DSO head Anne Parsons undergoing treatment for lung cancer

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
Anne Parsons, president and CEO of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, in a 2014 photo. Parsons has been diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer and is undergoing treatment.

Anne Parsons, president and CEO of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, has been diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer and is undergoing treatment. 

In a Dec. 5 email to board members, musicians, staff and donors, the DSO announced that Parsons is being treated at Henry Ford Health System with a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy. The email described Parsons as a "lifelong non-smoker."

The email assured "her DSO family" that Parsons, 58, "plans on working throughout her treatment," and that the orchestra anticipates little or no change to daily operations. It added that she wanted to be fully transparent, given that treatment may occasionally involve shifts in her schedule. 

On Wednesday, DSO Board Chairman Mark A. Davidoff released a statement noting that news of Parsons' diagnosis "has become more public than originally planned," and that as a result, he wanted to reassure everyone that she will continue to lead the organization with the board's full confidence.

Parsons, with a lifelong career in cultural nonprofits including the New York City Ballet and the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., came to the DSO in 2004. 

In what was widely seen as a masterstroke, in 2008 she hired Leonard Slatkin away from the National Symphony Orchestra as music director and principal conductor. 

Parsons' tenure has been marked by trauma and considerable triumph. The low point was the remarkably bitter 2010-11 musicians' strike, which at the time seemed to threaten the orchestra's very existence. 

But in the years since, Parsons and musicians surprised the world by rapidly putting that behind them, coming back together as a model of a successful American orchestra. 

Under her management, the orchestra slashed ticket prices after the strike, and has since racked up record sales and donor growth. It also initiated the hugely popular William Davidson Neighborhood Concert Series that takes the orchestra out of Orchestra Hall to seven different metro-area communities. 

Last year, the orchestra made its first international tour in 16 years, playing in Japan and China.

Even more important, perhaps, the DSO, which suffered for years from shaky finances, by 2017 had racked up five consecutive years of operating surpluses.

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy