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Unlocking the Mind and Emotion of the Audience

A Note from UMS Programming Director Michael Kondziolka…

Seven years ago, when UMS presented Einstein on the Beach, director Robert Wilson told me about the extraordinary artistic vision of Greek artist Dimitris Papaioannou (pronounced pop-eye-ah-new). Since that time, I’ve kept an eye on his work and finally got to experience it live when I saw The Great Tamer last year in Basel, Switzerland.

I immediately knew that we had to figure out a way to bring him to Ann Arbor, as his work fits so perfectly into our mission of connecting artists and audiences in uncommon and engaging experiences.

The Great Tamer

The company’s performances and the works that they create live at the intersection of physical theater, visual art-making, and the circus arts…and the power of his images unlocks the mind and emotion of the audience in unexpected and fully engaging ways.

One of the things I like most about the work is that it puts the audience in the driver’s seat of making meaning out of it. The work is not “complete” by itself; it depends on the audience’s interpretation of it as much as it does on the artist’s intent.

And so…seven years after that conversation with Robert Wilson, we have finally been able to make it happen. It wasn’t easy — we had to put together a small cohort of like-minded partners who were willing to take a chance on a spectacular artist whose work is not well known in North America. UMS, along with UCLA and a contemporary arts presenter in Montreal, is bringing Dimitris Papaiannou’s collective of masterful Greek theater artists to North America for the first time.

For over two decades, we have worked to bring meaningful and interesting international theater work to Michigan audiences: Sophiline Cheam Shapiro/Khmer Arts Ensemble’s Pamina Devi in 2007, from Cambodia; Sogolon and Handspring Puppet Companies’s Tall Horse, from Mali and South Africa in 2005; Simon McBurney and Complicite’s The Elephant Vanishes (and several other titles!) from the UK and Japan in 2004…the list goes on and on.

I hope you will join us for another moment of discovery as we kick off our Winter 2019 season with The Great Tamer, which runs in the Power Center on Friday, January 18 and Saturday, January 19.

Personally, I can’t wait.

The Great Tamer

UMS Director of Programming Picks Five Notable UMS Debuts

One of the reasons we’re so excited about our 2015-2016 season is the debut performances. Winter is especially ripe with UMS debuts, including by mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, pianist Igor Levit, vocalist Tanya Tagaq, among many others.

Debuts are an important part of our 135-year-history. Every artist debut has embedded in it that same kind of hope and optimism, something truly great might come of all this talent which is being revealed to us for the first time. At UMS, every debut also holds the possibility of a life-long relationship between that artist and our community of music lovers.

Here are five notable debuts which grew into a fully formed career and lifetime of memories for UMS audiences:

Violinist Yehudi Menhuhin – UMS debut, 1932

yehudimehunin-debutsPhoto: Yehudi Menuhin readies for the 1974 UMS May Festival (UMS Archives).

Menuhin made his concert debut at UMS when he was age sixteen. He went on to give eighteen UMS concerts over the course of his career most often as violin soloist but also as a conductor later in his life. His last appearance was in February of 1987 fifty-five years after his debut.





Pianist Artur Rubinstein – UMS debut, 1938

Photo: Pianist Arthur Rubinstein and former UMS president Gail Rector (UMS Archives).

The great Polish pianist Artur Rubinstein didn’t make his UMS debut until he was 51.  He played Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra at May Festival.  Even though he was middle aged when he first come to Ann Arbor, he still managed to give fifteen concerts for UMS over the course of his career, the last one, a benefit recital in January 1971.

Soprano Leontyne Price – UMS debut, 1957

Photo: Leontyne Price sings her first career Aida in concert version with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the May Festival (UMS Archives).

Price had a double debut when she first come to UMS for the May Festival in 1957.  Not only was it her first performance in Ann Arbor, but it was also her first public performance of the title role of Aida, a character she went on to own and dominate in every important opera house in the world.  By the time she gave her last UMS recital in 1991, she had visited Ann Arbor to perform eight times.





Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli – UMS debut, 1993

Photo: Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli  and pianist Martin Katz receive a standing ovation at her UMS debut, April 10, 1993 (UMS Archives).

Bartoli gave her debut recital performance in Hill Auditorium when she was relatively unknown. She was partnered by Ann Arbor’s very-own pianist Martin Katz. Her most recent appearance was in February of 2004 with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in a program devoted to the music of Antonio Salieri.

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis – UMS debut, 1996

Photo: Trumpet Wynton Marsalis will receive the UMS Distinguished Artist Award as part of this season’s Ford Honors Program on March 30, 2014 (Photo courtesy of the artist).

The great jazz (and classical) trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis gave his first UMS concert with his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra Octet in 1996.  Since that time he has become an almost annual fixture on the UMS season while, simultaneously, becoming a singular international voice for the centrality of jazz to American culture.

Do you have your own notable debuts or early performance favorites in UMS history? Share them in the comments below.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra: A Personal Reflection by Michael Kondziolka, UMS Director of Programming

I had such a formative concert experience as a 22-year-old with a performance by the Chicago Symphony that every time they come back to UMS, I relive it…and get really excited and end up feeling like an (overly) passionate young adult again!!

Sir Georg Solti

The concert was in Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall.  Sir Georg Solti was conducting.  It opened with the “Prelude and Liebestod” from Tristan and was followed by a performance of John Corigliano’s Clarinet Concerto which, in the last movement, features large choirs of brass, performed from the back of the house.  It was so powerful and overwhelming (Chicago BRASS!!) that the next thing I knew, I was leading a standing ovation from the center of the main floor.  My friends thought I had lost my mind. (Ah, youth!!)

This Wednesday’s CSO concert in Hill Auditorium is stacking up to be a repeat, I think.  For many reasons…not the least of which is the antiphonal brass moments planned from the back of Hill Auditorium in the Bartók Bluebeard’s Castle.  The score also calls for the BIG Hill organ.

Pierre Boulez (photo: Todd Rosenberg)

Extraordinary and impactful repertoire (a 20th-century masterpiece, really)…one of the world’s great orchestras…and a conductor who is completely committed to inspiring the orchestra to greatness:  PIERRE BOULEZ!!  A veritable legend of 20th-century music in his own right.

A master with a masterpiece…my favorite combination.

Last week, I started hearing from some friends and colleagues who had witnessed the concerts in Chicago given earlier this month.  They confirmed that they were really OVER-THE-TOP, -once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  I went home that night and started snooping around on YouTube to find my favorite clips from Bluebeard…I wanted to crank the fifth door section loudly on my stereo.  As I was “grooving” on  C Major – there is nothing like it – I looked down and saw the most recent listener comment…and immediately sent it to the entire UMS staff.  It only fueled my enthusiasm and reinforced what I was already suspecting and hearing:

“Just saw the Chicago Symphony Orchestra do this tonight! So @#$%#$ powerful! [expletive deleted]  Not only are there 4 trumpets, four trombones, a tuba and organ, but 4 more trumpets and 4 trombones off stage…plus Judith screaming over the top! I was as close to a heaven as I am ever going to get.”

I hope you can be there this Wednesday.

Michael Kondziolka
UMS Director of Programming