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Giving Florence Price Her Flowers

Much of the composer’s work was forgotten or lost. Now she’s starting to receive the recognition she deserves.

Born in Arkansas in 1887, Florence Price was the first African-American woman composer to have her work performed by a major orchestra. Her Symphony No. 1 in e minor caught the attention of conductor Frederick Stock after it won first prize in the Rodman Wanamaker Competition. Stock premiered the work with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933 as part of the Chicago World’s Fair exhibition. Price’s harmonic writing and arresting orchestration prompted the Chicago Daily News to declare it “a faultless work, a work that speaks its own message with restraint and yet with passion,” and “worthy of a place in the regular symphonic repertory.”

Price composed over 300 works, including four symphonies, four concertos, and chamber, choral, piano, and organ pieces. Her music is often influenced by folk music, church hymns, and spirituals. As music historian A. Kori Hill describes, “Hers was a conscientious practice of close study and subtle innovation in a style that incorporated African American folk idioms in Western classical forms. Price’s aesthetic…made her a central figure in the classical arena of the Black Chicago Renaissance.” She was also well-known for her arrangements of Spirituals. Contralto Marian Anderson concluded her landmark 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial with Price’s arrangement of “My Soul’s Been Anchored in De Lord,” a work she also used to close her UMS recital debut in 1937 and her appearance with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1938.

“I have two handicaps — those of sex and race.”

Price often struggled to get her music performed because of discrimination. In a 1943 letter to Serge Koussevitzky, music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, she famously wrote, “To begin with, I have two handicaps — those of sex and race. I am a woman; and I have some Negro blood in my veins. I should like to be judged on merit alone.” He declined to program her music. While her work remained celebrated in music programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, it largely disappeared from the classical scene following her death in 1953.

However, a 2009 discovery sparked new interest in the composer. An estimated 200 manuscripts were found in her abandoned Chicago home. These works, previously thought to be lost, included her fourth symphony and two violin concertos. This revelation prompted major cultural institutions to reexamine the composer and her work.

The Philadelphia Orchestra and music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin have championed Florence Price in their repertoire, breathing new life into her compositions with a commitment to record her works. Their 2021 album of Price’s first and third symphonies received the Grammy Award for “Best Orchestral Performance.”

In response to the win, Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin declared:

“Though we can’t erase the prejudices of the past, we can work together to build a more equitable future for classical music — one in which all voices are heard, where everyone sees themselves on our stages, and where artists like Florence do not fade into obscurity. It is our hope that Florence Price becomes a staple in the classical music canon and that recordings of her works will be GRAMMY contenders — and winners — for many years to come.”

The Philadelphia Orchestra now brings Price’s majestic Fourth Symphony, which was never performed in her lifetime, to Hill Auditorium on Saturday, April 20, 2024. Tickets start at just $14, and $12-20 student tickets are available.

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Preview and stream Florence Price’s majestic Symphony No. 4 in The Philadelphia Orchestra’s latest recording on Apple Music or Spotify.

Meet the Debuting Soloists in Brahms’s German Requiem

UMS’s 23/24 season comes to a triumphant end on April 21 with a performance of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem). Hill Auditorium will be packed with more than 200 performers on stage, featuring the return of The Philadelphia Orchestra with music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the full might of the UMS Choral Union, and two phenomenal singers making their UMS debuts. Meet soprano Ying Fang and baritone Will Liverman:

 

Ying Fang, sopranoYing Fang, soprano

Soprano Ying Fang has been praised as “indispensable at the Met in Mozart” (The New York Times) and for “a voice that can stop time, pure and rich and open and consummately expressive” (Financial Times).

In the 23/24 season, Ms. Fang returns to Opéra National de Paris as Zerlina in Don Giovanni conducted by Antonello Manacorda, Dutch National Opera as Poppea in Agrippina and Pamina in Die Zauberflöte conducted by Riccardo Minasi, the Metropolitan Opera in her role debut as Euridice in Orfeo ed Eudidice, and Santa Fe Opera in her role debut as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. On the concert stage, she reunites with conductor Raphaël Pichon in the Mozart Requiem on tour with Ensemble Pygmalion (a project which also features a recording by the Harmonia Mundi label), and joins Maestro Pichon for Mozart’s C Minor Mass in her debut with the Munich Philharmonic. She joins Noord Nederlands Orkest (and the Philadelphia Orchestra at UMS) in Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for Mahler’s 4th symphony with Susanna Mälkki, and sings Carmina Burana with the St. Louis Symphony under the baton of Stéphane Denève with the Orchestra of St. Lukes at Carnegie Hall.

A native of Ningbo, China, Ms. Fang is the recipient of the Martin E. Segal Award, the Hildegard Behrens Foundation Award, the Rose Bampton Award of The Sullivan Foundation, The Opera Index Award, and First Prize of the Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition. In 2009, she became one of the youngest singers to win one of China’s most prestigious awards — the China Golden Bell Award for Music. She has been hailed as “the most gifted Chinese soprano of her generation” by Ningbo Daily.

Ms. Fang holds a Master’s degree and an Artist Diploma in Opera Study from The Juilliard School, and a Bachelor’s degree from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. She is a former member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.

Watch her breathtaking performance of “Aria Deh vieni, non tardar” from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, with the Dutch National Opera:


 

Will Liverman, baritoneWill Liverman, baritone

Called “a voice for this historic moment” (Washington Post), GRAMMY Award-winning baritone Will Liverman is the recipient of the 2022 Beverly Sills Artist Award by The Metropolitan Opera and the co-creator of The Factotum — called “mic-drop fabulous good” (Opera News) — which premiered at the Lyric Opera Chicago in 2023. Described as “nothing short of extraordinary” (Opera News) with a “beaming, high baritone that easily asserts” (LA Times), Liverman has been hailed by critics for his versatility in dramatic and comedic roles, as well as on concert stages in North America and internationally, and his dedication and vision as a composer, artist, and advisor helping to evolve and push the performing arts industry forward.

This season sees Liverman’s return to the Metropolitan Opera in the title role of X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, Anthony Davis’ groundbreaking and influential work, and the third opera by a Black composer in the company’s history, to be conducted by Kazem Abdullah in its newly revised score. Liverman was previously seen on the Met stage opening its 2021-22 season in a widely celebrated, “breakout performance” (New York Times) as Charles in Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones, which won the 2023 GRAMMY Award for Best Opera Recording. He later reprised the role at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in a “rich leading performance” (Chicago Tribune) described as a “beautifully vocalized […] gripping portrayal” (Opera News).

Liverman just released a new album, Show Me the Way, with pianist Jonathan King in March 2024 on International Women’s Day. The album celebrates women’s contributions to music, and includes works by composers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Jasmine Barnes, and Florence Beatrice Price. It also features five world-premiere recordings by living composers such as Jasmine Barnes and Libby Larsen, with appearances by renowned singers J’Nai Bridges and Renée Fleming.

Preview the album below and learn more in this NPR feature.

Will Liverman will also be on the University of Michigan campus in early April for a residency with the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, culminating with a free recital on Sunday, April 7.


Hear Ying Fang and Will Liverman perform Brahms’s German Requiem with The Philadelphia Orchestra and the UMS Choral Union, Sunday, April 21 in Hill Auditorium.

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New Tiny Brochures!

 

Today, on April 1, 2024, UMS is delighted to announce our latest innovation…Tiny Series Brochures, arriving just in time for our new season announcement!

Tiny brochures. BIG season. Stay tuned for the full 24/25 season reveal on Thursday, April 18.

When Genius Collides: Pops Meets Fatha

Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines

Special thanks to The Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, Inc. and the Louis Armstrong House Museum for the photo of Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines. Please visit louisarmstrongfoundation.org for more information.

