Generous gift from LSO founder and wife makes the orchestra’s future bright
In spring of 2000, bassoonist and pediatric radiologist Michael DiPietro, M.D., was playing woodwind quintets with other U-M physicians when the idea of creating something bigger – an orchestra for the U-M medical and science community – began to take shape.
By that summer, the U-M Life Sciences Orchestra was born. And in January 2001, it played its first concert.
Now, DiPietro and his wife Alice Fishman have helped ensure that the LSO will endure far into the future, with a generous gift that helps create an endowment for the orchestra.
Their gift is enhanced by dollars from a matching program created for Gifts of Art, the LSO’s parent organization, by former Michigan Medicine leader Robert Kelch, M.D.
The result is a fund that will support the orchestra’s operations in perpetuity.
While DiPietro played bassoon with the LSO for 17 years and has served on its executive committee for nearly the LSO’s entire history, it wasn’t just those experiences that convinced the couple to make their gift.
Instead, it was the smiles and camaraderie that DiPietro saw among orchestra members when he served as a “doorman” for rehearsals last fall, as part of COVID-19 precautions.
“Everyone was so happy to be there,” especially after the pandemic interrupted the orchestra for more than a year, he said. “It looks like the LSO has staying power.”
Financial stability for any nonprofit amateur arts organization is always challenging, said Elaine Sims, director of Gifts of Art and the orchestra’s self-described “stage mother.”
“Ever since the LSO was founded, we’ve been self-funded through members paying fees and donating, and support from audience members and others,” she explained. “We are so incredibly grateful to Alice and to Mike, and to Dr. Kelch. This is literally a dream come true!”
The LSO includes faculty, staff, students, alumni, volunteers and family members from across the U-M medical, health sciences, biological sciences and engineering community. It got its start with a connection between DiPietro and David J. Brown, M.D., when the latter was an otolaryngology resident at C.S. Mott Children’s hospital and noticed the picture of a bassoon on DiPietro’s office door.
Brown, a flutist, is now an associate professor of otolaryngology and associate dean for health equity and inclusion at the U-M Medical School, and DiPietro is an emeritus professor of radiology living much of the year in Florida with Fishman.
A bassoonist since switching from clarinet in high school, DiPietro maintains a very active playing schedule in the Sarasota area.
But nothing compares with playing major symphonic works on the stage of U-M’s Hill Auditorium, one of the world’s finest concert halls, he said. Between his years with the LSO and his time with the Campus Symphony Orchestra, he estimates he played at Hill more than 100 times, ending in January 2017.
“That’s a tremendous opportunity, and I don’t know where else in the country I would have had it,” he said. He has also tracked the careers of many LSO members as they have finished medical or scientific training at U-M and joined other orchestras like the LSO that have cropped up at medical centers nationwide.
He also cheers on the LSO’s former conductors, who have gone on to international achievements after completing orchestral conducting degrees under Kenneth Kiesler at the U-M School of Music, Theatre and Dance. Leading the LSO artistically, and working with its volunteer executive committee and Sims’ staff, is excellent preparation for their future careers, DiPietro notes.
He also serves as the first avocational (non-professional) board member of the International Double Reed Society, which serves the world’s bassoonists, oboists and English horn players.
The endowment joins four named positions in the LSO, including the first bassoon chair named for DiPietro through tribute gifts.
The conducting graduate student named by Kiesler to lead the orchestra each year holds the Gilbert S. Omenn, M.D. Music Directorship, named for another former leader of Michigan Medicine who is a longtime LSO champion. The piccolo chair is named for late LSO musician Lisa Marmor and was endowed by Brown, while the principal second violin chair is named for Willis Lillard, the late father of an LSO violinist. The new endowment will support most of the LSO’s financial needs beginning later this decade, but donations of all sizes are still gladly accepted.