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Artist Statement: Renée Fleming on ‘Voice of Nature’

Renée Fleming

When I was 14, the film Soylent Green was released, a sci-fi thriller about a dystopian future of worldwide pollution, dying oceans, depleted resources, and rampant starvation. The story was set in the year 2022.

The movie has faded from memory, but one scene left a profound impression. An aged researcher, unable to go on, has chosen assisted suicide at a government clinic. To ease his last moments of life, he is shown videos of a world that no longer exists: flowers and savannahs, flocks and herds, unpolluted skies and waters, all set to a soundtrack of classical music by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Grieg.

This scene captured my imagination in a terrifying way. The impact increased when I later learned that the actor playing the researcher, Edward G. Robinson, was terminally ill at the time it was filmed.

Fast forward to the pandemic. After more than two decades of constant touring, usually to urban cultural centers, performances abruptly ceased, and I suddenly found myself at home. I sought comfort in long walks outside near my house. I needed this time outdoors to maintain my emotional equilibrium, and I was reminded that nature would always be my touchstone. At the same time, the news about climate change grew more alarming: the extinction of animals we took for granted when we were children, the knowledge that white rhinos had disappeared from the wild, and daily reports of heat, fires, and flooding. I realized that the crisis we had been warned of for so long had arrived.

I thought of the great legacy of song literature that I love, when Romantic-era poets and composers reveled in imagery of nature, finding reflections of human experience in the environment. I decided to record some of this music, and to juxtapose these classics with the voices of living composers, addressing our current, troubled relationship with the natural world.

The result, in collaboration with my friend Yannick Nézet-Séguin, was the album Voice of Nature: the Anthropocene. When it received the 2023 Grammy Award for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album, I was thrilled, and I had the idea to tour music addressing this theme of nature as both our inspiration and our victim.

I was incredibly fortunate to connect with the imaginative, dedicated leadership at the National Geographic Society, the global non-profit committed to exploring, illuminating, and protecting the wonder of our world. It has been so exciting to work with this universally respected, landmark institution. I am deeply grateful for the help of President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Ulica, Chief Executive Officer Jill Tiefenthaler, and Producer/Editor Sam Deloen, whose expertise and vison have been instrumental in creating the video you will see in the second half of this program.

Thankfully, the stunning natural world depicted in this film still exists, unlike that movie scene so upsetting to my younger self. In blending these beautiful images with music, my hope is, in some small way, to rekindle your appreciation of nature, and encourage any efforts you can make to protect the planet we share.



Renée Fleming


Pianist Inon Barnatan’s Fall Residency at UMS

Pianist Inon Barnatan is no stranger to Ann Arbor audiences. Barnatan made his UMS debut in 2008 with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and has since performed with the New York Philharmonic and in recital with cellist Alisa Weilerstein and clarinetist Anthony McGill.

Barnatan is equally celebrated as a soloist, curator, and collaborator. This fall, he will showcase all these roles in his most extensive UMS visit, made possible through the support of residency sponsors Elaine and Peter Schweitzer.

Starting at the end of September, Barnatan will be part of a week-long series of performances and activities at the University of Michigan, including piano and chamber music masterclasses at the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, as well as three unique public performances:


Renée Fleming & Inon Barnatan
Renée Fleming, soprano and Inon Barnatan, piano

Thu Sep 28 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium

Inon Barnatan accompanies superstar soprano Renée Fleming in the world premiere of her new program, Voice of Nature. This special performance spans the classical, romantic, and contemporary eras, with beloved songs and new commissions exploring nature as both inspiration and victim of humanity. The National Geographic Society is providing an original video to reflect the musical selections.

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Caroline Shaw Aurora Borealis
Gabriel Fauré Au Bord De L'eau
Gabriel Fauré Les Berceaux
Maurice Ravel Jeux d’eau (piano solo)
Franz Liszt S'il Est Un Charmant Gazon
Franz Liszt Über Allen Gipfeln Ist Ruh
Edvard Grieg Lauf Der Welt
Edvard Grieg Zur Rosenzeit
Jerome Kern All the Things You Are

- Intermission -

Second half accompanied by National Geographic video:

Hazel Dickens Pretty bird (a capella)
George Frideric Handel Care Selve from Atalanta
Nico Muhly Endless Space
Joseph Canteloube Baïléro
Maria Schneider Our Finch Feeder from Winter Morning Walks
Bjork All is Full of Love
Sergei Rachmaninoff Moments Musicaux No. 4 (piano solo)
Howard Shore Twilight and Shadow from The Lord of the Rings
Kevin Puts Evening
Burt Bacharach and Hal David What the World Needs Now

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Free Recital: Rachmaninoff Reflections

Wed Oct 4 at 7:30 pm // Britton Recital Hall, U-M SMTD Moore Building

In a preview of his forthcoming album, Inon Barnatan performs a free recital for students and general public audiences on North Campus, including his own virtuosic solo piano arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s beloved Symphonic Dances.

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Franz Schubert Moments Musicaux
Sergei Rachmaninoff Moments Musicaux

Sergei Rachmaninoff (arr. Barnatan) Symphonic Dances

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Jerusalem Quartet
Jerusalem Quartet and Inon Barnatan, piano

Thu Oct 5 at 7:30 pm // Rackham Auditorium

In his final residency event, Inon Barnatan joins the Jerusalem Quartet in Antonin Dvořák’s sublime Piano Quintet.

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Franz Joseph Haydn String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 76, No. 6
Paul Ben-Haim String Quartet No. 1, Op. 21
Antonín Dvořák Quintet for Piano and Strings in A Major, Op. 81

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Don’t miss these unique opportunities to experience one of today’s most extraordinary pianists here in Ann Arbor! For more information on Inon Barnatan, visit

Listen to Inon Barnatan’s albums on Apple Music or Spotify.

Making Sonic Contributions: An Interview with Marcus Elliot

Marcus Elliot

As part of UMS’s Fall 2023 residency at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse, Detroit-based saxophonist Marcus Elliot will lead a seven-piece band of musicians and artists in Sonic Contributions — a special collaboration with the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County that celebrates the history of Ypsilanti as a refuge for Black Americans dating back to the 1830s.

In advance of the world premiere this September, Marcus spoke to UMS about the inspiration and creative process behind Sonic Contributions, and what audiences can expect from these upcoming performances:


Q: What was the catalyst for this project? Was it the Ypsilanti Residency itself, or something you’ve had in mind for some time?

It was the Residency itself. When Mark Jacobson and Cayenne Harris from UMS reached out to ask me to put something together, I just started daydreaming about what some things could be. I have some family and a lot of “like family” friends in Ypsilanti, and I’ve always had an interesting relationship with Ypsilanti just growing up in Michigan.

It’s one of those little pockets throughout Michigan that has a large African American population, so that’s kind of what sparked my interest in what I could do. I literally just typed into Google, “African American community in Ypsilanti,” and when I did that it was just, like, BOOM. All of this information started coming at me about it being tied to the Underground Railroad — it being such a Haven, connecting people from the South to Detroit.

But not just connecting people. A lot of families were getting there, and they were staying there, or they were headed to Canada and would come back to Ypsilanti. So that was really interesting to me, like, why would you come back? What was going on here that made you want to come back?

