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Student Spotlight: Alice Schmitz at The Knights

This post is part of a series of posts by students who are part of our 21st Century Student Internship program. As part of the paid internship program, students spend several weeks with a company that’s on the UMS season.

U-M student Alice Schmitz was paired with The Knights in Summer 2017. The Knights are in Ann Arbor on November 12, 2017.


Photos: On left, a view of the Hudson River from the park next to my apartment. On right, a shot of a double rainbow taken from a subway car in Brooklyn.

While it was inevitable that I would listen to The Knights, a chamber orchestra hailing from Brooklyn, New York, as a classical bass student in college, I first learned of The Knights because of my love of the banjo. As a middle-schooler, I fell in love with bluegrass and listened to Béla Fleck’s recordings religiously. So when Béla Fleck performed a concert an hour and a half outside of my home in Minneapolis, my mom and I, of course, drove out to see him perform. He collaborated with a string quartet founded by two brothers, Eric and Colin Jacobsen, who also, as chances would have it, had recently started an orchestra called The Knights. So when I learned this May that I would be interning with The Knights, with a start date just a week away, it felt like fate. To work with an ensemble that has collaborated with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham, and the rock band Dr. Dog, was beyond any of my expectations for this experience.


Photos: On left, the orchestra rehearses at the Naumburg Bandshell for its performance that evening. On right, members of The Knights perform with Lisa Loeb for a family concert at the Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival.

I think the picture below almost captures the essence of The Knights’ spirit that made their vision so enticing and invigorating to me. I took it during my first evening as a Knights intern, during a celebration for BLUESHIFT, a group of donors the ensemble created to allow young donors the same access to the ensemble and its creative process as other supporters. In the photo, a baby doll lies next to the remains of a barbecue while the audience listens to a Colin Jacobsen’s performance of a Schubert Sonatina, which, Colin casually mentions, would also be performed at the Tanglewood Festival later that summer alongside the legendary Immanuel Ax.

The scene, like The Knights, was the perfect intersection of the exceptional and the everyday. The Knights’ model is revolutionary because they acknowledge and embrace the fact that classical music does not belong on a pedestal, separated from its audience, but rather classical music should be folded into the fabric and beauty of the life of every member of the ensemble’s vast community of listeners. Knights coexist in both the world of Tanglewood and the Elbphilharmonie and the world of Brooklyn parks and breweries. While some ensembles performing the classical repertoire have confined themselves to a rote form, canon, and setting, The Knights easily adjust themselves to any circumstance and eagerly seek a broad range of these circumstances.


Photos: On left, a baby doll lies next to the remains of a barbecue while the audience listens to a Colin Jacobsen’s performance of a Schubert Sonatina. On right, a rehearsal for the Tanglewood performance in the same space.

The Knights’ administrative office, where I spent the majority of my internship, is located in a Brooklyn townhouse, tucked on the floor between the apartments of the two artistic directors of the orchestra, Colin and Eric Jacobsen. As an intern in a small and dynamic team of administrators, I was able to participate in virtually all facets of the work which make The Knights’ success possible.

I researched opportunities for funding, assisted at rehearsals, drafted grant proposals, and learned about the National Endowment for the Arts guidelines, all the while chatting about punk operas and jazz masses with my coworkers. I was also generously included in community engagement meetings, a post-concert celebration in Central Park, and a board meeting. The Kinghts board includes both leaders of brand-name companies and record labels and members of the orchestra. The whiteboard I sat next to at the office was a daily reminder of the ensemble’s commitment to honoring their members’ needs in this way, covered with notes on how to improve the rehearsal process and support the lives and of the musicians.


Photos: On left, lunch with The Knights office staff on the last day of my internship. On right, fellow intern Patricia and I staff the merchandise table during a performance at the Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival.

It is, of course, impossible to write about spending the summer as an arts intern in New York City without mentioning the city itself. In the six weeks I spent living in New York, I was able to attend more performances, exhibitions, and cultural events than I had attended in the past year. During my very first two days in the city, I watched the New York Philharmonic from the VIP section of their concert in Central Park, stumbled upon a musical in a subway station, and scored free tickets to a performance by one of my childhood idols in a tiny eyewear shop. Living in an apartment in the heart of Washington Heights, I would fall asleep to Despacito outside and wake to my apartment-mate working on material for his noise album.


Photos: On left, a musical performance at the Fulton Street Station I discovered after getting lost on the subway. On right, meeting a childhood hero, vocalist José James, after his performance at an eyewear store.

Working with The Knights in one of the most dynamic cities in the world was the most empowering and enriching experience I have ever had.  I am extremely indebted for the warmth and support I experienced as an intern in the ensemble’s office, and for this internship opportunity, without which none of this would have been possible. I cannot wait to enjoy a performance by The Knights on November 12 in Ann Arbor, this time with Avi Avital and Kinan Azmeh. Having spent hours researching and writing about this program for a grant supplement, I can promise that this concert is not one to be missed!

See The Knights on November 12, 2017.

UMS Presents Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra 2/19

Learn more about the show on 2/19:

Quiz: Test your classical music savvy!

Teatro Regio Torino and Rotterdam Philharmonic
On the left, Teatro Regio Torino Orchestra, who performs the opera William Tell in concert at Hill Auditorium on December 9, 2014. On the right, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, who will be in Ann Arbor on February 19, 2015.

We’ve put together a handy quiz that tests your classical music savvy. Are you a classical music super ninja or are you a ninja-in-training? Find out through this short quiz (masterfully put together by UMS Student Commitee member Ian Nilsen).

[slickquiz id=1]

A ninja of every level can enjoy the classical music concerts that are part of our 2014-2015 season! Explore our full season or watch our season announcement video.

UMS Playlist: Classical Music Old Friends from Communications Director Sara Billmann

This post is a part of a series of playlists curated by UMS staff, artists, and community. Check out more music here.

Photo: San Francisco Symphony, who’ll perform Mahler Symphony No. 7 at Hill Auditorium on November 13, 2014.

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and studied piano from age 5 and oboe from age 11 in a family where music was central. My mother was a piano teacher, taught vocal music in the public schools, and directed her church choir; my sister became a professional horn player and freelances in New York; and even my father, a middle school math teacher for over 35 years, participated by periodically singing in a local chorus and playing the baritone in a local German band.

Because of that background, I was constantly exposed to classical music, but there are some pieces that stand out as having made an incredible impression on me as a young musician from the time of middle school until early college. While my tastes have certainly evolved over the years, these are still my “old friends” that I love to revisit and never grow tired of.

Mahler Levine

James Levine recording of Mahler 1.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 1: I fell in love with this piece in 7th or 8th grade and can remember being home alone, turning out all of the lights, and lighting candles to listen to an early James Levine recording in a complete solitude. Mahler could take me to a place of incredible peace, only to be interrupted by the bombastic beginning to the fourth movement, which always scared the bejeezus out of me. To this day, I’m still a pushover for Mahler and the emotional range that his symphonic and vocal works explore.


Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2: As an oboe player, I loved playing along with the record of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. It’s such a joyful piece, fun to play, but also fun to listen to. My sister would occasionally play along with me, adapting the trumpet part for horn.

Beethoven Symphony No. 9: I played this work in high school with my local orchestra (with my sister also in the orchestra and my dad in the chorus). Being immersed in the sound of full orchestra plus chorus all on one stage was a remarkable experience for a young musician.

Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien: While seemingly not performed very often these days, this is one of the first classical music pieces that I can remember falling in love with, probably in about 5th or 6th grade. If I remember correctly, we had an LP that included Capriccio Italien, Marche Slave, and 1812 Overture, but it was always Capriccio Italien that I returned to time and again.

Dvorák’s “New World” Symphony: Dvorák’s works are readily accessible and easy to listen to, but certainly not “easy listening.” A recent New York Times article talked about how Dvorák ended up in Iowa, where he wrote this symphony.

Schubert: When I left Wisconsin to move to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan, my sister (then a senior at the University of Wisconsin) made a couple of cassette tapes for me of some of her favorite pieces by Schubert, which I listened to constantly for several years. Among the highlights: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Die schöne Müllerin, the “Trout” Quintet and the Rondo in D Major for piano duo. Sadly, her tape ran out in the middle of the work, and it was years before I heard how it ended.

Shostakovich: Michael Gowing, the former UMS ticket office manager who retired over a decade ago, considered Shostakovich a “B movie composer,” but I always loved his works. While in college here at U-M, I heard Mariss Jansons conduct the Oslo Philharmonic in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 with its Bolero-like theme, and it was an extraordinary event that began a lifelong appreciation for Shostakovich’s works. I still love listening to the string quartets (especially Nos. 7, 8, and 15), his piano quintet, and many of the symphonies. The Kirov Orchestra’s performance of his Symphony No. 13 several years ago left me in tears, completely shaken at the power of music.

Listen to various selections and recordings of Sara’s picks on Spotify:

What did you think about this playlist? Share your thoughts or song suggestions in the comments below.

Fifteen Minutes with Fame: The Audra McDonald Q&A

Editor’s Note: Audra McDonald performed at Hill Auditorium on November 4 as part of 11/12 UMS Season.  A brief Q&A session with U-M Musical Theatre students preceded the performance. Sarah Bichsel, UMS Social Media Intern, attended and transcribed this session.

When I was eight years old,  my mother brought home the new Disney version of Annie on VHS (this was still a time when you could purchase a VHS tape without the store clerk bursting into laughter). My mother purchased Annie knowing that I loved both musicals and the prospect of stardom, and as we watched it together, I’m sure she was gratified by the sight of my attempts to sing along. The movie became one of my favorites, mainly because I believed I could sing better than the girl who played Annie, and it was not uncommon to find me in the living room belting out  “Tomorrow” in front of the TV. There was one person in the film, th0ugh, for whom I had the utmost reverence, and that was Audra McDonald. When she came on the screen, I was transfixed as she glided effortlessly over each note. Her voice was sacred, her music ethereal. Even as I grew older and drifted farther from my interest in performance fame, I remembered her and cheered as she triumphed in one concert after another. I hope that you will all be as inspired by her as I was and still remain.

From the Q&A Session:

Why don’t you tell us about the program tonight?
Audra McDonald: I’m a bit of an eclectic personality so it’s going to be a mixture of stuff that you’ve heard me sing before, and some new things. I’m doing some Julie Styne, Adam Guettel, Jason Robert Brown, and then some new composers. I’ll do some that’s modern and some that comes from before you were born–whatever speaks to my heart.

You studied voice at Juilliard. Do you continue to study and have voice lessons?
AM: You must always continue to study voice. I had a voice lesson the night of my performance at Carnegie Hall! A dancer wouldn’t stop doing their barre. What Juilliard gave me was the idea that I had this classical instrument and without my studies there, I wouldn’t have discovered this part of me. I wanted to be a belter. I didn’t want to sound too arch. [She sings an exaggerated, Wagnerian opera note]. But I found that the classical part of my voice is a part of who I am.

How do you approach developing a character?
AM: For me it’s all about finding. Finding the why, finding the verb, finding the arc within the play. I am always searching for the truth. It doesn’t change from role to role. I’m always looking for that arc.

Did you ever study acting specifically?
AM: I never studied acting. Programs were very specific at Juilliard. You’re either in the voice department, or the drama department. Juilliard since I’ve left has become a bit more open…at the time I studied you couldn’t do both.

How did you get involved with Private Practice?
AM: It was interesting. The show was a spin off from Grey’s Anatomy, a Shonda Rhimes production, so it had a certain pedigree. It scared me so much. And in the beginning I had to learn that being in front of the camera wasn’t about giving my entire self. It was an opportunity to learn and get comfortable. You have to bring it down and use those smaller muscles in front of the camera.

What do you like about performing a role versus performing in concert?
AM: What I love about a role where you play the same part is that you get a million chances to get it right. There are some people with whom you can set a watch to their performance. For me if it doesn’t feel alive and true, that doesn’t work. If you mess up one night, you can try again the next night. My director has this saying, “turn the page,” which means that even if you thought that for that night you were brilliant and awesome, don’t hold onto it, turn the page. You have to move on the next night. With concert work, I love the spontaneity of it. It’s nice to not have the fourth wall.  You’re actually able to talk to the audience and say, “Hey there! What’d you have to eat?”

What about the diversity of the arrangements on your CDs?
AM: Without music directors we are nothing. They help give you fresh perspective. You say to them, “Is there a way to make this funnier or sadder or faster,” and they scribble it down and say here I know what you mean.

How do you balance family life and your career?
AM: My family is the most important thing to me. I’ve read a quote from Renee Fleming that says, “I don’t get paid to be on stage, I get paid to be away from my family.” How does one balance it? I don’t know. Today anyone who wants to have a child can have a child, and you make sacrifices on either end for that family. My family always says to me “sing fast.” It’s all wonderful, but I keep thinking about Tony Award nights. None of it feels real until I’m back on the couch at home having a burger with my kid.

When did you know you wanted to be a performer?
AM: I’ve never done anything else. My dad’s family was very large. They used to say, “oh she’s the dramatic one,” “calm down, it’s just a thunderstorm.” I always knew that I could sing. In my family I have the cute voice. I have some massive voices in my family. “That’s cute,” they all said, that’s what she’s going to do. I can’t do anything else. Don’t ask me to cook!

How did you get involved with GLAAD?
AM: My boyfriend was in Hair with Gavin Creel at the time. After Prop 8 passed, Gavin got very vocal, and the Hair cast got very vocal, and Will [my boyfriend] would come home every night going RAWR! They both gave me the idea of doing the rally. We convinced Austin Eustice to do an equality march and cancel a show for a DC march. Tonight in honor of this cause, I will be doing Gershwin’s “He Loves and She Loves.” Actually, I’ve been thinking about doing a song to combat Herman Cain, “Loving You Is Not A Choice it’s Who I Am.” It’s from Passion.

How do you balance Broadway and classical?
AM: They’re one in the same now. Getting the voice centered, getting the body out of the way constrictively. My coach’s philosophy is always healthy, healthy, healthy and then from there we can find the colors of the voice.

How did you transition from school to real-world auditions?
AM: I was sneaking out of school to audition! The transition was more about going to a classical sound. For me I started to feel better about who I was once I started auditioning, even though I wasn’t necessarily landing. I felt more secure because people weren’t saying “oh you said deh vieni wrong.”

How do you make choices in your career?
AM: I just knew that I wanted to perform. I’m curious about different aspects of the field—I’m open to it all. I think that what’s important is not saying no to certain opportunities—saying I want to try! When they asked me to perform at Carnegie, I’d never sung that high, and I’d given up the classical way, and it should have been no thank you, but I said, “Okay I’ll try!” Go at it with 100% commitment, with passion. Be willing to fall flat on your face!

How does it feel to have work created for you?
AM: It’s an incredible honor. You develop really deep collaborative relationships with directors. It’s like having a suit tailor-made for you. There’s the excitement about having things recognized about you that you might not see yourself. You say, “I can’t go that dark in this role.” Then someone looks at you and yes, you can go darker, you can, and you need to explore this. It has been a growing experience for me.

What are some of the relationships that have impacted you?

I have a lot of mentors…I also consider them family. Lonny Price is who I call my gay husband. I gave him a wedding ring a few years ago! Really, I did! He’s someone I run every project by.  There’s Zoe Caldwell—she scared me so much when we first met and now we talk about everything–I named my daughter after her. And Barbara Cook, who is finally being honored by the Kennedy Center this year! There are just certain people I run all my artistic decisions by.

UMS’s Arts Roundup: October 8

Many members of the UMS staff keep a watchful eye on local and national media for news about artists on our season, pressing arts issues, and more. Each week, we pull together a list of interesting stories  and share them with you.  Welcome to UMS’s Arts Round-up, a weekly collection of arts news, including national issues, artist updates, local shout-outs, and a link or two just for fun. If you come across something interesting in your own reading, please feel free to share!

Arts Issues

  • The DSO isn’t the only performing arts organization in financial trouble. The Dutch government has proposed closing the Netherlands Broadcasting Music Center, dismantling the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic, Metrople Orchestra, and the Netherlands Radio Choir.

Artist Updates

  • Time has run out at 3711 Woodward Ave, and the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra are on strike.
  • The Metropolitan Opera opens fifth season of live high-def broadcasts this weekend with Wagner’s Das Rheingold.
  • Riccardo Muti cancels his fall Chicago Symphony appearances due to illness, but violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter was up to the task, directing the season-opening Symphony Ball.

UMS News

  • Barbara Hoover of The Detroit News and Susan Nisbett of Ann offer a glimpse at this weekend’s Paul Taylor performances
  • And the review of Thursday night’s opening performance appeared this morning.
  • Valergy Gergiev and the orchestra formerly known as the Kirov (now the Mariinsky) visit Ann Arbor on Sunday with a program of Rachmaninoff and Mahler.
  • Japanese butoh troupe Sankai Juku, appearing as part of the UMS dance season in late October, opened their residency at New York City’s Joyce Theater this week.
  • Murray Perahia cancels fall tour (including Nov 10 UMS concert) due to hand problems; Vladimir Feltsman takes his place with program of Mozart, Schubert and Chopin
  • Takacs Quartet Schubert Concert: preview, Kahane out, Feltsman in (again!) for Schubert’s last piano sonata.

Local Shout-Outs

  • This is the last weekend to head west to see Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize finalists. The winner of the $250,000 top prize was announced yesterday!

Just For Fun

  • Think dance is just for the world’s clubs and stages? Check out this choreographed in-flight safety demonstration by Cebu Pacific. Look out Southwest, somebody’s trying to up the fun quotient!

UMS’s Arts Roundup: September 17

Many members of the UMS staff keep a watchful eye on local and national media for news about artists on our season, pressing arts issues, and more. Each week, we pull together a list of interesting stories  and share them with you.  Welcome to UMS’s Arts Round-up, a weekly collection of arts news, including national issues, artist updates, local shout-outs, and a link or two just for fun. If you come across something interesting in your own reading, please feel free to share!

Arts Issues

Artist Updates

  • Pianist Glenn Gould:  Nut or Genius? A fresh look through a new documentary.
  • NPR talks with Patti LuPone about life on Broadway and her new memoir
  • A reflective Riccardo Muti starts his tenure with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

UMS News

  • Don Calamia reviews opening theater production, Susurrus, for Encore Michigan

Local Shout-Outs

Just For Fun

  • Guess there can be only one Graceland:  the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas is closing

UMS’s Arts Roundup: September 3

Many members of the UMS staff keep a watchful eye on local and national media for news about artists on our season, pressing arts issues, and more. We thought we’d pull together a list of interesting stories each week and share them with you. Welcome to UMS’s Arts Round-up, a weekly collection of arts news, including national issues, artist updates, local shout-outs, and a link or two just for fun. If you come across something interesting in your own reading, please feel free to share!

Arts Issues

  • “Soundcheck Smackdown” looks at the impact and value of live cinema broadcasts.
  • The New York Times asks, “Does music make you exercise harder?”

Artist Updates

Local Shout-Outs

  • No Labor Day Weekend plans? Head downtown to the 2010 Detroit International Jazz Festival.

Just For Fun

  • Graduating from Kindergarten hardly an accomplishment for this 6-year-old piano prodigy.
  • Need to kickstart your workday? Flashmob-turned-flashdance got things jumping at Liverpool Station.

UMS Staff Picks: Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 selected by Joanne Navarre, Manager of Annual Giving

SN: Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 (Symphony of a Thousand) is rarely performed due to the tremendous complement of musicians required of this work – what can audience members expect to see and hear when they attend this performance?

Leonard Slatkin conducting the DSO

JN: They can expect to see and hear, first of all, excellent musicians.  The “thousands” on the stage will include the Detroit Symphony, UMS Choral Union, U-M Chamber Choir, U-M University Choir, U-M Orpheus Singers, MSU Children’s Choir and the incomparable Leonard Slatkin leading the charge.  The sheer mass of humanity will be impressive to see, and their music will be absolutely unforgettable.

SN: Have you ever seen another of Mahler’s Symphonies performed live? What about the performance(s) was the most memorable for you?

JN: Last season, I was fortunate to be in the audience when the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas presented Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection), with the choral portion of the fourth movement being performed by the UMS Choral Union.  Gustav Mahler believed that, “The symphony must be like the world.  It must embrace everything.”  In the Resurrection Symphony, he did exactly that; he embraced everything.

SN: What are you most looking forward to about experiencing Mahler 8 live?

JN: I am looking forward to experiencing the power and genius of Mahler’s music in the hands of Leonard Slatkin.  This piece is Mahler’s magnum opus;  in his words, “the greatest thing I have done.”  For Mahler enthusiasts, this is the pinnacle.

SN: What other events are on your “must see” list for the 10/11 season?

Joanne Navarre

JN: After Mahler 8, there are three things on my “must see” list:   Susurrus (September 9-October 3, Matthaei Botanical Gardens); The Cripple of Inishmaan (Druid and Atlantic Theater Company), and Richard III and The Comedy of Errors (Propeller).  I love theater.

SN: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I am a sports fan.  I like football and baseball, but I enjoy hockey most of all.

SN: What have you been listening to on your iPod?

JN: Renée Fleming’s Handel arias, the Hilliard Ensemble’s Morimur, and Les Arts Florissants’ Charpentier album.

UMS’s Arts Round-up: August 20

arts roundupMany members of the UMS staff keep a watchful eye on local and national media for news about artists on our season, pressing arts issues, and more. Each week, we pull together a list of interesting stories  and share them with you.  Welcome to UMS’s Arts Round-up, a weekly collection of arts news, including national issues, artist updates, local shout-outs, and a link or two just for fun. If you come across something interesting in your own reading, please feel free to share!

Arts Issues

Artist Updates

Local Shout-Outs

  • Detroit’s Music Hall announces 2010/11 season
  • A remembrance on how the Barton organ saved the Michigan Theater in 1979

Just For Fun

  • Dōmo arigatō, Mr. Roboto. But can they really act?
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