If forced to name one artist as the most consequential musician of the 20th century, we could make an extremely compelling case for Louis Armstrong. His brilliantly shining trumpet sound, breathtaking virtuosity, and effortless swing certainly place him at the forefront of instrumentalists; just as crucially, his flowing singing paired with his ability to perfectly rewrite melodies to fit his voice has inspired every singer since to take similar liberties. Without Louis, we have no Bing Crosby, no Billie Holiday, no Ella Fitzgerald, no Frank Sinatra.

What must that have felt like for a young Louis? When your genius so fully outstrips that of your peers, perhaps it feels lonely. To be sure, we find moments in which Louis pairs with an artist whose musical prowess can match his own — Sidney Bechet and Bessie Smith as examples — but overall, when we hear Louis Armstrong in the early and middle 1920s, we hear him standing apart. 

Enter Earl Hines.

By the mid-1920s, both Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines worked out of Chicago, where inevitably their paths would cross. And cross they did, notably in Carroll Dickerson’s Savoyagers. Their musical chemistry was immediate and electric: in Hines, Armstrong found an artist whose instrumental technique rivaled his own, and together on stage and on record they cajoled each other to even loftier musical heights. Armstrong’s brilliant trumpet lines became even more sparkling; Hines’ dizzying octave runs on the piano became even more death-defying. Chicago’s audiences recognized the magic that was playing out in front of them, and listeners around the US would soon be brought up to speed.

While 1927 marks the beginning of Armstrong and Hines’ recorded output together, it was in the following year that they would reshape Jazz history together. When now-immortal classics like “West End Blues” reached audiences, the sheer power of this collaboration became clear to everyone. As 1928 wore on, Armstrong and Hines recorded scintillating fare like “Beau Koo Jack,” before turning around and delivering a career highlight in the duet “Weather Bird.”

Indeed, with “Weather Bird,” they seemed to be throwing down a gauntlet to one another and to all listeners. In two minutes and 45 seconds, these two artists seemed to dare one another to fall off of a precarious rhythmic tightrope, as each takes incredibly daring risks in their playing. Nearly a century later, hearing this sheer virtuosity can still take one’s breath away.

Like all of the best chamber music in history, the collaboration of Armstrong and Hines feels both exciting and deeply intimate. In their upcoming UMS performance, pianist Sullivan Fortner and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire step into that same space in a deeply personal musical conversation between themselves and with audiences. Drawing on works from the Armstrong–Hines partnership — as well as from other 1920’s masters like “Fats” Waller — Fortner and Akinmusire will invite audiences into their sublime musical world: listen for the intense interplay, the fully exposed risk-taking that this duet setting allows for, and hear how each artist inspires one another to greater heights.

Why you should avoid ticket resellers in the unauthorized secondary market

Avoid TheHillAuditorium.com and Other Sellers in the Unauthorized Secondary Market

Unauthorized ticket resellers purchase tickets at face value from official sources with the intent of selling them for a profit on a secondary marketplace. Unfortunately, there are no federal laws that prohibit the resale of tickets, and the practice is considered illegal, without a special license, in only seven states (New York, Alabama, Georgia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Massachusetts).

 

Because there is neither federal nor state protection, many Michigan nonprofit arts presenters like UMS are vulnerable to secondary ticket reselling practices that harm organizations and their audiences.

 

We have put together this blog post in an effort to make these harmful practices more transparent to arts consumers searching for events online.

Unauthorized ticket resellers have challenged sports, arts, and entertainment presenters in large cities for years, and are now becoming a more common occurrence here in Ann Arbor by ticket resale websites such as TheHillAuditorium.com. This particular site features the most recognized performance venue of UMS and the University of Michigan in its title and claims to be a “fan site,” but it admits in smaller type that it is “not affiliated or sponsored by Hill Auditorium” and “links to resale tickets to events at Hill Auditorium.” Those links take visitors to a commercial reselling site that sells tickets at above-market prices with exorbitant fees and may promise seating locations that cannot be honored by UMS.

How Their Unauthroized Reselling Practices Work

  • Various websites with different names rely on ticket engines that scrape information from official ticket sellers and offer up generic seating locations at a premium price, often without specific seat locations (e.g., Section 10 row M, 1-6 tickets available).
  • The reseller purchases the ticket from UMS at face value, then offers it to the purchaser at an inflated price. Recently, UMS has seen $14 tickets sell for $68-$300+.
  • Ticket reselling sites also charge exorbitant fees that are not disclosed upfront (“junk fees”). One site recently charged $16.75 per ticket, more than double UMS’s ticket fees.

How Ticket Resellers Negatively Impact Audiences

  • Audience members pay inflated ticket prices and fees, even when less expensive options are available from ums.org.
  • Seat locations may not be provided and/or may be inaccurate.
  • There is no guarantee that tickets are valid — the same seats could be sold multiple times through different providers, and if that happens, UMS cannot honor them.
  • Audience members don’t receive customer service information from UMS about the performance, such as parking alerts, notices about late seating, extensive notes about the works being performed, etc.
  • Audience members instead receive information from the ticket reseller, encouraging them to purchase other UMS tickets at inflated prices.

How Ticket Resellers Negatively Impact UMS, Artists, and Presenters

  • The inflated ticket price and fees paid by fans to secondary market sellers do not benefit the performing artists and UMS.
  • Lost revenue potential for arts organizations. Ticket sales already only cover 35% of our total costs, so this puts more strain on fundraising to help support the events
  • UMS cannot reach customers directly with details about the performance they are attending
  • UMS offers low-priced options to make performances more accessible to all; when ticket resellers purchase these tickets and resell them at inflated prices, they are taking lower-priced tickets off the market
  • Some secondary resellers initiate credit card chargebacks if they are unable to sell the tickets (or even if they are), thus creating an extra administrative and financial burden for UMS
  • Some ticket resellers may be using stolen credit cards to purchase the tickets from the authorized source
  • It costs UMS significantly more to advertise events as we have to pay more than the reselling sites do to be listed online
  • Reputational Harm: if someone purchases at an inflated price from another source, or an invalid ticket, it reflects poorly on UMS. We are not able to provide refunds to ticketbuyers who pay inflated, secondary market prices for their tickets or accommodate people who have invalid tickets.

How You Can Protect Yourself and Others

  • Share this blog with your networks and other concertgoers
  • New sites are popping up all the time. The ones that we are currently aware of are thehillauditorium.com, ticketsqueeze.com, eventticketscenter.com, ticketsmarter.com, and others
  • ALWAYS make sure to purchase directly from ums.org and to look carefully at the url of any ticket purchasing site
  • Lobby your state representatives for legislation to make this practice illegal in Michigan and federally
  • If you, or someone you know, have purchased tickets through one of these sites, please reach out to us at ums-feedback@umich.edu. We would like to learn more about your experience.

The magic of live performance shouldn’t come at the cost of inflated ticket prices and exorbitant fees. Let’s work together to ensure everyone has the chance to experience the joy of live music, theater, and dance without getting taken advantage of.

UMS & Santa Ono Remember Maestro Seiji Ozawa

Film strip of Seiji Ozawa conducting in Hill Auditorium, from the UMS archives.

Film strip of Seiji Ozawa conducting in Hill Auditorium, from the UMS archives.

UMS and the classical performing arts community mourn the passing of conductor Seiji Ozawa, who led the Boston Symphony Orchestra for nearly three decades and was one of the most recognized and important figures in classical music around the globe.

Ozawa conducted six times in UMS performance history between 1966 and 1996, in concerts with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. These programs can all be explored in our UMS Rewind archives.