I reached out to my friend Miles Lindsey, also known as Intricate Dialect. He’s an amazing rapper, producer, poet, and storyteller. I asked him, “Hey, would you be interested in collaborating with me on this project?” And he said, “Absolutely.” Then I pitched it to Mark and Cayenne, and they said, “Absolutely!” So, here we are. It’s very exciting to really see these stories coming together and the music coming together.

Miles Lindsey and Marcus Elliot

Miles Lindsey and Marcus Elliot


Q: Can you talk a little bit about the instrumentation of Sonic Contributions, and what audiences can expect?

So the instrumentation is myself on saxophone, and we have trumpet, piano, bass, drums, and cello, plus Miles as narrator. Whenever I’m putting an ensemble together, I actually do it less about the instrumentation and more about the personalities. The personalities are really important to me.

We have Dwight Adams, one of the true legends of Detroit jazz music, but also just an amazing trumpet player. He played with folks like Stevie Wonder and Doug Hammond and I mean, just the list goes on and on of all the people that he’s played with, and so he’s kind of like a big brother mentor to me.

On bass, I have Joseph Deas. Joseph is an Ann Arbor and Detroit bass player…such a pillar in our music community. And with this project being in between in Ypsilanti, I can’t not have Joseph on this project. The energy that he brings is so potent, and it’s just exactly what this project needs.

And then on drums, we have Marquis Johnson. This will actually be my first time having Marquis on my own project, but I’ve played with Marquis a lot in different situations and Marquis is just a phenomenal drummer. Every time I see him play I’m just kind of like, Oh, my God! I can’t believe that a human being can do that on an instrument!

We have Jordan Anderson on piano. He’s originally from Minnesota but moved to Michigan to study here because he had a lot of early mentors that were originally from Detroit who told him he needed to get to Detroit. So Jordan is very invested in the scene, very invested in the history of Detroit, and so it also just felt right to have him on the project.

And then we have King Sophia on cello, and she is also someone that I actually haven’t had a chance to have in my own group yet. She’s somebody that is once again just a brilliant, brilliant person on her instrument and extremely expressive. She has this powerhouse energy and just her presence is amazing.

Sonically, I can tell you it’s going to be dramatic. It’s going to be a lot of drama inside of the music, and it’s going to take you along with the story that’s being told. It’s going to really bring you into a lot of different places. You’re going to have narration and poetry and storytelling by Miles, so he’ll be coming in and out with different stories. There’s gonna be moments honoring different people, different families, different places in Ypsilanti. There are moments of him sharing deep detailed stories of different situations and history and different people.

So there’s gonna be a lot of things happening. The other thing that I haven’t mentioned yet is that there’s a visual artist as well. Curtis Wallace, who is a visual artist from Ypsilanti, agreed to be a part of this. He’ll do some live visual art making — hearing the music, responding to that, and creating in the moment — which I’m very excited for.

So that’s what kind of people can expect. They can really expect a multimedia experience. They can expect to hopefully leave inspired by the stories and by the music, and hopefully also just be inspired to dig deeper into the history of Ypsilanti and the culture there…you know, it has its own thing. That’s the thing that I’ve been learning the most about doing this project is that Ypsilanti is not Ann Arbor. It is not Detroit. It is its own thing, and it deserves to be honored in that way. I’m really here just to bring some awareness to how amazing this place is, and to honor it in my own way.


Q: What does the rehearsal process look like?

So we haven’t gotten together yet to rehearse, just because we’re still working on finishing the music. But Miles and I have been getting together. And that’s been an amazing experience. It’s been really great to spend this time with my brother. We’ve been friends for about 10 years now, and I’ve been a fan of his work for such a long time, so it’s been great to get to work with him.

Basically, what we’ve been doing is going to Ypsilanti and going to different places. We’ve been going to South Adams Street because there’s so much history there visiting some of the churches. We went to the African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County and spent some time with Joyce Hunter (AACHM President and CEO). We’ve been going to different coffee shops and bars, and just walking around in different bookstores like Blackstone, and the Ypsilanti District Library. The library’s also been a huge hub for us, dreaming up what this project could be.

So yeah, that’s what the process is looking like. We have our first rehearsal with the band in the second week of September, and I’m very excited about that. That’s gonna be really great to have everybody in the same room, and start to kind of just get into this music.


Q: Anything else you’d like to share about Sonic Contributions?

I think it’s gonna be an impactful show. No doubt, it’s gonna be an impactful show. It’s already been impactful for me.

You know, just being African American, and working on these stories…when I look back at my own ancestry in my own history, it’s very much tied to these same stories. It’s basically stories of refugees, and so there’s been a lot of healing on my own in my own personal journey. Just kind of working through these, because I haven’t been able to really trace a lot of the stories in my own history. I’m in the process of doing that, and one day I’ll find something. But you know, it’s difficult for us to really pinpoint certain stories of our ancestry. So to kinda be able to dive into these stories and to read about them and to even hear some of the voices, has been a real healing process for me.

So I think that that’s another part of this, too… for people to hear these stories, whether they’re from Ypsilanti or not. This is all of our story, you know, like we all kind of can trace back to this in some way. It’s not just Black history. This is American history. I think that there is an opportunity for some real healing as well for folks.


Experience the world premiere performances of Sonic Contributions: Honoring the Past, Present, and Future of the African American Community in Ypsilanti, MI,  live at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse, September 22-23, 2023. Pay-What-You-Wish tickets are on sale now.

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8 Things You May Not Know About Renée Fleming

Renée Fleming

Renée Fleming is one of the most celebrated and versatile sopranos of our time. She has dazzled audiences for decades with her beautiful voice, expressive artistry, and diverse repertoire, spanning opera, classical music, jazz, and pop.

Her inimitable career has had many exciting and unexpected paths. From her roots as a jazz vocalist in college and singing with muppets on Sesame Street to starring in the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings, discover eight things you may not know about Renée in advance of her much-anticipated return to the Hill Auditorium stage this September:


From Rochester to Salzburg

Renée is the daughter of two music teachers and began music lessons as a young child growing up in Rochester, NY. As a college student, she had success as a jazz vocalist and performed in a trio at a bar off-campus. When asked how jazz shaped her career, she said, “Jazz singing gave me a sense of freedom and helped develop my technique. Because when you’re scat singing with a trio it helps you hone your musicianship and musicality.”

She graduated from the State University of New York at Potsdam with a degree in music education in 1981, then continued her studies at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester and The Juilliard School in New York City. She spent 1984-85 in West Germany on a Fulbright scholarship, where she studied with Arleen Augér and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf before making her professional debut in Salzburg, Austria, in 1986.


Art Inspires Art

Renée’s artistry has inspired a flower, a sculpture, and even jewelry. She was immortalized in bloom in 2004 with the Renée Fleming Iris, an elegant Louisiana Iris created in her honor by award-winning Australian hybridizer Heather Pryor.

The lovely floral tribute to Fleming’s artistry has been replicated in an exquisite porcelain sculpture by Boehm and in a gem-set and diamond Renée Fleming Iris brooch designed by Ann Ziff, former Metropolitan Opera chairwoman, philanthropist, and owner of the jewelry label Tamsen Z.


