Classical Gems in the 23/24 Season
UMS has a rich history of bringing world-class artists and ensembles to the region. Each season, UMS’s Choral Union and Chamber Arts Series provide a balance of artists familiar to UMS audiences and new artists or works we are excited to introduce.
Read on to learn more about five hidden gems in the 23/24 season:
Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería
One of the most prestigious orchestras in Latin America, the Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería (Minería Symphony Orchestra) was founded in 1978 by a group of mining engineers who wanted to support the cultural development of México and is now regarded as the leading musical institution in the country. Led by 2019 Musical America Conductor of the Year Carlos Miguel Prieto, the orchestra has performed with renowned soloists and conductors and has toured internationally. We had intended to bring Prieto and soloist Gabriela Montero to Ann Arbor during the 20/21 season with similar repertoire, but that tour, of course, didn’t happen as intended.
This concert — the debut of the orchestra, Prieto, and piano soloist Gabriela Montero — features a program of Mexican and Latin American composers, including two women composers. Gabriela Ortiz (b. 1964) composed Kauyumari at the behest of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2021, and the work reflects the return to live performance after the pandemic. Venezuela-born pianist Gabriela Montero performs her own piano concerto, an energetic work that shows the complexities of South American life, from its rhythmic and sensual energy to the shadows of violence and corruption.
The concert also includes works by two Mexican composers: Carlos Chávez (1899-1978) was an ethnomusicologist whose Sinfonía India reflects the harmonies, rhythms, melodies, and instruments of the Indian cultures of México, and Silvestre Revueltas’s La noches de los mayas, a concert suite drawn from his score for the 1939 film of the same name, which relates to México’s pre-Columbian heritage.
Akropolis Reed Quintet
If you’ve never heard of a reed quintet, you’re not alone. The Akropolis Reed Quintet practically invented the combination of instruments it comprises: clarinet, oboe, saxophone, bass clarinet and bassoon. The five U-M grads developed the innovative and adventurous combination, commissioning over 100 new chamber music works and racking up prestigious prizes and national awards along the way, including the 2014 Fischoff Gold Medal at the country’s largest chamber music competition.
With a shared passion for making music that sparks joy and wonder, Akropolis recently became the first reed quintet to grace the Billboard charts (2021) and now performs over 120 concerts and educational events each year. We’re thrilled to host them for their UMS debut, which features a new work called Are We Dreaming the Same Dream? by the Grammy-nominated composer and jazz pianist Pascal Le Boeuf, as well as an arrangement of Gershwin’s American in Paris and Charles Mingus’s Self-Portrait in Three Colors.
Fun fact: while a student at U-M, Akropolis clarinetist Kari Landry interned in the UMS marketing and communications department!
World Premiere: Nkeiru Okoye’s When the Caged Bird Sings
UMS and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) are collaborating on this newly commissioned work by Nkeiru Okoye, an American-born composer of African American and Nigerian heritage. When the Caged Bird Sings is inspired by Maya Angelou and celebrates the resilience of Black women, commemorating those who have paved a path for future generations. Written for orchestra, chorus, four soloists, and a narrator, the work fuses elements of oratorio, theater, gospel, and opera and will be recorded for later release on the Naxos label.
Nkeiru Okoye has received acclaim for her music’s accessibility and expressiveness, and its connections to contemporary culture. Your Classical Voice commented that her compositions “showcase her genius by incorporating different types of musical styles that help create a sound that’s uniquely hers.” Dr. Okoye’s works have been commissioned, performed, and presented by the Detroit Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony, Houston Grand Opera, and many others.
Her 2020 work Black Bottom was commissioned by the Detroit Symphony to celebrate the centennial of Orchestra Hall and called “one of the most engrossing musical portraits of Black history in the available repertoire” by the New York Times. We are thrilled to work with Dr. Okoye over the coming months and to provide students at SMTD the rare opportunity to work with a living composer on the world premiere of a major new work.
Canadian violinist James Ehnes, “a thinker of the violin as well as a supreme virtuoso of the instrument,” (Daily Telegraph) makes his UMS debut in 2024, but he is no stranger to UMS audiences in recent years. During the first year of the pandemic, he turned his Florida home into a studio and presented a series of livestreamed concerts, including one that UMS presented digitally that season. In 2021, he released recordings of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin and Ysäye’s Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, as well as three CDs of Beethoven String Quartets; that same year he was named Gramophone’s Artist of the Year.
The week of his live UMS performance debut, he will work with students and faculty at the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance; some of those collaborators will join him for a chamber music work on his recital program. Full program to be announced.
Among classical music industry insiders, the buzz about the Isidore Quartet has been extraordinary. Founded in 2019, the New York-based quartet has already been awarded a 2023 Avery Fisher Career Grant — virtually unheard of for such a young group to be so recognized — in addition to winning the 2022 Banff International String Quartet Competition. The group was heavily influenced by the Juilliard String Quartet and is named after Isidore Cohen, who performed with both the Juilliard String Quartet and the Beaux Arts Trio. (Rumor has it that they also take their name from a Greek monk named Isidore, who concocted the first vodka recipe for the Grand Duchy of Moscow!)
The Isidore Quartet also works with PROJECT: MUSIC HEALS US, which provides encouragement, education, and healing to marginalized communities, including elderly, disabled, and rehabilitating incarcerated and homeless populations who otherwise have limited access to high-quality live music performance.
Their UMS debut performance features quartets by Haydn and Beethoven, as well as Billy Childs’ String Quartet No. 2, which was composed in 2012 after his wife’s emergency hospitalization for a pulmonary embolism. The work depicts Childs’ emotional, physical, and spiritual journey in dealing with her illness and recovery, evoking Shostakovich in its depiction of the chaotic emergency room, the powerlessness of being at her bedside, and an ode to the slow process of healing and recovery in a respect for the transient nature of life.