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Leadership History

President Matthew VanBesien

Matthew VanBesien, UMS President

Matthew VanBesien has served as president of UMS since 2017. VanBesien took the reins from Ken Fischer, who retired after 30 years in the job. VanBesien is only the seventh president in UMS history after Henry Simmons Frieze (1879-81, 1883-89), Alexander Winchell (1881-83, 1889-91), Francis Kelsey (1891-1927), Charles Sink (1927-68), Gail Rector (1968-86), and Ken Fischer (1987-2017).

Before joining UMS, he served as executive director and president of the New York Philharmonic, where he fostered a close relationship with UMS, bringing Philharmonic residencies to the Michigan campus with concerts, masterclasses, and a range of other student & faculty engagement events, in 2013, 2015, and 2017.

A former French horn player, Matthew VanBesien spent eight years performing with the Louisiana Philharmonic before joining the League of American Orchestras’ management fellowship program. Upon completion of that program, he worked with the Houston Symphony for seven years, rising to executive director and CEO for the final four years of his tenure, and then served two years as managing director of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in Australia.

During his tenure at the New York Philharmonic, Matthew VanBesien developed and executed innovative programs along with music director Alan Gilbert, such as the NY PHIL BIENNIAL in 2014 and 2016, the Art of the Score film and music series, and exciting productions like Jeanne d’Arc au bucher with Marion Cotillard and the Comedie Francaise from Paris, and the Emmy Award-winning Sweeney Todd with Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel. He led the creation of the New York Philharmonic’s Global Academy initiative, offering educational partnerships with cultural institutions in Shanghai, California, Texas, and in Michigan at Interlochen, to train talented pre-professional musicians, often alongside performance residencies. He led a successful music director search, with Jaap van Zweden appointed to that role beginning in 2018, the formation of the Philharmonic’s International Advisory Board and President’s Council, and the unique and successful multi-year residency and educational partnership resulting in the creation of the Shanghai Orchestra Academy in China.

He serves as the Secretary and Treasurer on the Board of the International Society for the Performing Arts, a membership organization comprised of hundreds of performing arts presenters from around the world, and is on the Board of Ann Arbor SPARK, a non- profit economic development organization committed to Ann Arbor and the Southeast Michigan region’s economy. He has served on the board of the League of American Orchestras, the Executive Committee for the Avery Fisher Career Grants at Lincoln Center, and the Board of Overseers for the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Matthew VanBesien earned a bachelor of music degree in French horn performance from Indiana University and was the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Manhattan School of Music. He is married to Rosanne Jowitt, an accomplished geoscientist in the energy sector.

President Emeritus Ken Fischer

ums presidence ken fischer receives national medal of arts from president barack obama

Ken Fischer served as UMS president from 1987 to 2017. Over three decades, he oversaw the organization’s artistic growth and diversification into ongoing commitments to art forms outside of classical music; expansion into K-12, university, and community education programs; and initiatives to put UMS on a secure financial footing. Under Fischer’s visionary leadership, UMS has greatly expanded and diversified its programming and its audiences, deepening its engagement with the University (including relationships with 70 academic units and more than 200 faculty) and southeast Michigan communities; created exemplary partnerships with leading artistic collaborators across the world; taken an active role in commissioning new works; and received significant grants awarded by prominent foundations that support the arts.

Under Fischer’s tenure, UMS was named a 2014 National Medal of Arts recipient, the first university presenter to receive this highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government.

Gail Rector from 1957-1987

Gail Rector became the Executive Director of UMS in 1957. A graduate of the University of Michigan, he was the assistant to president Charles Sink from 1945 until 1954, when he left Ann Arbor for Boston, where he served as Assistant Manager of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Executive Secretary of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood for three years. He returned to UMS in 1957, and in 1968, when President Sink resigned from UMS to accept emeritus status, Rector succeeded him.

Gail served UMS with great distinction for nearly four decades. During this time he won the admiration and respect not only of the people of Ann Arbor, but of the international community of performing artists, managers, and presenters. Hailed as a ‘giant’ in the industry, Rector received the top awards the field has to offer its most outstanding leaders

Charlie Sink from 1904-1968

Charles A. Sink was at the helm of UMS for over half of the 20th century. He came to U-M from Churchville, MA, graduating in 1904, and immediately began serving as Secretary, and then Business Manager, at the U-M School of Music. In 1927, he was named president of UMS, succeeding Francis Kelsey. Among his professional colleagues, Dr. Sink was known as the Dean of Concert Managers. He was one of the founders of the National Association of Concert Managers in the 1940s and developed the UMS Choral Union Series and May Festivals as models of artistic achievement and quality. Sink had a storied history of working with prominent artists, including, among many other highlights, fostering the profession of conductor Thor Johnson, who came to U-M as a graduate student in 1934.

In 1940, UMS transferred the School of Music to the U-M in order to focus exclusively on presenting an annual series of concerts and the May Festival. Under Sink’s guidance, this separation also marked UMS’s new independence but continued close affiliation to the University. Sink ended his full-time service to UMS in 1957, when he transferred administrative affairs to newly-appointed Executive Director Gail Rector.