Celebrating Historic Milestones through Song

Renée has performed at many historic global occasions, such as the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2006 and the Diamond Jubilee Concert for Queen Elizabeth II in 2012.

Her rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Carousel, which she performed at the first inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009, was exceptionally powerful:

She was also the first classical singer to perform the U.S. national anthem at the Super Bowl, in 2014.


How to get to Sesame Street

Renée Fleming joins a pantheon of celebrated classical musicians to appear and perform on the beloved children’s television series Sesame Street.

Renée Fleming on Sesame Street

“Counting Forwards and Backwards” is a Sesame Street song performed by Renée to the tune of “Caro nome” from Verdi’s opera Rigoletto.


From Stage to Silver Screen

Renée Fleming has performed in several movies and TV shows, both as an actress and as a singer. Fleming sang the vocals for “Twilight and Shadow,” a song from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King composed by Howard Shore and written in ‘Sindarin,’ the language invented by J.R.R. Tolkien for the Elves of his Middle-earth.

She curated an opera based on Ann Patchett’s bestselling, soprano-centric novel Bel Canto. Fleming read the book and immediately knew its highly dramatic story would make a perfect opera. She pitched the idea to the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2010 when she became their first-ever creative consultant. Bel Canto the Opera, composed by Jimmy López with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, enjoyed its acclaimed world premiere at the Lyric in 2015 and aired on Great Performances in 2017, hosted by Fleming. The novel was adapted into a 2018 film starring Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe, with Fleming providing the singing voice of Roxane.


Five Grammy Wins

After 18 nominations and four previous wins, Renée received the 2023 Grammy Award for Best Solo Classical Vocal Album for Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin as pianist. The album, featuring a collection of classical songs and specially commissioned world premieres, focused on nature as both the inspiration and the victim of human activity.

Listen to the full album on Apple Music or Spotify.


Exploring Music and Mind

Renée is a leading advocate for the study of powerful connections between the arts and health. She has worked with the National Institutes of Health and other leading organizations to bring attention to research and practice at the intersection of music, health, and neuroscience. In May, Renée was named a Goodwill Ambassador for Arts and Health for the World Health Organization. In June it was announced that she will become a Kennedy Center Honoree this fall.

Renée created a 19-episode Music and Mind Live web series with the Kennedy Center, and will bring a Music and Mind panel discussion to Ann Arbor the day before her Hill Auditorium performance this September.


Cities That Sing

Now in theaters, Renée Fleming’s Cities That Sing is an all-new IMAX movie experience. Filmed specifically for IMAX using IMAX-certified cameras, the series features exclusive performances showcasing Paris and Venice as never before seen through the eyes of one of the world’s greatest opera stars. Stroll along these incredible cities with Renée and explore unique art, history, cuisine, and music!


Renée Fleming & Inon Barnatan

Hear Renée Fleming in recital with pianist Inon Barnatan, Thursday, September 28, 2023 at 7:30 pm in Hill Auditorium.

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Meet the Artists: Nkeiru Okoye’s When the Caged Bird Sings

Fusing elements of oratorio, theater, and opera in a multi-movement musical ceremony, When the Caged Bird Sings draws inspiration from the Black church and celebrates the spirit of rising above expectations and transforming adversity into triumph. Partly in tribute to the activist and poet laureate Maya Angelou, the work celebrates the transformative ability of Black women, commemorating those who have paved a path for future generations in many fields of human endeavor.

When the Caged Bird Sings is presented in collaboration with the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) and was commissioned by SMTD as part of its Michigan Orchestra Repertoire for Equity initiative.

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Meet the composer and performers making their UMS debuts in this world première.

Nkeiru Okoye, music and libretto

Nkeiru Okoye

Composer and lyricist Nkeiru Okoye has been hailed as “gripping” and “evocative” by the New York Times. She composes symphonic, vocal, opera and chamber music. Her genre-bending compositions draw from classical, gospel, folk, jazz, R&B, and African diasporic music, often infused with African American improvisatory techniques. Okoye became a Guggenheim Fellow in 2021 and is the inaugural recipient of the International Society for Florence Price’s composition award. She uses her expertise in African American studies, Women’s studies, and historical research to create works that affirms both traditional and new audiences. Her piece, Dancing Barefoot in the Rain, was immortalized by Carnegie Hall’s CH monogram campaign.

Okoye’s music has been funded by organizations including National Endowment of the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, Opera America, ASCAP, Meet the Composer, and the Yvar Mishakoff Trust for New Music. Her works have been commissioned, performed and presented by Detroit Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, and many others. She has written lyrics, poems and libretti for commissioned works including Love & Longing (the Juilliard School), Inside is What Remains (Tulsa Opera), and We Met at the Symphony (Harlem Chamber Players). Okoye is a native New Yorker of African American and Nigerian heritage. Her music is published exclusively through Theodore Presser.

Janet Hubert, narrator

Janet HubertJanet Hubert was born in Chicago, IL. She is best known for playing Vivian Banks on the hit TV sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Janet attended Juilliard and studied dance with Alvin Ailey and David Howard. She made her Broadway debut in The First and was a member of the original Broadway cast of Cats, where she created the role of Tantomile. However, her most memorable role came in 1990 when she made her TV debut in Fresh Prince. She has since appeared as a guest star on numerous shows, including Gilmore Girls, Friends, The Bernie Mac Show, and Tales from the Crypt. She has also appeared on the Tyler Perry hit, House of Payne. Janet is the ambassador for the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Angela Brown, soprano

Angela BrownAngela Brown personifies the ideal soprano: sheer vocal power; luxurious finesse; and shimmering, high pianissimos. With captivating star power, she unites opera, pop, and gospel in one sensational voice. She has graced the leading opera and symphonic stages on six continents. She is a featured artist on the two-time Grammy Award® winning recording Ask Your Mama and the voice of contemporary African American opera roles of Addie Parker (Daniel Schnyder’s Charlie Parker’s Yardbird) and Cilla (Richard Danielpour’s Margaret Garner) as well as the time-honored roles of Tosca, Aïda, Amelia (Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera), Elisabetta (Verdi’s Don Carlo), and Leonora (Verdi’s Il Trovatore).

While opera is the main catalyst for her career, Angela’s performance experience includes everything from star emcee to producer, recording artist, educator, and podcast host. Angela is the founder of Morning Brown, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to bringing cultural experiences and awareness to historically excluded communities and audiences. The success of her signature show, Opera…from a Sistah’s Point of View provided the momentum and cornerstone for an array of outreach and educational programs that have been presented in 20 USA states.

Christie Dashiell, alto

Christie DashiellBorn in Washington, DC, and raised in Greenville, NC, vocalist and composer Christie Dashiell is a graduate of Howard University and the Manhattan School of Music. At Howard she was a member of Afro-Blue, the university’s premier vocal jazz ensemble and appeared as a member of the group on season 3 of NBC’s The Sing Off.

She is the recipient of DownBeat magazine’s Best College Graduate Jazz Vocalist and Outstanding Soloist awards. Dashiell tours with her own quartet, and has performed with Nancy Wilson, Geri Allen, Allan Harris, Smokey Robinson, Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hammond. She releases her long-awaited second album, Journey in Black in September 2023. 

