkin has now taken up the mantle of music director laureate, with a commitment to stay on board through the 2019-20 season. 

Critics will find little to complain about in the past year's finances.  

For the 2017-18 fiscal year, which ended in August, the DSO pulled in operating revenue of $28.76 million, with operating expenses of $28.72 million — netting a surplus of $40,000. 

Gross ticket sales rose 1 percent over the previous season to $7.32 million, while total earned revenue hit $8.96 million. 

As part of its $15 million pledge to the orchestra, announced one year ago, the William Davidson Foundation included a $5 million challenge grant to benefit the orchestra's endowment.

To date, the Mellon Foundation, Erb Family Foundation, and the Dresner Foundation have matched $3.5 million of that. 

And finally, Parsons noted that October 2019 will see the 100th anniversary of architect C. Howard Crane's Orchestra Hall, with its world-renowned acoustics. 

As part of the celebrations, Parsons announced that the 2019 Heroes Gala will honor longtime supporter and board member — and now Director Emeritus — Mort Harris who, as she put it, "at age 98 has lived among us nearly as long as the hall we'll be commemorating." 


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