'The right person': DSO taps VP Erik Rönmark as next president, CEO

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has tapped Erik Rönmark, its vice president and general manager, as its next president and chief executive officer, officials announced Wednesday evening.

Rönmark, 44, will succeed Anne Parsons, the DSO's president since 2004 who steered the orchestra through a series of challenges, including financial woes, a divisive musicians' strike and the pandemic. 

Rönmark, who was born and raised in Sweden and is a trained saxophonist, has been with the DSO for 16 years in various roles, working his way up to vice president for the last five years and general manager for eight.

Erik Rönmark, the new president and CEO of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, stands inside Orchestra Hall during a rehearsal at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit on Wednesday.

"I'm thrilled with the choice that the board made," said Parsons before the DSO's annual meeting Wednesday where Rönmark's appointment was announced. "They did their due dilligence and had a really healthy process. And the right person came out on top. That would've been my choice. He is my choice. He is passionate and smart and a strategic leader."

Rönmark, a father of three from Troy whose wife, Adrienne Rönmark, is a violinist with the orchestra, said he'll continue to build the DSO's endowment, diversify programming and implement key neighborhood initiatives. He's also looking forward, he said, to working alongside music director Jader Bignamini, whom he scouted and helped bring to Detroit. 

"My whole career has been with this organization," said Rönmark. "And when you're part of something like this, you start seeing how it works and really understanding what this orchestra is doing. When we started doing webcasts and neighborhood concerts and all these things — and seeing what a difference that made not just for the community but as an organization — you start thinking about the future and what role you want to play."

Mark Davidoff, chair of the DSO's board, said Rönmark has spent his entire career "being prepared for this moment."

"He's spent all of his tenure with the DSO, he's worked under Anne for most of those years and has created an internationally renowned image and brand with regards to his knowledge of the orchestra industry and the repertoire and all of the moving parts of what is a complicated undertaking," said Davidoff.

Rönmark's appointment follows a year-long international search for Parsons' replacement. In April, Parsons, who had been on medical leave dealing with cancer, announced her plans to retire in 2022. A 14-member search committee of board members, musicians and senior professional staff began meeting in December 2020 to map out the process for identifying the DSO's next president, including identifying characteristics they wanted in its new leader.

Roughly 180 candidates from all over the world applied. The field was narrowed to nine, then three finalists. Davidoff said the search committee was unanimous in recommending Rönmark for the position.

"Erik has the ability to really lead with humility," he said. "He's a relationship-builder. And he has a sense of empathy for those that he works with and those that we serve as a community-based organization. And he's a musician at heart."

Rönmark played a key role in finding Bignamini and bringing him to Detroit last season. He also instituted several initiatives, including the DSO's webcasts about a decade ago and the Davidson Neighborhood Series. 

"These different strategic efforts were basically all given to Erik to execute and he did it beautifully," said Parsons. "He helped conceive them and he executed them. ... He was at the center of those."

Rönmark will officially start March 7. Parsons will step into an emeritus role and work alongside him until she retires in November. He takes the helm as the DSO, which has a $32.6 million budget, is on stable footing, even amid a worldwide pandemic. It announced its ninth balanced budget in a row on Wednesday and that it is halfway to a $75 million goal for building its endowment. 

Rönmark also played a key role in mapping out the DSO's entirely digital season last year.

"It was one of the only seasons of any orchestra that I know of that regularly produced concerts," said Parsons. "He was at the center of all of that."

Erik Rönmark, the new President and CEO of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, stands inside Orchestra Hall during a rehearsal at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit, December 8, 2021.

For his part, Rönmark said he'll also work with Bignamini on shaping his artistic vision for the orchestra. He said his job is to be there and support him.

"We've had great chemistry from day one and gotten to be very close," he said. "I just never met anyone like him. His musical mind is just unbelievable. He says this too — we don't have to agree on everything. But him hearing ideas from me and vice veras, (it's about) really talking through what the orchestra wants and needs from a musical director and programs."

He said one of the things he learned from Parsons is how important it is to listen to people. He values, he said, the collaborative style of the DSO.

"I understand that there are going to be decisions that I have to make but I like to have inputs (of other people)," he said. "I think that's why I like the culture here so much. There are musicians who are involved on committees. We have staff. When we do our (diversity, equity and inclusion) work, it's not a top down type of work. It's across the board at all levels. And then you get all these different points of views."

Davidoff said with Rönmark's appointment, the DSO now has two young leaders who've chosen to be in Detroit and chosen to work together.

"Things are lining up," he said. "This is the time for the DSO."