Issachah Savage, tenor

Issachah SavageAmerican tenor Issachah Savage’s profile was dramatically raised when he swept the boards at Seattle’s International Wagner Competition in 2014, taking the First Prize, Audience Prize and Orchestra Favorite awards. His performance of the last act of Verdi’s Otello, inspired the San Francisco Chronicle to write, “From his opening notes — impeccably shaded and coiled with repressed fury — to the opera’s final explosion of grief and shame, Savage sang with a combination of power and finesse that is rare to observe.”

Equally at home on the concert platform, Issachah Savage has a wide repertoire that includes mainstay works such as Beethoven’s Symphony No.9, Verdi’s Requiem, Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, and Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder alongside less-frequently performed pieces like Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, Weill’s Lost in the Stars, and Gershwin’s Blue Monday

Issachah Savage has received a number of prestigious awards, recognition, and career grants from institutions including the Wagner Societies of New York, Washington DC, and Northern California; the Licia Albanese International Puccini Foundation; and the Olga Forrai and Gerda Lissner Foundations. He was honored in the early stages of his career development as the first ever “Scholar Artist” of the Marian Anderson Society of Philadelphia.

Jubilant Sykes, baritone

Jubilant SykesPerhaps no vocalist of our time possesses a more exquisitely versatile instrument than the American baritone Jubilant Sykes. Known for bringing a unique dimension to the traditional career of a classically trained vocalist, Sykes draws on gospel, jazz, and folk influences to deliver performances across multiple musical genres. His unique gifts have taken him to hundreds of stages around the world, performing with a number of the world’s finest orchestras and conductors.

The Grammy nominated baritone was named “Editor’s Choice” by Gramophone for his recording of Leonard Bernstein‘s Mass. He made his film debut in the movie Freedom playing the African slave Ozias. He later played the lead in Breath and Imagination by Daniel Beaty, a play about the life of Roland Hayes produced at Hartford Stage. At New York City Center, he portrayed Pompey in the musical Bloomer Girl and Henry Richard Lee in the musical 1776. In late 2023, he will appear in the suspense/thriller Fin. Jubilant resides in southern California with his wife Cecelia and their three sons.


Office of the President Arts Initiative

The Origins of Shakti

Shakti World Tour artists

If you are a fan of fusion music, you probably have heard of Shakti, the groundbreaking band that blended Indian classical music with jazz and rock. But do you know how this band came to be, and why their upcoming performance in Ann Arbor is a rare and special opportunity to witness musical history?

Shakti was formed in 1973 by John McLaughlin, a British guitarist who had already made a name for himself as a pioneer of jazz fusion with Miles Davis and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. McLaughlin was fascinated by Indian music and spirituality, and he met Zakir Hussain, a young tabla prodigy who was the son of the legendary Ustad Alla Rakha, Ravi Shankar’s longtime accompanist. The two musicians felt an instant connection and started to jam together, exploring the possibilities of combining their musical traditions.

McLaughlin decided to leave the Mahavishnu Orchestra and form a new band with Hussain, violinist L. Shankar, and ghatam player T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram. They called themselves Shakti, which means “divine energy” or “power” in Sanskrit. The band played acoustic instruments and created a unique sound that was both complex and captivating, blending intricate rhythms, melodies, and improvisations.

McLaughlin speaks about “innate nature of Joy” of the ensemble in this brief promo video:

Shakti recorded three studio albums and one live album between 1975 and 1977, and toured extensively around the world. They received critical acclaim and influenced many musicians who followed their footsteps in creating cross-cultural musical fusions.

Shakti reunited in 1997 for concerts in India, with Vinayakram’s son, V. Selvaganesh, replacing him on percussion. Since then, Shakti has introduced two new members, vocalist Shankar Mahadevan and violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan, to join the original duo of McLaughlin and Hussain.

Now in 2023, Shakti is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a new studio album called This Moment, which features eight new compositions by McLaughlin and Hussain. The album showcases the band’s evolution and maturity over the decades, while retaining their original spirit and vision. The album also features guest appearances by Jerry Douglas on dobro, Béla Fleck on banjo, Edgar Meyer on bass, Jordan Rudess on keyboards, and Jeff Coffin on saxophone.

As he shares in this video, Hussain describes the ensemble as “the only group where anything goes, musically…”

To mark their 50th Anniversary milestone, Shakti is embarking on a world tour that will bring them to various cities in Europe, Asia, and North America. One of their stops — in fact, their only Michigan appearance — is here in Ann Arbor, where they will perform at Hill Auditorium on September 14 with very special guest, Béla Fleck. This is a rare chance to see Shakti live in action, as they have not toured in the U.S. since 2007!

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Must-See Events in September and October

From the powerhouse opening week performances in Hill Auditorium to our DruidO’Casey theater immersion at the Power Center, UMS’s 23/24 Season kicks off with something for everyone! Preview (and get tickets to) these six events in September and October:

Snarky Puppy

Snarky PuppySun Sep 10 at 4 pm // Hill Auditorium

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Performing songs from their 2023 Grammy-winning album Empire Central, the genre-defying super-band Snarky Puppy returns to Ann Arbor for its third UMS appearance and its first since 2019.

Led by Michael League on bass, Snarky Puppy was formed in 2004 by 10 friends who were enrolled in the jazz program at the University of North Texas. With 13 albums in 18 years that have garnered four Grammy Awards, Snarky Puppy has attracted international fandom for its detailed arrangements of fetching melodies, texturally layered harmonies, exciting solos, ear-candy synth effects, and propulsive beats.



Shakti 50th Anniversary Tour

ShaktiThu Sep 14 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium

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Following the Summer 2023 release of This Moment – their first new studio album in 46 years – revolutionary ensemble Shakti continues to discover and explore the musical common ground bridging East and West.

Born in the mid-1970s out of the deep artistic and spiritual connection bonding British guitarist John McLaughlin and Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, Shakti’s cross-cultural musical conversation dissolved boundaries with uncommon passion, grace, and dexterity, awakening subsequent generations of musicians to the possibilities of new creative approaches in the process.

Alongside McLaughlin and Hussain, today’s Shakti features vocalist Shankar Mahadevan, violinist Ganesh Rajagopalan, and percussionist Selvaganesh Vinayakram (son of original Shakti ghatam player T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram). Joining Shakti will be another performer dedicated to intermingling and transcending genres: banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck, who will open the performances with a solo set.



Renée Fleming and Inon Barnatan

Renée Fleming & Inon Barnatan
Thu Sep 28, 2023 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium

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One of the most highly acclaimed singers of our time, Renée Fleming returns to Hill Auditorium for the first time since 2011 in a recital with pianist Inon Barnatan. Her most recent recording, Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene, which focused on nature as both inspiration and casualty of humans, was awarded the 2023 Grammy for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album.

Outside of her singing career, Fleming has become a leading advocate for research at the intersection of arts, health, and neuroscience, launching a collaboration between the Kennedy Center and the National Institutes for Health and exploring the power of music as it relates to health and the brain. In May 2023, the World Health Organization named her a Goodwill Ambassador for Arts and Health. We look forward to further exploration of her Music and the Mind initiative during her time in Ann Arbor.


Jerusalem Quartet and Inon Barnatan

Jerusalem Quartet
Thu Oct 5, 2023 at 7:30 pm // Rackham Auditorium

More Info & Tickets

After a week-long residency following his performance with Renée Fleming, pianist Inon Barnatan collaborates with the Jerusalem Quartet in their first UMS appearance in five years, performing Dvořák’s sublime Piano Quintet with the ensemble. The Jerusalem Quartet will also perform string quartets by composer Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984) and Haydn.

Founded in 1993, the quartet’s wide repertoire and stunning depth of expression carries on the string quartet tradition with its warm, full, human sound.



The Plough and the StarsOct 18 – 21 // Three Plays in the Power Center

More Info & Tickets

A century ago, Ireland was reborn in the fires of rebellion and war. The playwright Sean O’Casey bore witness to these seismic events and dramatized them as the Dublin Trilogy, three great works of Irish theater full of history, humanity, and humor, all written in the immediate aftermath of the tumultuous period.

Druid will weave O’Casey’s three plays — The Plough and the Stars, The Shadow of a Gunman, and Juno and the Paycock — into an epic theatrical event of conflict, national identity, and the human toll of war: DruidO’Casey. The three plays will be presented in only two US cities — New York and Ann Arbor.

Directed by Tony Award winner Garry Hynes, a single company of 18 actors will perform all three plays, drawing parallels between an Irish past and an international present. Each play will be presented twice in Ann Arbor, with the opportunity to view each work individually, across the week, or as a single immersive experience. Experience one play, or experience them all!


Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería

Orquesta Sinfónica de MineríaFri Oct 27, 2023 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium

More Info & Tickets

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.

September Events at the Freighthouse

Behind the Scenes: How Oxford Companies Helped Bring ‘The Plastic Bag Store’ To Life

777 Building

Exterior of ‘The 777 Building,’ which hosted 40+ performances of ‘The Plastic Bag Store’ from Jan 17 – Feb 5, 2023.

More and more theater makers are creating site-specific work and work for unconventional spaces. So what do you do when one of the most poignant and impactful works on the season needs a custom-designed space? You turn to the community for help.

On a warm September evening in 2022, Oxford Companies President and CEO Jeff Hauptman (LSA ’92) and his wife, Melissa, were sitting in the back row of an event at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). University of Michigan Vice President for Development Tom Baird interviewed UMS President Matthew VanBesien and UMMA Director Christina Olsen about upcoming performances and exhibitions. The two had been talking about a fascinating project on which UMS, UMMA, the U-M Graham Sustainability Institute, and the U-M Arts Initiative were collaborating as part of UMS’s No Safety Net 3.0 festival, which was also sponsored by the U-M College of Literature, Science & the Arts: Robin Frohardt’s The Plastic Bag Store, an art installation and immersive film experience that uses humor and craft to question the enduring effects of single-use plastics. At the end of their remarks, with the audience leaning in and wanting to learn more, Baird asked where the installation and performance would take place. VanBesien admitted we didn’t yet have a venue, because of the unique needs of the project. Hauptman raised his hand and said, “I can help.”

Robin Frohardt, the Brooklyn-based creator of The Plastic Bag Store, came out to Ann Arbor in October to tour several possible sites for the installation. Oxford’s flagship 777 Building happened to have a vacant space on the main floor that fit the bill. UMS Production Director Ryan Graves and Oxford Companies’ Chief Real Estate Officer Wonwoo Lee immediately got to work on plans to build out what was essentially a raw construction site and load in the art installation in time for the show’s Ann Arbor premiere on January 17. However, the logistical challenges in bringing the installation to fruition were profound.

Vacant first floor space of the 777 Building.

Vacant first floor space of the 777 Building.

As Graves explained, “Moving a production from one theatrical venue to another typically requires adapting measurements and scale within the new structure. Moving and adapting a site-specific, storefront theatrical experience required the management of significantly more variables. In this case, we were converting a raw, non-theatrical restaurant space into a grocery store – and we would only have one week in which to do it once Robin and her team landed in Ann Arbor. Lighting, audio, power, video, and overall scenic designs all had to be customized to preserve the artistic direction of the performance, while following multiple safety measures and the physical parameters of the space.”

Right after Thanksgiving, Oxford learned from the Fire Marshall that the art installation itself used certain materials in such a way that would require significant fire safety upgrades as well as modifications to the sets. It was unexpected news for both the presenting partners and Oxford, and ripples travel fast in this city. Almost immediately, many parties from across the City of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan sprang into action to bring this project to life.

As Mayor Christopher Taylor stated, “The City of Ann Arbor has long recognized the harmful effects of single-use plastics on our environment. In fact, our A2ZERO initiative to be Carbon Neutral by 2030 includes a goal of moving toward a circular economy by changing the way we use, reuse, and dispose of materials – including single-use plastics. The Plastic Bag Store was an incredibly clever, unique way to raise awareness among our citizens of just how much plastic is used in packaged foods, and how long it will linger on our planet. We all wanted to do everything we could to see this installation come to life for the educational benefits it provided to our residents.”

Now, all parties were locked in a delicate balancing act of maintaining artistic intent while meeting code and flammability requirements.

Lee acted quickly, assembled the team of architects and contractors at Oxford, and contacted colleagues at the City of Ann Arbor. Architect Caleb Marquard worked with the Ann Arbor plan review team who dropped what they were doing to move the project forward with tremendous patience and poise. Marquard also worked with the City’s Building Department to secure permits in less than one week.

The Oxford team provided architectural services, modified sprinkler heads, pull-station alarms, emergency lighting, fireproofing, installation of electrical panels and access controls, Unistrut beam systems to hang theatrical lighting and sound for the show, floor repairs, HVAC zoning and duct modifications for the space, clean-up, and general maintenance – in all, about $90,000 of improvements to the raw space. Typically, this takes at least several months to execute. Oxford’s team completed everything in just nine days during the holiday season.

Graves elaborated, noting “Creativity was essential to satisfy Robin’s vision while working in tandem with inspectors, contractors, stagehands, and non-theatrical experienced stakeholders. This was a complex orchestration that required many to work in sync and mutually learn and flex along the way. I have to give immense credit to my supportive and creative partner at Oxford, Wonwoo Lee. We spoke daily and creatively shifted our planning with every curveball to bring this production to Ann Arbor audiences. Without his commitment and passion, this project would not have been possible.”

The City’s building inspectors came out on a moment’s notice, as soon as we were ready and at the last possible minute, to keep things on track – which is a testament to the City’s understanding of the importance of this project to all parties.

Installation on 'The Plastic Bag Store' begins

Installation begins on ‘The Plastic Bag Store’

As U-M President Santa Ono explained, “The arts have a unique ability to make us see our world in new and different ways. The Plastic Bag Store installation was a great example of that, a fantastic opportunity for multiple areas of expertise across the University of Michigan to collaborate in opening eyes and finding solutions for the climate crisis, one of the greatest challenges of our time.”

From meeting delivery requirements on weekends and evenings, to working with city officials and inspectors to comply and exceed safety standards, Oxford demonstrated its commitment to the arts as a key driver of quality of life in our community through exceptional efforts to bring The Plastic Bag Store to Ann Arbor.

“Bringing The Plastic Bag Store event/exhibit to the 777 Building and working closely with the world-class UMS team was an honor, and we were thrilled to host it in our headquarters building.” Jeff Hauptman, President and CEO, Oxford Companies. “We believe that the State and Eisenhower Corridor is a currently under-utilized, high-potential area of our city that can and should be home to more cultural and artistic events and organizations.”

VanBesien noted, “There really is a certain magic to creating live performing arts experiences. If all goes well, nobody notices, or even thinks about, what it took to get a show onto the stage. In this case, it took nothing short of herculean efforts by a huge team of experts from across the University, the City of Ann Arbor, and our amazing community partners at Oxford – and not least because of our project partners at UMMA, the Graham Institute for Sustainability, and the U-M Arts Initiative. This was a true town-gown effort for which we are immensely grateful. We couldn’t be more proud of the results.”


The Plastic Bag Store was funded in part by many sponsors, including the College of Literature, Science & the Arts, Rachel and Mark Bernstein, Max Wicha and Sheila Crowley, the University of Michigan Credit Union’s Arts Adventures program, Destination Ann Arbor, the Ilene H. Forsyth Theater Endowment Fund, and an anonymous gift supporting programming focused on a sustainable environment.

Michigan students attending The Plastic Bag Store

Michigan students attending ‘The Plastic Bag Store.’

Meet UMS’s New Board Leadership

Brian Willen, Christina Kim, and Matthew VanBesien

UMS Board Co-Chairs Brian Willen and Christina Kim, with UMS president Matthew VanBesien

UMS is pleased to welcome new Board members and officers, all of whom were elected at the annual meeting of the Board of Directors on June 13. New officers for the 2023/24 season include co-chairs Christina Kim and Brian Willen, vice chair Rob VanRenterghem, treasurer Timothy G. Marshall, and secretary Karen Chapell.

UMS Board Leadership

Clockwise from upper left: Brian Willen, Rob VanRenterghem, Matthew VanBesien, Timothy G. Marshall, Christina Kim, and Karen Chapell.

Kim, who was first elected to the Board in 2016, is a financial advisor with Edward Jones Investments and has a long history with UMS and organizations that provide support and enrichment for youth. Willen, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati who is now based in New York, joined the Board in 2018, along with Marshall, who has served as president and CEO of Bank of Ann Arbor since 2004 and was recently named Banker of the Year by the Michigan Bankers Association.

VanRenterghem, a business strategist and co-founder of Signal 7 Wines, has been involved with UMS since 2017, and Chapell, a managing partner at Retirement Income Solutions, was first elected to the Board in 2021.


Rachel Bendit giving preconcert remarks

Rachel Bendit gives pre-performance remarks before Trevor Noah’s debut in Hill Auditorium.

At the Annual Meeting, UMS also recognized departing chair Rachel Bendit, an attorney, and mediator who served on the Board from 2012-20 and has been co-chair of UMS’s National Council. She has served as UMS Board Chair this previous year, and was elected as co-chair with Dr. Lisa Cook in 2020. Bendit first attended a UMS performance in the 1990s while an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan and has devoted herself and her energies to UMS with passion, care, and deep conviction. Her near-perfect attendance at UMS performances alone demonstrated her commitment, but more importantly, her presence and attention were always paired with energy, ideas, her incredible network, and boundless aspirations for what UMS can do and can be.

Bendit will join Tim Petersen as a co-chair of UMS’s forthcoming Campaign Council, and will continue as a Board member until her term expires in 2029.

Five new Board members were elected to four-year terms: Keith Dickey, Chief Strategy Officer for Michigan Medicine; David Leichtman, Managing Partner of Leichtman Law PLLC; Elizabeth Birr Moje, Dean, George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Education, and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Literacy, Language, and Culture in the University of Michigan Marsal Family School of Education; Rishi Narayan, an entrepreneur and founder of Underground Printing; and Eli Saulson, a real estate investor who also serves as a director of the William Davidson Foundation. In addition, Michael Martin was elected to a second four-year term.



UMS Staff Spotlight: Maddy Wildman and ‘slapslap’

Maddy Wildman joined UMS in 2019 as our University Programs Manager upon her graduation from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, where she majored in bassoon performance.

She is also a member of the Michigan-based band slapslap! Having been described as “sitting somewhere between creative improv, up-tempo dance music, post-funk, and performance art” or “somewhere between BADBADNOTGOOD and The Wiggles,” slapslap consists of two electric bassoon players, Ezra Gans and Maddy Wildman, and two percussionists, Cameron Wilson and Tanner Tanyeri — all of whom are U-M SMTD alumni.

slapslap just released their second EP album, Bad Idea, Good Execution, which features original music as well as musical skits representing their more whimsical, theatrical output…

Learn to dance along to the hottest new dance craze: the “slap on 3.” This music video features cameo dance performances from current UMS Development Administrative Assistant Justine Sedky and former UMS Patron Services Assistant Jane Rogers. From Maddy: “‘slap on 3’ was frantically composed an hour before playing a house show in 2020. It hasn’t really changed since then, and we love the frantic, silly energy that it brings to our shows every time we lead the audience through the moves!”

The lead single, “Live, Slap, Love” is informed by the modern tradition of vapid motivational phrases as seen in HomeGoods and TJ Maxx. From Maddy: “This track started as an attempt to create something like psychedelic rock, in particular inspired by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, but it evolved into its own slappy identity. With distinct live, slap, and love sections, we love how this track surprises audiences every time we play it.”

Listen to slapslap’s EP, Bad Idea, Good Execution, on Bandcamp, Apple Music, and Spotify.

Fans can purchase the album on Bandcamp or purchase CDs at their upcoming June 15 performance at Ann Arbor Summerfest. slapslap plans to release more media in the coming months in conjunction with the album, including an upcoming music video. Follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok for the freshest slaps!

Classical Superstars Returning to UMS

In addition to the extraordinary artists making their Ann Arbor debuts in the new 23/24 season, UMS is thrilled to welcome back some of the most celebrated soloists and ensembles in the classical music world. Preview eight spectacular programs that are part of our Choral Union and Chamber Arts series:

Renée Fleming and Inon Barnatan

Renée Fleming & Inon Barnatan
Thu Sep 28, 2023 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium
Related Series: Choral Union | Series:You | Marathon

One of the most highly acclaimed singers of our time, Renée Fleming returns to Hill Auditorium for the first time since 2011 in a recital with pianist Inon Barnatan. Her most recent recording, Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene, which focused on nature as both inspiration and casualty of humans, was awarded the 2023 Grammy for Best Classical Solo Vocal Album.

Outside of her singing career, Fleming has become a leading advocate for research at the intersection of arts, health, and neuroscience, launching a collaboration between the Kennedy Center and the National Institutes for Health and exploring the power of music as it relates to health and the brain. In May 2023, the World Health Organization named her a Goodwill Ambassador for Arts and Health. We look forward to further exploration of her Music and the Mind initiative during her time in Ann Arbor.


Jerusalem Quartet and Inon Barnatan

Jerusalem Quartet
Thu Oct 5, 2023 at 7:30 pm // Rackham Auditorium
Related Series: Chamber Arts | Series:You | Marathon

After a week-long residency following his performance with Renée Fleming, pianist Inon Barnatan collaborates with the Jerusalem Quartet in their first UMS appearance in five years, performing Dvořák’s sublime Piano Quintet with the ensemble. The Jerusalem Quartet will also perform string quartets by composer Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984) and Haydn.

Founded in 1993, the quartet’s wide repertoire and stunning depth of expression carries on the string quartet tradition with its warm, full, human sound.


Maxim Vengerov

Maxim Vengerov
Sun Nov 26, 2023 at 4 pm // Hill Auditorium
Related Series: Choral Union | Series:You | Marathon

Maxim Vengerov is considered one of the greatest violinists of all time and “seems instinctively to understand what makes the music go.” (The Washington Post) By marrying a flawless technique acquired early in life to broad musical curiosity, his radiant and dramatic interpretations, the intensity of his sound, and the exuberant musicality of his playing are rooted in great tradition.

With his public debut at the age of 5 and a performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto at age 7, Vengerov’s career has been marked by dozens of awards, honors, and recordings. His recital program on Thanksgiving weekend will be a musical treat the family can enjoy, featuring works by Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schuman, and Sergei Prokofiev, accompanied by pianist Polina Osetinskaya.


Jean-Yves Thibaudet & Michaael Feinstein

Michael Feinstein and Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Sun Dec 10, 2023 at 4 pm // Hill Auditorium
Related Series: Choral Union | Series:You | Marathon

Following his performance in a star-studded evening with Itzhak Perlman last season, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet joins forces with Michael Feinstein, one of the leading authorities on the Great American Songbook.

Together they present an innovative program for two pianos that celebrates the music of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and more — with Gershwin’s beloved Rhapsody in Blue as a centerpiece, performed just a couple of months before the 100th anniversary of the work’s premiere. Who could ask for anything more?!


Emanuel Ax / Leonidas Kavakos / Yo-Yo Ma

Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma
Tue Jan 30, 2024 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium
Related Series: Choral Union | Series:You | Marathon

A classical superstar trio — pianist Emanuel Ax, violinist Leonidas Kavakos, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma — returns to the Hill Auditorium stage with an all-Beethoven program, with works originally written for piano trio as well as an arrangement of one of Beethoven’s iconic symphonies.

Their “Beethoven for Three” series of concerts and recordings have garnered tremendous acclaim for their intimate arrangements, “with each player kindling immediate responses from his colleagues. … Chamber music doesn’t get any better than this.” (Chicago Tribune)


Orchestre de Paris

Klaus Mäkelä
Thu Mar 14, 2024 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium
Related Series: Choral Union | Series:You | Marathon

After a 20+ year absence, the world-renowned Orchestre de Paris makes a triumphant return to Hill Auditorium, with two of the most sought-after young artists in the world making their UMS debuts!

At only 27, conductor Klaus Mäkelä is already chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic, music director of the Orchestre de Paris, and artistic partner of the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. He leads the orchestra in Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Stravinsky’s complete Firebird, plus Prokoviev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 performed by 2022 Van Cliburn winner Yunchan Lim. The 18-year-old’s ascent to international stardom has been meteoric; he is the youngest person to win gold at the Van Cliburn Competition and also won both the Audience Award and the award for Best Performance of a New Work.


The Philadelphia Orchestra in Two Programs

Apr 20-21, 2024 // Hill Auditorium
Related Series: Choral Union | Series:You | Marathon

In his 12th year as music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin has created a new golden age for the ensemble, and we’re thrilled to close our 2023/24 season with two performances by the Orchestra.

Saturday night’s program features Rachmaninoff’s warm and melodious Symphony No. 2, and Florence Price’s Symphony No. 4, which incorporates melodies from spirituals and a beautifully-orchestrated theme from “Wade in the Water.” The orchestra’s Grammy-winning album of Price’s first and third symphonies (2022 “Best Orchestral Performance”) helped spark enthusiastic global interest in the Arkansas-born composer.

Sunday afternoon’s season finale puts the mighty UMS Choral Union on display, with Johannes Brahms’s German Requiem.

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

Orquesta Sinfónica de MineríaFri Oct 27, 2023 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium
Related Series: Choral Union | Series:You | Marathon

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

Akropolis Reed QuintetSun Nov 12, 2023 at 4 pm // Rackham Auditorium
Related Series: Chamber Arts | Series:You | Marathon

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

Nkeiru OkoyeSat Feb 10, 2024 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium
Related Series: Choral Union | Series:You | Marathon

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.


James Ehnes

James EhnesFri Feb 16, 2024 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium
Related Series: Chamber Arts | Series:You | Marathon

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.


Isidore Quartet

Isidore QuartetSun Mar 10, 2024 at 4 pm // Rackham Auditorium
Related Series: Chamber Arts | Series:You | Marathon

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.

Favorite Moments from the Freighthouse

In April 2023, UMS piloted a week of arts programming at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse, in advance of a new four-week residency that will take place at the historic Depot Town venue each Fall and Spring. The pilot week included nine unique programs — all free or Pay What You Wish — and brought together multi-generational audiences from Ypsilanti and beyond.

We were beyond thrilled by the enthusiasm and energy from artists and audiences alike at every event! Here is a look back at some of our most memorable moments:

A Community Sing Kick-Off

There was no better way to start our residency than with Come Together: An Evening of Community and Song, led by Dr. Brandon Waddles and professional singers from Ypsilanti and Detroit. They invited audience members of all ages to join them in songs by The Beatles, Bob Marley, and more!


Breaking it Down

Breakdancing Workshop at the Freighthouse
Families and K-12 students participated in interactive breakdancing and art-making workshops, led by Maurice Archer and Curtis Wallace.


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A Sensational Saxophone Trio

Kaleigh Wilder Trio
Rising baritone saxophonist Kaleigh Wilder brought original compositions and improvisations to the Freighthouse, joined by Jaribu Shahid on bass and Ben Hall on percussion. They filmed a digital-exclusive UMS Live Session (which will be released online later in the Summer), and performed a captivating evening of music accompanied by dancer Alexandria Davis.

Sign up to our Digital Presentations Interest List for a reminder when the Live Session becomes available.


A Garden of Sound

The Regenerate Orchestra
More than 60 local musicians of all ages and backgrounds came together in a performance by The Regenerate Orchestra. Regenerate director Clay Gonzalez wrote and arranged sonic immersions and soundscapes for the group’s specific instrumentation, and invited audience members to walk around and explore the lush, different sonorities throughout the evening.


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Movement and Healing

Reconnecting Currents: A Healing at the Huron
Dancer, educator, and Kresge Gilda Award Recipient Marsae Lynette invited the community to reconnect with freshwater sources and engage in rituals of reconnection. The evening included a film viewing, dance performance, and a poignant processional to the Huron River at sunset.


The Stage is Yours

Rochelle Clark and Jason Dennie
Ypsilanti resident and singer/songwriter Rochelle Clark hosted an Open Mic night, showcasing the outstanding talents and creativity of our local community — from an original poetry reading to an acoustic cover of Bad Bunny!


Dancing the Night Away

The lights dimmed and chairs cleared right after our Open Mic concluded, opening up a dance floor to an electrifying DJ set by Ypsilanti-based artist Todd Osborn.


Light and Shadow

Detroit Puppet Company workshop
Our second workshop for families invited children ages four and up to participate in Detroit Puppet Company’s presentation of The Carnival of the Animals. The series of shadow puppet scenes depicting different members of the animal kingdom, all set to music by composer Camille Saint-Saëns, was followed by a crafting session where participants could try out their shadow puppetry skills.


Welcoming Local Students

K-12 Student workshop at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse
Over the course of the week, more than 200 students from local schools participated in daytime K-12 workshops at the Freighthouse.

A Sophisticated Send-Off

John E Lawrence and the Power Band
Nearly 200 guests at the Freighthouse joined our closing performance by guitarist and lifelong Ypsilanti resident John E. Lawrence and The Power Band, who took the stage for an evening of jazz.

Thank you to all who participated in our pilot week at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse! We cannot wait to build on this momentum for an extended residency this September. Sign up for our interest list for a reminder when full details are announced in July.

Thank You to Our Residency Supporters

The Ypsilanti Freighthouse residency is made possible by Menakka and Essel Bailey, Helga and Jerry Bilik, and Matt and Nicole Lester.

Funded in Part by

Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan

Meet the 2023/24 Season 21st Century Artist Interns

Each year, UMS and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance pair students with an internship working with dance, theater, and music ensembles in the forefront of their fields.

The 21st Century Artist Internship is a highly competitive program developed to prepare students for new demands that working artists face in the contemporary marketplace.

This summer, interns will develop industry contacts, hands-on work experience, and deep connections with internationally recognized performing artists. And upon their return to campus, the interns continue their work via a one-credit independent study where they serve as campus ambassadors, educators, and marketers to support their respective artists during their visit to Ann Arbor in UMS’s 2023/24 season.

The 21st Century Artist Internship program is made possible in part by Tim and Sally Petersen.

This Year’s Interns

Matthew EggersMatthew Eggers

Class of ’24
Major: Theater Design and Production
Placement: Javaad Alipoor Company (Manchester, England & Edinburgh, Scotland)

Related UMS Performances
Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World
Nov 15-18, 2023 // Arthur Miller Theatre

Matthew Eggers is a theater artist currently working as a BFA candidate at the University of Michigan in Theater Design and Production. They are a Queer artist that loves to explore the intersection of performance, design, and community. Trained as a Costume Designer, they have picked up skills from scenic, lighting, and stage management during their time at the University. Although they could do a whip stitch at a moment’s notice, they could also just as easily daisy chain DMX, lay a floor of Marley, and run a production meeting in a lighthearted manner.

They are currently the Artistic Director of Basement Arts, a student-run theater company geared towards community-centered theater at the University. They have previously held the position of Late Night Coordinator, creating engaging events to celebrate art, identity, and life. Outside of theater, they are a journalist and editor, specifically in the arts. In 2021 they were selected as the O’Neill Theater Journalism Fellow at the National Kennedy Center American College Theater Conference and joined the National Critics Institute 2021 class at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Currently, they are a Senior Newsletter Editor at the Michigan Daily.


Sasha GusikhinAlexandra (Sasha) Gusikhin

Class of ’25
Major: Voice Performance and Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience (BCN)
Placement: The Philadelphia Orchestra (Philadelphia, PA & Saratoga Springs, NY)

Related UMS Performances
The Philadelphia Orchestra
April 20-21, 2024 // Hill Auditorium

Sasha Gusikhin (she/her) is a dual degree student from Commerce Township, MI, studying voice performance with Professor Caitlin Lynch and biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience (BCN) at the College of LSA. She is passionate about using music and performing arts events as mobilizing agents to facilitate tangible action, community engagement, and holistic healing through inter-audience connection. She is currently the co-executive director of the Aphasia Community Friendship Center, where she works to fuse neuroscience and music to foster language recovery in a safe environment for persons with communication disorders.

Sasha’s passion for event production was ignited when she conceived and co-produced the Benefit Concert for Ukraine (2022) at the First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, where she also serves as an alto soloist and section leader. Later that year, she co-produced the mental health-centered YES GALA at the Michigan Theater with Express Your Yes Foundation in collaboration with six local nonprofit organizations and over 40 community performers. At U-M, she has produced Boys in the Band with In the Round, a student theater organization dedicated to providing a safe space for queer stories and storytellers. Sasha hopes to apply her education to cultivate powerful and neurologically-informed experiences of community healing through the arts.


Kate KlassaKatherine (Kate) Klassa

Class of ’24
Major: Organizational Studies and Theater Arts
Minor: Dance
Placement: Martha Graham Dance Company (New York City, NY)

Related UMS Performances
Martha Graham Dance Company
Feb 17-18, 2024 // Power Center

Kate Klassa (she/her), from Dearborn Heights, MI, is a junior at the University of Michigan pursuing degrees in Organizational Studies and Theater Arts with a minor in Dance. She hopes to continue down the path of performing arts management and arts organizing as she is passionate about expanding the reach of art to new communities and audiences. Kate is not only an administrator, but she is also an artist and an educator in dance. She has been dancing since the age of 4 and continues to perform with her lyrical and jazz dance group at her university. As a teacher at local dance studios in her hometown and now her college town of Ann Arbor, she is dedicated to building community and empowering dancers to make connections within themselves, their bodies, and others in the classroom.

Outside of her love for dance, she has become drawn into the worlds of theater and musical theater in recent years while volunteering for run crew and ushering for student groups and university productions at U-M. Kate found that musical theater combines her love for music and movement and storytelling and pushed her to pursue her current role as a producer of musical theater productions through MUSKET, a student organization on campus. As she moves into the professional art world, she hopes to intertwine her experiences within the performing arts community and use this knowledge to inspire further change toward creating a more equitable and just, arts-filled society.


Emilia VizacheroEmilia Vizachero

Class of ’24
Major: Acting
Minor: Community Action for Social Change
Placement: Druid Theatre (Galway, Ireland)

Related UMS Performances
Druid O’Casey
Oct 18-21, 2023 // Power Center

Emilia Vizachero (they/she) is an actor, writer, educator, and community organizer from Baltimore, MD. Introduced to theater at a young age, they have always had a fascination with the transformative power of the performing arts and their ability to spark dialogue. Their first forays into arts activism began during their years at Baltimore School for the Arts, where they served as editor of a youth-led feminist collective that published zines biannually. They produced and directed Lauren Gunderson’s play Natural Shocks to raise funds for Everytown for Gun Safety, led theater workshops at local retirement homes, and wrote scenes to raise awareness about conscientious objection to war.

At the University of Michigan, Emilia continues their work exploring the intersection of storytelling and social justice. While pursuing a BFA in Acting and a minor in Community Action for Social Change, Emilia has staged plays to raise awareness for various social issues, devised performance pieces to call attention to misogyny, and written one-acts, most notably Simple Verses In Technicolor, which explores the queer experience. They have also been an active member of the Theater department by participating in the Season Selection Advisory Committee (crafting a diverse, student-focused production season) and the Accountability Team (strategizing ways to uphold standards of equity in the department).

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