Ozawa has another meaningful connection to the University of Michigan community through U-M president Santa Ono. Ono shares his fond memories below.

From University of Michigan President Santa Ono:

Seiji Ozawa’s death is a massive loss for classical music. He leaves a huge legacy through his recordings, the memories of his thousands of concerts, and the countless young musicians he mentored over the years. I was fortunate to listen to the Boston Symphony during his long tenure as Music Director there and also at Tanglewood.

Seiji Ozawa in 1963

Seiji Ozawa in 1963

He also had a connection to our family. Ozawa and my father were prodigious emerging stars in music and mathematics when they were in Paris. Naturally, they became friends as Japanese citizens in Paris. My mother tells me they were 2 naughty young men during those days: “Ozawa was jumping parking car to car! Takashi was driving Motorcycle around City of Paris! When he came to Philadelphia to conduct, we met him after concert. Ozawa said to Takashi, Onosan! You are USA now! Then he talked about his wife and his daughter (also a pianist of Shacho at Mitsui Bussan).”

I had the privilege of speaking with Ozawa on a plane on a business trip many years ago. He had just won the Kennedy Center honors. He was gracious and said that my parents should be very proud of me, just as he was of me as a Japanese citizen.

What a loss. My Aunt pointed out that it was snowing on the day he died. Ozawa apparently loved the snow, partially from the many years he enjoyed the snow in New England. He was also a huge Red Sox fan.

I said to my Aunt:

美しい自然に囲まれて死ぬことは死ではなく天国に行くことだ

When you die surrounded by nature’s beauty, you aren’t dying, you are actually entering heaven.

 

— Santa Ono

Inside ‘When the Caged Bird Sings’

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
   When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
   When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats her wing
   Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For she must fly back to her perch and cling
When she fain would be on the bough a-swing;
   And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why she beats her wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
   When her wing is bruised and her bosom sore,—
When she beats her bars and she would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
   But a prayer that she sends from her heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven she flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!

Adapted from the poem Sympathy (1899) by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Program Notes by Mark Clague

When the Caged Bird Sings is something new and old at the same time. Like an oratorio, it fuses orchestra and chorus into a sacred service, here bringing the sounds of the Black American church into the concert hall. Like an opera, it tells a timeless story with words, music, drama, costumes, and characters. Four powerful voices command the stage: a soprano (the mother), an alto (the daughter), a tenor (the guidance counselor), and a baritone (the father). The entire chorus speaks as the community, while a subset represents Black congregants in worship. The narrator is both sage and celebrant, timeless and all-knowing. She is an ethereal pastor—unseen by the other characters—but always at the center of the drama. The composer originally called the composition “a gathering,” signaling that it was a communal ritual, bringing people together as an act of healing, hope, and celebration. When the Caged Bird Sings is all of these.

Text and music have been created and woven together by composer Dr. Nkeiru Okoye, a woman of African American and Nigerian heritage, to explore themes of perseverance and triumph. It is the story of the transformative power of Black womanhood. It speaks of hope and possibility, while it is also a warning that past traumas will be repeated, until such a time when the community listens, learns, and is itself transformed.

Dr. Okoye’s work draws from a powerful well of Black history. Inspired by the life and work of Dr. Maya Angelou, When the Caged Bird Sings pulses with the strength of countless Black women whose courage and creativity have changed history: the poet Phillis Wheatley, abolitionists Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, journalist Ida B. Wells, entrepreneur C. J. Walker, vocalists Sissieretta Jones and Marian Anderson, author Zora Neale Hurston, dancer Katherine Dunham, activist Rosa Parks, singer Billie Holiday, politician Shirley Chisholm, athletes Althea Gibson and Serena Williams, activists Coretta Scott King and Dr. Angela Davis, actress and media mogul Oprah Winfrey, and First Lady Michelle Obama. These and countless others exemplify the exceptional and everyday activism that has shaped our world. Their stories echo in Okoye’s music, in the words spoken and sung through the Black church, as acts of faith, hope, courage, and community.

Woven throughout When the Caged Bird Sings is the story of “Cerise” [Cherish], a young Black woman that the world seeks to doubt and diminish merely because of the color of her skin and braids in her hair. Cerise, whose name itself signals her parents’ love and protection, nevertheless encounters racial prejudice in her neighborhood, which is predominantly White — sometimes overt, often surreptitious, always relentless. Her family offers support and solace. At one point, she falls victim to peer pressure in an attempt to fit in. Her high school counselor intervenes. She recovers, escapes the cage of discrimination, triumphs, and gives back, adding to the legacy of Black womanhood, and adding her voice to a historical chorus of those who transformed adversity into opportunity. “She sets herself free,” as the lyrics state. Her story also parallels the composer’s own. It is the all too personal story of lived experience, but one less autobiographical than simply human and universal. As the composer has remarked, “Cerise is not a stereotype. She’s just a girl.”

When the Caged Bird Sings is organized into five parts, each titled after a Maya Angelou book or poem:

Part I

Gather Together in My Name introduces us to the cast and invokes the drama’s central question, “Who am I supposed to be?” It is a question that vexes each of the tale’s protagonists.

Part II

Now Sheba Sings the Song focuses on the first part of Cerise’s story — her mother’s joy at her birth. The tenor offers praises and what the composer calls a “valentine to all Black women.” The narrated choral number, “Sometimes Life Gets Ugly,” presents the emotional crux of the composition. It gives voice to a pernicious inner dialogue, a voice telling African American women that they are “too dark, too poor, too ugly, too broken…unworthy, subhuman.”

Part III

And Still I Rise tells the second part of Cerise’s story, of her relentless determination despite the forces holding her back. Her father laments that his new job as a junior vice president was “still not enough” to protect her.

Part IV

I Shall Not Be Moved recounts a crisis for Cerise. The tenor, representing her high school guidance counselor, recounts the story of collapse and collision. The music here is punctuated by references to the Dies Irae [Day of Wrath], a melody associated with the Requiem Mass of the Catholic Church that represents turmoil and confusion.

Part V

A Song Flung Up to Heaven depicts the triumph and transformation of Cerise, now a grown woman. Here, a lyrical flute melody represents the butterfly — a living symbol of transformation that echoes in the poetry of Maya Angelou. It serves as an example of true beauty, but a beauty that often masks the change that has made its realization possible, that masks the trauma that inspired such transformation.

 

Musically, When the Caged Bird Sings is rooted deep within the sounds of the Black church, couched in concert music tradition. Okoye’s compositional voice travels seamlessly between styles: the romantic, minimalist, gospel-inflected, and improvisatory. The melodic passion of a solo vocalist often foreshadows the lyrical contours of specific hymns and spirituals, shifting from minor to major and blossoming into full arrangements of traditional sacred melody, such as “I Am Thine, O Lord,” “I’ve Been ‘Buked and I’ve Been Scorned,” or “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.”

According to the composer, the goal of When the Caged Bird Sings is to celebrate the transformative power of Black women and use the power of art to transform the world. The drama closes with an original hymn of the same title. Okoye’s lyric encapsulates the journey, traveled and envisioned:

When a caged bird sings
Despite captivity
I think it means that in her dreams
She can see
Herself
beyond the bars
And beyond her tears
beyond her scars
And beyond her fears
She is transformed
And she set herself free.

Maybe not coincidentally, the composer’s own name—Nkeiru—means “the future is greater than the past” in her Father’s native language of Igbo. In this sense, When the Caged Bird Sings envisions a world in which a parental prophecy is fulfilled. When the Caged Bird Sings is both prayer and promise. Through this work, Okoye gives voice to the hope that we, as the audience, will be changed. That we will understand our nation and world as more capacious and come to “see Black women in a different way.” Yet When the Caged Bird Sings is also Dr. Okoye’s own personal proclamation as an artist and person. With pride, it shouts to the heavens on behalf of all Black women—“we are triumphant…we are doctors, lawyers, educators, entrepreneurs, and we are FABULOUS.”

Hear additional insights from composer Nkeiru Okoye and U-M’s Kenneth Kiesler and Eugene Rogers.

Hear a Beethoven Symphony Like Never Before, Courtesy of Liszt

UMS is delighted to welcome internationally acclaimed pianist Igor Levit to Ann Arbor on Friday, March 8. His innovative program features rarely performed piano transcriptions (arrangements of large ensemble works for solo piano) of powerful orchestral works by Mahler and Beethoven.

A great example of transcription is this 2020 video, in which Igor Levit demonstrates Franz Liszt’s arrangement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony and its famous “Ode to Joy” (originally featuring a full orchestra and choir):

Beethoven’s nine symphonies were all painstakingly transcribed for solo piano in the 1800s by the famous composer and pianist Franz Liszt. But what inspired Liszt to take on such a daunting task, and what makes Liszt’s transcriptions a special treat for listeners?

Liszt started his project in 1838, when he was still a young and dazzling pianist, touring Europe and impressing audiences with his unparalleled technique and expressive power. He initially transcribed the fifth, sixth, and seventh symphonies, which were published by different publishers in Germany and Austria. Liszt then put aside his work for more than two decades, until 1863, when he received a request from the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel to transcribe the complete set of symphonies for a future publication. Liszt agreed and revised his earlier transcriptions, adding more details, indications, and fingerings.

Liszt’s motivation for undertaking this monumental task was not only his admiration for Beethoven, whom he regarded as the greatest composer of all time, but also his desire to make Beethoven’s music more accessible to the public.

At the time, orchestral concerts were rare and expensive, and most people could only hear Beethoven’s symphonies through piano arrangements. Liszt wanted to provide the most faithful and accurate versions possible, using all the resources of the modern piano, which had improved significantly since Beethoven’s time.

Liszt wrote in his preface: “Through the immense development of its harmonic power, the piano is trying increasingly to adopt all orchestral compositions. In the compass of its seven octaves it is able, with only a few exceptions, to reproduce all the characteristics, all the combination, all the forms of the deepest and most profound works of music.”

His transcriptions are not only faithful to Beethoven, but also witty, creative, and original. He does not merely copy the orchestral parts but adapts them to the idiomatic possibilities of the piano, adding embellishments, variations, or modulations to enhance the musical effect. He also uses a wide range of dynamics, articulations, and pedaling to create contrast and clarity.

Liszt’s virtuosic transcriptions are among the most technically demanding piano music ever written. They require not only speed, agility, strength, and endurance, but also finesse, sensitivity, and imagination. They offer a unique listening experience and perspective on Beethoven’s symphonies, revealing new aspects and details that might be overlooked in the orchestral version.

In a 1988 interview, famed pianist Vladimir Horowitz stated: “I deeply regret never having played Liszt’s arrangements of the Beethoven symphonies in public – these are the greatest works for the piano – tremendous works – every note of the symphonies is in the Liszt works.”

Igor Levit

None of these transcriptions have ever been performed in UMS’s 145-year history…until now!

On March 8, Igor Levit will perform Liszt’s arrangement of Beethoven’s beloved Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica” (Heroic).

Levit is one of the most celebrated pianists of our time, whose accolades include prizes at numerous international competitions, including the Maria Callas Grand Prix in Athens, the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in Japan, and the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv. Most notably, he won the 2018 Gilmore Artist prize — the most elusive and prestigious of them all, only awarded every four years to an exceptional pianist who has the potential to make a lasting impact on the musical world.

We cannot wait to hear his own virtuosic interpretation of Beethoven’s symphony…courtesy of Franz Liszt!

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James Ehnes — The “Musician’s Musician”

Since the start of his career in arts administration, UMS President Matthew VanBesien has had many fantastic opportunities to work with and present violinist James Ehnes. Hear VanBesien share what makes Ehnes’ musicianship unique, before his UMS recital debut with pianist Andrew Armstrong on February 16.

At UMS, we have the immense privilege to engage and host such extraordinary artists each season — it is a wealth of riches! All of our artists are truly special, and with some, we have had the opportunity to build deep relationships at UMS or throughout our careers in the arts.

Someone who definitely fits in with the latter (for me, at least!) is the wonderful violinist James Ehnes, who, at long last, makes his UMS debut here later this month. We’d previously engaged James during the pandemic but were stymied the first time around, and we are thrilled to finally welcome him — in person — to Ann Arbor and UMS.

At the start of his career, James was managed by the wonderful arts manager Walter Homburger, who also managed the career of Glenn Gould. Walter was an orchestra manager and impresario by day, and I believe he only ever managed one artist at a time until he passed away in 2019. James was an artist he fervently believed in, and I have, for many years, had the great pleasure of understanding the incredible artistry and range of this remarkable musician.

I’ve known James from the beginning of my administrative career in the arts, beginning around 2000 at the Houston Symphony. It was my first real job following my 8 years as a horn player in New Orleans, and my job in Houston at that point was to ensure James was well-cared for as an artist, look after all his transportation and accommodations, and through that work (OK, I probably also took him to my favorite pub in Houston!), we became good colleagues and friends.

In addition to James’ many appearances in Houston, he appeared as a guest soloist and chamber musician for both the Melbourne Symphony and the New York Philharmonic during my tenures there, and so when I arrived here in Ann Arbor in 2017, I was determined to make certain our UMS audiences would have the chance to enjoy him as well. As one of the musicians in the New York Philharmonic once said to me, “James is one of the very finest violinists in the world — period. And, he’s a musician’s musician — someone who truly understands his own craft, as well as ours as orchestral and chamber musicians.”

James appears at UMS this February to perform as a recitalist with his longtime collaborator Andrew Armstrong, but from the very beginning of our discussions, he was eager to collaborate with faculty and students from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance here at Michigan. Together, they will perform a chamber work by James Newton Howard, a very well-known composer in film and television who also composed a violin concerto for James in 2015.

Ehnes recorded James Newton Howard’s violin concerto with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Lastly, it’s important to mention that I am not the only member of the UMS community who knows James well! Martha Darling and Gil Omenn have known James for many years, and have a wonderful association with him as the Artistic Director of the Seattle Chamber Music Society. My wife Rosie and I are honored to join forces with Gil and Martha to support James’ performance here at UMS!

Matthew VanBesien, UMS President

A New Generation of Mariachi

Mariachi music is a rich and diverse musical tradition that originated in Mexico and has spread across the world. Combining elements of Spanish, African, Indigenous, and European musical influences, it features instruments such as violins, trumpets, guitars, harps, and the distinctive guitarrón (a large bass guitar). Mariachi is often associated with festive occasions like weddings, birthdays, religious celebrations, and national holidays, and it’s a beloved form of cultural expression and identity for many Mexican and Mexican American communities.

Photo of Mariachi Herencia de Mexico from their latest album, Herederos

Mariachi Herencia de México from their latest album, Herederos

One of the most prominent and successful groups in the contemporary mariachi scene is Mariachi Herencia de México, a Grammy-winning ensemble of young musicians from Chicago. The group was founded in 2016 by César Maldonado, a former member of the Mariachi Heritage Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that promotes mariachi education in Chicago public schools. Maldonado wanted to create a professional-level group that could showcase the talent and potential of the students who participated in the foundation’s programs.

Read from NBC News: How a Chicago Schools Mariachi Group Landed a Latin Grammy Nomination

Mariachi Herencia de México made their debut with the album Nuestra Herencia (Our Heritage), which featured collaborations with renowned mariachi artists such as Lila Downs, Aida Cuevas, and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán (all of whom UMS has presented!). The album was a critical and commercial success, reaching the top of the Latin streaming charts and earning a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Ranchero/Mariachi Album. The group followed up with Herencia de la Tierra Mía (Heritage of My Land) in 2018, which was produced by Javier Limón, a celebrated Spanish musician and producer, and featured guest appearances by Pedro Fernández, Christian Nodal, and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos.

In 2019, Mariachi Herencia de México released Esencia (Essence), a double album that showcased their versatility and range. The first volume focused on traditional mariachi songs, while the second volume explored other genres such as bolero, son jarocho, huapango, and cumbia. The following songs are from volume I and II, respectively:

In 2022, Mariachi Herencia de México released their fifth album, Herederos (The Heirs), which celebrated their legacy and evolution as a group. The album, also nominated for a Latin Grammy Award, included original songs written by the group members, as well as covers of classics by Vicente Fernández, Lola Beltrán, José José and more. The album also featured a collaboration with Camila Cabello on a bilingual version of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” The album was praised by critics and fans alike for its innovation and authenticity.

Mariachi Herencia have performed extensively across North America, sharing their music and culture with diverse audiences at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Ravinia Festival, the Hollywood Bowl — and now Hill Auditorium! The group has participated in SXSW, the Chicago World Music Festival, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, as well as being featured on national media outlets such as NPR, PBS, Telemundo, and Univision.

Mariachi Herencia de México is more than just a musical group — they are also ambassadors of their heritage and role models for their generation. They represent the power and beauty of mariachi music, the diversity and creativity of the Mexican American community, and proof that mariachi music is alive and thriving in the 21st century!

UMS will present the Ann Arbor debut of Mariachi Herencia de México on their Herederos tour on Tuesday, January 23, 2024 featuring special guest La Marisoul.

More Info & Tickets

Behind the Voice: La Marisoul’s Exquisite Expression

La Marisoul

La Marisoul is the stage name of Marisol Hernández, a Mexican-American singer and songwriter who is best known as the lead vocalist of the Grammy-winning band La Santa Cecilia. She is one of the most prominent voices in Mexican-American music today, creating original and innovative music that transcends borders and genres.

Before she makes her UMS debut with Mariachi Herencia de México on January 23, learn more about her distinctive and versatile voice that leaves audiences breathless.

La Marisoul was born and raised in downtown Los Angeles, where she was exposed to a diverse and vibrant musical culture. Introduced to song by her mother’s voice and her father’s love of music, she began to interpret various musical styles at an early age, ranging from traditional Mexican songs, to romantic boleros, to jazz classics and rock. Growing up part-time in Mexico and the United States created a duality of American pop culture and the roots of traditional folkloric music that shaped her unique voice.

Her voice is a reflection of her bicultural identity and her musical influences, switching between Spanish and English with ease and fluidity. (Check out her cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” below, featured in the HBO series Amsterdam.)

La Marisoul can adapt her voice to different genres and moods, from soft and sweet to powerful and passionate. She has a rich and expressive tone that can convey both joy and sorrow, love and pain, hope and despair. And, she can also improvise and scat with ease, adding her own signature flair and personality to performances.

She has collaborated with many artists from different backgrounds and genres, and he has performed with Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, Juanes, Café Tacvba, Lila Downs, Pepe Aguilar, Little Joe Hernández, and many others. Her latest album, Corazones y Canciones (Hearts and Songs) with San Antonio’s Los Texmaniacs, features a repertoire of cherished canciones rancheras and boleros that celebrate love, life, and culture.

But perhaps the most inspiring aspect of La Marisoul’s voice is her ability to connect with the audience and the message of the songs. She sings with heart and soul, putting her own emotions and experiences into the lyrics, and her charismatic and captivating presence on stage radiates warmth and energy.

We hope you can join us January 23 to hear La Marisoul’s exquisite voice for the first time on the Hill Auditorium stage, together with Mariachi Herencia de México.

More Info & Tickets

La Marisoul

Announcing the 2023 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year

The University Musical Society (UMS) and the DTE Energy Foundation are pleased to honor Skyline High School teacher and vocal music director Lindsay CieChanski as the 2023 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year.

The award recognizes and celebrates educators who value the importance of arts education and create a culture for the arts to flourish in their school communities.

CieChanski, who is a vocal music director and teacher at Skyline, has the distinction of having been nominated twice for this award, by different individuals, over the past several years.

Nominator Annemarie Dolan with Lindsay CieChanski

Nominator Annemarie Dolan with Lindsay CieChanski, 2023 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year

A University of Michigan graduate with a dual major in Voice Performance and Choral Music Education, a minor in Music Theory/Musicology, and a Master’s Degree in Music Education, CieChanski has experience directing concerts at several mid-Michigan schools and has led Skyline’s choirs to successful performances and tours.

The selection team was especially impressed by her commitment to inclusivity, designing her choir offerings to accommodate different levels of musical expertise, and running multiple annual fundraisers to help ensure that students with limited means can participate in extracurricular arts programs.

CieChanski also champions the inclusion of all arts disciplines in her classroom instruction, often inviting guest artists to her classes, and advocates for the arts in her school and district. The active involvement of many alumni of her vocal programs also serves as a testament to her lasting impact on students’ lives.

“We’re so thrilled to present Lindsay CieChanski with the DTE Educator of the Year Award for 2023,” said Terri Park, UMS Associate Director of Learning & Engagement. “CieChanski is not only an educator who works to expand the musical skillsets of students, but she provides a culture of the arts that is simultaneously rigorous and accessible.”

Skyline High School is the newest high school in the Ann Arbor Public Schools, having opened its doors in 2008 for a freshman class and graduating its first senior class in 2012. Its mission is to build and sustain a community that promotes personal connections, inquiry, agile minds, and determination.

As part of the award, UMS will bring an artist for a class visit or provide an opportunity to meet with the artist at a UMS School Day Performance next season in addition to a $250 award honorarium.

“The DTE Energy Foundation is proud to support the University Musical Society and to honor Lindsay CieChanski,” said Rodney Cole, President of the DTE Energy Foundation. “CieChanski’s dedication to ensuring all students have the opportunity to participate in a multitude of arts disciplines emulates all the qualities that we look for in the DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year.”

Pictured: Robin Bailey, Terri Park, Lindsay CieChanski, Patricia Hinojosa, Marco Bruzzano

Pictured: Robin Bailey, Terri Park, Lindsay CieChanski, Patricia Hinojosa, Marco Bruzzano

Memorable Moments of 2023

What a year of unforgettable memories! From our No Safety Net 3.0 Festival to our Arts & Resistance theme semester events at U-M, we thank you for joining us in 2023. Enjoy a look back at some of our favorite moments of the year:

The Plastic Bag Store Opens No Safety Net 3.0

Plastic Bag Store Family Day

Family Day “shoppers” exploring The Plastic Bag Store

Robin Frohardt’s performance installation of The Plastic Bag Store offered more than 40 public performances throughtout UMS’s No Safety Net 3.0 Festival. In total, more than 5,000 audience members of all ages participated in No Safety Net, which featured five unique performances centered around critical topics in today’s modern world.

See more from No Safety Net 3.0

 

Spotlighting the Frieze Memorial Organ

Scott Hanoian with the Brno Philharmonic and the UMS Choral Union

Scott Hanoian with the Brno Philharmonic and the UMS Choral Union

We’re still talking about Brno Philharmonic’s epic UMS debut, which featured Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass with the UMS Choral Union, as well as a work by U-M emeritus professor and Pulitzer Prize winner William Bolcom. The program also showed off Hill Auditorium’s Frieze Memorial Organ, played by Christian Schmitt, who also filmed and recorded a special UMS Live Session digital performance.

Christian Schmitt, organ

Christian Schmitt recording on Hill Auditorium’s Frieze Memorial Organ

 

A New Take on Swan Lake

Ballet Preljocaj: Swan Lake

Ballet Preljocaj’s Swan Lake

UMS and Detroit Opera co-presented Ballet Preljocaj’s modern take on Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet in three performances at the Detroit Opera House. In this adaptation, blending classical and new, the evil sorcerer von Rothbart was portrayed as an industrialist who wanted to exploit fossil fuels against a backdrop of unbridled capitalism, while Siegfried and Odette were two eco-conscious heroes who tried to thwart his plans.

 

A Stepped-Up School Day Performance

Step Afrika! performing at a sold-out School Day Performance in Hill Auditorium

Step Afrika! performing at a sold-out School Day Performance in Hill Auditorium

UMS welcomed 3,500+ young audience members in a sold-out School Day Performance performance by Step Afrika! in Hill Auditorium. The energy of the hall was literally through the roof!

 

Chineke’s Debut

Violinist Elena Urioste performing with the Chineke! Orchestra

Violinist Elena Urioste performing with the Chineke! Orchestra

In March, UK-based Chineke! Orchestra made its much-anticipated UMS debut on the ensemble’s first-ever North American tour. The ensemble was founded in 2015 as Europe’s first majority Black and ethnically diverse orchestra. Soloist Elena Urioste stunned the audience with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s violin concerto, and maestro Andrew Grams led Florence Price’s first symphony.

 

First Ypsilanti Freighthouse Residency

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.

In April 2023, UMS piloted a week of arts programming at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse, in advance of new four-week residencies 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.

See more from UMS’s April 2023 Residency at the Ypsi Freighthouse

 

Pride Digital Presentation

Wild Up

Music collective Wild Up recording for their UMS Live Session

UMS presented the debut of Wild Up, a Los Angeles-based musical collective whose most recent work has been to celebrate the legacy of Julius Eastman — one of the most overlooked and underappreciated composers of the 20th century, and a trailblazer as a young, gay, and Black artist who challenged the norms and conventions of his time.

After Wild Up’s performance of Julius Eastman’s Femenine in Rackham Auditorium, we filmed LA-based music collective Wild Up in two other works by Eastman for a UMS Live Session digital presentation, which was offered for Pride month in June.

Read more about Julius Eastman and his minimalist masterpiece, Femenine.

 

A Powerhouse Opening Week

Standing ovation for Shakti in Hill Auditorium

Standing ovation for Shakti in Hill Auditorium

The 23/24 UMS performance season opened with a powerhouse week of performances, including superband Snarky Puppy and the 50th-anniversary world tour with the legendary ensemble Shakti — a tour that also featured special guest Béla Fleck as its opening act.

 

Meaningful Sonic Contributions

Marcus Elliot’s Sonic Contributions

Marcus Elliot’s Sonic Contributions at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse

Detroit-based saxophonist Marcus Elliot led a seven-piece band of musicians and artists as part of UMS’s Fall residency at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse, in Sonic Contributions — a special collaboration with the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County that celebrated the history of Ypsilanti as a refuge for Black Americans dating back to the 1830s. The work was also filmed and will be released for streaming in February 2024. Sign up for our digital presentations newsletter for a reminder when it becomes available.

See more from UMS’s Fall 2023 residency at the Ypsi Freighthouse

 

Renée and Inon

Inon Barnatan and Renée Fleming

Inon Barnatan and Renée Fleming

In addition to the world premiere of their Voice of Nature recital program, soprano superstar Renée Fleming and pianist Inon Barntan immersed themselves on the U-M campus.

Fleming led a Music and Mind panel discussion that explored the relationships between the arts and neuroscience, presented in partnership with Michigan Medicine.

Inon Barnatan’s week-long residency included a week-long series of performances and activities at the University of Michigan, with master classes at the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance plus a preview solo recital of his just-released new album, Rachmaninoff Reflections.

 

Arts & Resistance at U-M

DakhaBrakha in Hill Auditorium

Ukrainian “ethno-chaos” group DakhaBrakha performing in Hill Auditorium

This fall, UMS presented performances and many campus engagement events surrounding the University of Michigan’s Arts & Resistance semester theme. Performances included the return of Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha, Ireland’s Druid Theater with SeanO’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy (including a 7-hour long immersion day!), and Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World by British-Iranian theater artist Javaad Alipoor.

Neda Ulaby, Javaad Alipoor, and King Raam in Penny Stamps lecture

NPR’s Neda Ulaby, theater maker Javaad Alipoor, and musician King Raam in a Penny Stamps lecture

See more from UMS’s campus-wide engagements in November

 

Minería’s Extraordinary Debut

Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería’s UMS debut

Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería’s UMS debut

The energy and passion of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería sent the Hill Auditorium audience into rapturous applause following the ensemble’s debut UMS performance in October. Mexico’s top orchestra was led by maestro Carlos Miguel Prieto and featured pianist Gabriela Montero, who performed her own Piano Concerto No. 1, as well as an encore improvisation of a song suggested on the spot by an audience member.

 

Holidays in Hawai’i

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro with students after his School Day Performance

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro with students after his School Day Performance

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro has been a favorite artist for Ann Arbor families since his UMS debut 10 years ago! This December he returned for an-in person and livestreamed School Day Performance, followed by a family-friendly holiday-themed concert in Hill Auditorium. His music and messages of kindness always warm up Hill Auditorium, no matter the time of year!

UMS’s 2023 Holiday Gift Guide

UMS gift certificates or tickets to UMS performances create unforgettable experiences for you or anyone on your holiday list! Check out our recommendations for a new year of performances to remember:

 

For the Film Buff

Diane Keaton and Al Pacino in 'The Godfather'
The Godfather Live
Sun Jan 7 at 3 pm // Hill Auditorium

Talk about epic family drama! With all of the plot twists, emotional outbursts, and suspenseful scenes of a true grand opera, Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece gets a full sensory experience with the Grand Rapids Symphony.

 

For the Piano Enthusiast

Hélène Grimaud
Hélène Grimaud, piano
Thu Jan 18 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium

French pianist Hélène Grimaud makes her much-anticipated UMS recital debut, bringing her thoughtful and tenderly expressive sound to the stage in a program of Beethoven, Brahms, and J.S. Bach.

 

Igor Levit
Igor Levit, piano
Fri Mar 8 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium

Praised as “one of the most important artists of his generation” by The New York Times, pianist Igor Levit returns to the Hill Auditorium stage for the first time since 2016, performing transcriptions of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony and the Adagio from Mahler’s unfinished 10th symphony.

 

For the Friend Who’s Always on the Dance Floor

The Jazz Continuum
LaTasha Barnes’ The Jazz Continuum
Jan 19-20 // The Power Center

LaTasha Barnes presents The Jazz Continuum, a new production centering the prolific artistry of jazz music and dance as a cornerstone of Black American culture and community.

 

For the Whole Family

Mariachi Herencia de Mexico
Mariachi Herencia featuring La Marisoul
Tue Jan 23 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium

A new generation takes mariachi to whole new heights when Latin Grammy nominee Mariachi Herencia de México presents Herederos (the “heirs”). Los Angeles-born singer La Marisoul, the lead singer of La Santa Cecilia, fronts the Mariachi ensemble with powerful and captivating vocals.

 

For Those Looking for New Experiences

An image of art on canvas made of handmade Lotka papers, decorative papers on collage, showing a Black woman with blue hair holding a pink cage with a bird singing in it, all against a yellow-orange background.Nkeiru Okoye’s When the Caged Bird Sings
Sat Feb 10 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium

This world première performance by composer Nkeiru Okoye fuses elements of oratorio, theater, and opera in a multi-movement musical ceremony that invokes the ritual of the concert experience as a ritual of community. Drawing inspiration from the Black church, it celebrates the spirit of rising above expectations and transforming adversity into triumph.

 

Sullivan Fortner and Ambrose AkinmusireWeather Bird:
Sullivan Fortner, piano and Ambrose Akinmusire, trumpet

Fri Mar 22 at 7:30 pm // Rackham Auditorium

Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and pianist Sullivan Fortner join forces for a program unique to UMS, inspired by the collaboration between the great Louis Armstrong and Earl “Fatha” Hines, whose unparalleled improvisations resulted in spontaneous and playful musical storytelling.

 

For the Midcentury Modern Collector

Martha Graham Dance CompanyMartha Graham Dance Company
Feb 17-18 // The Power Center

The Martha Graham Company, recognized as a primal artistic force of the 20th century, gives a performance rooted in cultural history. These performances will include a new work choreographed by Jamar Roberts and set to music by Rhiannon Giddens, as well as Agnes DeMille’s 1942 classic Rodeo, with its iconic score by Aaron Copland reorchestrated for a bluegrass ensemble. Martha Graham’s final complete work, Maple Leaf Rag, rounds out the program.

 

For the Francophile

Klaus Mäkelä
Orchestre de Paris
Thu Mar 14 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium

The Orchestre de Paris returns to Hill Auditorium for the first time since 2002, featuring the UMS debuts of two young superstar artists — music director Klaus Mäkelä and Van Cliburn gold medal-winning pianist Yunchan Lim — in a program of Debussy, Rachmaninoff, and Stravinsky.

For the Hard-to-Please

Samara Joy
Samara Joy
Wed Mar 27 at 7:30 pm // Hill Auditorium

Absolutely no one can resist Samara’s voice. At 24, Samara Joy is already setting the music world on fire, winning the 2023 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album, as well as Best New Artist — only the second time in Grammy history that award has been bestowed upon a jazz musician.

 

For the Choir Singer


The Philadelphia Orchestra
Apr 20-21 // Hill Auditorium

The Philadelphia Orchestra and music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin close our 23/24 in two programs, including Sunday’s performance of Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem with the full force of the UMS Choral Union.

 

Still can’t decide?

Personalize a UMS Gift Certificate, valid for 5 years and redeemable for any UMS events.

5 Pivotal Scenes from ‘The Godfather’

The Godfather is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, and for good reason. The 1972 epic crime drama, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based on the novel by Mario Puzo, tells the story of the Corleone family, a powerful mafia clan in New York City. The film is full of memorable scenes that showcase the brilliant acting, writing, directing, and cinematography of the movie.

Preview some of the most pivotal scenes in The Godfather before UMS’s upcoming presentation of The Godfather Live with the Grand Rapids Symphony on Jan 7, 2024.

Get Tickets

 

The opening scene


The film begins with a close-up of a man named Bonasera, who is asking Don Vito Corleone, the head of the family, for a favor. He wants the Don to avenge his daughter, who was brutally beaten by two men. The scene establishes the power and influence of the Don, as well as his code of honor and loyalty. The scene also introduces the iconic line “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” which is repeated throughout the film.

The horse head scene


One of the most shocking and disturbing scenes in the film is when Jack Woltz, a Hollywood producer, wakes up to find the severed head of his prized racehorse in his bed. The scene is a result of Woltz refusing to cast Johnny Fontane, a singer and godson of Don Corleone, in his new movie. The scene shows the ruthless and violent nature of the mafia, as well as the lengths that the Don will go to protect his interests and family.

The restaurant scene


One of the most pivotal and suspenseful scenes in the film is when Michael Corleone, the youngest son of Don Corleone, kills two men in a restaurant. The men are Sollozzo, a drug dealer who tried to assassinate the Don, and McCluskey, a corrupt police captain who was protecting Sollozzo. The scene marks Michael’s transition from a war hero and outsider to a cold-blooded killer and heir to the family business. The scene is masterfully executed, with the tension building up as Michael retrieves a hidden gun from the bathroom and shoots both men in the head.

The baptism scene


One of the most iconic and contrasting scenes in the film is when Michael becomes the godfather of his sister’s baby, while simultaneously ordering the murders of his enemies. The scene intercuts between the solemn ceremony in a church and the brutal executions in various locations. The scene shows Michael’s complete transformation into a ruthless and powerful mafia boss, as well as his hypocrisy and loss of morality.

The closing scene


The film ends with a chilling scene that mirrors the opening scene. Michael lies to his wife Kay about his involvement in the murders, while his men address him as “Don Corleone.” The scene shows Michael’s isolation and deception, as well as his ascension to the throne of the family. The final shot is of Kay looking at Michael through a door that closes on her face, symbolizing her exclusion from his world and his secrets.

Donor Spotlight: Neil Hawkins and his Love of ‘The Godfather’

Annmarie and Neil Hawkins

Annmarie and Neil Hawkins

Neil and Annmarie Hawkins are film buffs, longtime supporters of UMS, and enthusiastic sponsors of The Godfather Live in our 23/24 performance season. We sat down with Neil to discuss his interest in the film and why he thinks it’s one of the great movies of all time.

UMS presents The Godfather Live with the Grand Rapids Symphony and conductor John Varineau on Sunday, January 7 at 3 pm in Hill Auditorium (presented with subtitles and performed with one intermission).

Get Tickets


Sara Billmann, UMS: Neil, can you start off telling us a little bit about yourself?

Neil Hawkins: I’m president of the World Environment Center and also a Harvard professor. The World Environment Center is a sustainable business organization headquartered in Washington, DC and focused on bringing together business to solve sustainability challenges, which fits closely with my career. In my Harvard role, I teach sustainability in their master’s program. That’s what I do. I’m a sustainability guy, professionally, when I’m not doing film.

Sara: And how did you get involved with UMS?

Neil: I met [UMS president emeritus] Ken Fischer at a U of M football game about 10 years ago, and Ken and I were talking about theater. We’re big theater junkies, and we wanted more theater in UMS, and he said, “Hey, you get involved with us. We’ll find a way to have more theater,” and that’s how I became involved with UMS. Later on, I met [former board chair] Rachel Bendit, who introduced me to Matthew VanBesien, and then two of them brought me onto the board in 2021.

Sara: That’s excellent, and we’ve really enjoyed your perspective as a board member. So, give us a little bit of the backstory on The Godfather Live and how you ended up sponsoring it. What is it about the film with live music concept that’s compelling to you?

Neil: Okay. First off, we’re really very keen on theater and film, the Hawkins family, Annmarie and I. For me, the film part of that goes back to when I was in high school and college. I have 40 years of intensive film study, and I went through a period of time where, in one year, I was watching about two films a day because I was trying to catch up on all of the classic canon of films.

This love of film is a big thing.

Most cinema, most films have a very integral relationship with the music. There’s this whole subculture of writing scores and performing scores that it’s an art form in and of itself, the writing of a score to match a film. You’ll have a director that has an artistic vision that they put onto film, but then they have to marry that with a composer that really understands what they’re trying to achieve in that scene. When that really works and when it meshes, it’s magical. It’s very fun to experience. It’s very meaningful. The depth of the experience is much greater than if you just had the visual without the score, and the score is not particularly meaningful without the visual because it was written specifically for it.

When you hit those magical moments in cinema and film where you have both, it’s very exciting. If you go back to the silent era, you had music performed in the theater live with organs and whatnot. I recognize and enjoy the interaction of scores with film and scenes. That’s something longstanding.

When we moved to Michigan in 1988, within a few months of moving to Michigan, I noticed in the [Detroit] Free Press that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra was going to have a screening of Alexander Nevsky with the DSO playing the score. It was an amazing experience. Alexander Nevsky was a film from the silent era, a film created and filmed by Sergei Eisenstein, and the score was written by Sergei Prokofiev, one of the great Russian composers of that century. It was magical to be able to see the silent classic and to experience an orchestra playing that miraculous score by Prokofiev. That was my first experience seeing the performance of a score with a film, and that really got me excited about it. It made an impression that this is an area of performance art that the melding of the two can really be spectacular.

UMS has put on some amazing [film-in-concert] performances. I saw On the Waterfront with the New York Philharmonic, which is a fantastic film, but the score is equally amazing. UMS did Amadeus with an orchestra, but also with the chorus singing the Requiem and other choral parts. That was amazing. You’ve also done 2001: A Space Odyssey. So I said to Matthew, “Look, given my longtime interest in film and orchestral performance, we should try to have one.” And he worked on it, and was able to put together The Godfather for the current season.

Diane Keaton and Al Pacino in 'The Godfather'

The Godfather

Sara: You said you first saw The Godfather in high school or college. What would you want people to know about the film?

Neil: The Godfather is one of the great films of all time. It has one of the great film performances of actors, Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, Robert Duvall. These are just spectacular performances. They’re once-in-a-career performances.

The story was based upon a Mario Puzo book, and he also adapted it for the screenplay with Francis Ford Coppola. I actually recently saw the annotated screenplay out in a museum in LA where Francis had… It was the screenplay, and then he was writing in his notes around what he was trying to do with the actors in the scene.

[Read more: Inside Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Godfather’ Notebook: Never-Before-Seen Photos, Handwritten Notes]

It’s one of the great movie experiences. On paper, it might seem to be about violence. It’s really not. There’s plenty of violence in the film, but I would say it’s more about family. It’s about family ties. It’s about the loyalty within the family. The Godfather himself is extremely loyal to both his family, and to his friends… He really built his crime family through assisting people, not so much the violent kind of crime we think of today associated with organized crime. It was a little different. I’m not saying it was good, but it’s not just a straight violent crime story.

The Godfather

Sara: I love that you focus on it not really being a movie about violence, but more about family. I think I mentioned to you that, over the last, since the pandemic, I’ve been working my way through The Sopranos for the first time, and the same thing strikes me with that. I mean, there are certainly those brutal moments that are eye-averting and pretty awful to watch. But at the end, I think what I find so compelling about it is there’s this person who appears to be in control of everything, but who is also super vulnerable and the tiniest slights really hurt him so deeply. Ultimately, I think both of the shows are really human stories more than anything.

Neil: You have the Godfather, Vito Corleone, and you have Michael, you have Sonny and you have Fredo. You have four godfather men. Plus, you have Tom, who’s sort of an adopted son. Just seeing the differences in the Godfather himself versus Fredo and Michael and Sonny, they’re very different people, yet they’re all in the same family, and the hopes and aspirations that the family had for each of them was very different. It’s very interesting. I know we’re only watching The Godfather coming up here, but The Godfather II is really an outstanding film. The background on how The Godfather got to where he is really completes the family story a lot, and I would recommend that highly.

Let me comment also on the score. I recently re-watched it, and I’ve watched this film many times. I’ve probably seen it 50 times, so quite a few times.

Sara: No kidding? 50 times?!?

Neil: Well, I’m guessing. Let’s say it’s 30, but it’s definitely more than 20.

Sara: That’s amazing.

Neil: Well, I tend to study films, so then, once I’ve watched it, if I think it’s good, I’ll watch it again. I recently watched it, and there’s actually a lot of parts to this film where it’s silent in the background. I had never thought about that before because, a lot of films, it’s playing the whole time. This one, there’s a lot of parts where the orchestra will just be sitting there. I think it’ll be very interesting to experience that feeling of the orchestra coming in after long pauses and understanding where in the film they chose to do that.

Sara: That’s so interesting that you say that because I think I mentioned to you that I did my Godfather immersion last week and watched all three films over five days. I think you’re right about the silence of the orchestra, and I think, particularly in the live orchestra experience, it becomes so much more potent about how important the music is to the film when you have the immediacy right there. It doesn’t fade into the background, and the silent moments are all the more powerful.

Neil: The score itself was written by Nino Rota. It has great beauty and it’s very provocative. It elicits a lot of emotion. I think that it will be thrilling for the audience to hear that score and, at critical moments, match that to what’s going on. Nino Rota was the composer that did almost all of Federico Fellini’s films. I’m a big Federico Fellini fan, and seeing, hearing Nino Rota as part of, I don’t know, 10 or a dozen Fellini films like La Strada or , those are great, great films that are driven by the scores. Linking Nino Rota to Francis Coppola, this is pretty exciting.

[Learn more on our blog: Why Nino Rota’s Score for ‘The Godfather’ is So Memorable]

The other thing is that the 50th anniversary of this film just came by a year or so ago, so this should be a new print that is very high quality. Most people who have seen The Godfather have never seen a clean print. From what I understand, it will be much brighter in the backgrounds compared to what most people have seen so they’ll be able to see pieces of it that they’ve not actually seen before.

Sara: This has been such a fun conversation, and I so appreciate your taking the time to chat about the film. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Neil: One other thing, you may or may not know this, but on Paramount+ Streaming, there’s a fantastic show called The Offer, which was based upon a book written by the producer of the film, and it’s the backstory on how The Godfather was made. It’s fascinating. How did Marlon Brando get in the film? How did Al Pacino get in the film? The studio did not want Pacino because he was a unknown stage actor in New York. They wanted other people to play that role. There’s just a lot in there, and most of it is accurate. It’s a narrative, fictionalized account, but from what I understand about The Godfather, it’s actually pretty accurate.

The man who produced it, he was actually a Rand Corporation security analyst who was a genius, who was bored and decided to get into movies. This was only his second film. He also had to deal with the Mafia itself, because the Mafia was concerned about this movie coming out. The book had already upset them, but then, having a movie about it, that was potentially a problem. He had to negotiate with the organized crime families of that time to get their agreement to allow it to be made. One of the things they insisted upon is they did not want the word Mafia used, and so, actually, in the first film, I don’t think there’s any reference to Mafia. It was due to their sensitivities, but they were pleased at the final result. It required this newcomer producer to manage the studio, manage the Mafia, work with Marlon Brando and all these folks. You would enjoy it. You ought to watch it.

Sara: Ok, I have to ask one last question, which is: what is your favorite scene, favorite lines from the movie?

Neil: Well, The Godfather is full of famous lines, so I don’t really necessarily have a favorite. I think my favorite scene is when his dad has been shot and he’s in the hospital and he goes to see his dad, and all his policemen and protectors are gone, and he’s moving him around within the hospital to protect him, and then Enzo the baker comes. I don’t know if you remember this. Enzo the baker comes and helps, and he’s shaking when he’s trying to light a cigarette. That’s my favorite scene. Enzo the baker. He’s in that first scene where the Godfather’s granting audiences and giving out favors. He is one of the people that gets a favor. He’s not asking for it, but he gets the favor. I will stop what I’m doing and watch that scene every time.

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