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Are there any arpas llaneras in the southeast Michigan area?

If you travel by air enough, eventually you’ll show up at your destination but your bags won’t.  When this has happened to me, my missing luggage has eventually shown up, but it’s never fun. The pressure is worse when the missing luggage is your instrument and you have a performance that night.

Two years ago, I went to the airport to pick up Lila Downs and her band.  All of the band members arrived, but one of them, Edmar Castañeda, was missing his arpa llanera or Colombian folk harp.

I wasn’t aware of anywhere in Ann Arbor to borrow or rent an arpa llanera, so I left Edmar and the tour manager at the airport. They tracked down the harp while I drove the rest of the group to Ann Arbor for their sound check.

Fortunately the harp was found in time for the concert. The harp sound along with Edmar’s unique approach to the instrument added a great touch to Lila’s music. I spoke with other UMS staff members after the concert who also marveled at Edmar’s harp playing. I was even more impressed when, after the concert, Edmar told me he had only been playing with Lila’s band for a short time. If I remember correctly it was only a couple weeks.

I have been looking out for Edmar’s music ever since.  I saw this video on NPR’s website and wanted to share it with you. It showcases an artist who was not  the main attraction, but added significantly to the quality of a UMS performance. On the video, you’ll hear Edmar’s novel technique through the mix of traditional Colombian dance music (joropo music) with jazz and Afro-Cuban music.

Do you remember this concert? Are there any arpas llaneras in the southeast Michigan area?

This Day in UMS History: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Feb 19, 1985)

Editor’s Note: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performs in Ann Arbor on January 11, 2016.

February 19, 1985
Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Yehudi Menuhin, conductor

“While Yehudi Menuhin’s name is synonymous with the violin, he is also regarded as one of today’s finer conductors.”  So begins the biographical note for the concert of this orchestra, which in 1986 counted André Previn as its Music Director and the Queen Mum as its patron.  Menuhin’s name is indeed synonymous with the violin, but even for a violinist he had an unusual life.  He was raised in California, studied in Europe with Georges Enesco, and as a teenager was an internationally famous violinist.  During World War II, he flew, sometimes in dangerous conditions, to military hospitals to perform for wounded soldiers – acts for which France later honored him with the Legion of Honor (making him its youngest recipient).  He was a close friend and collaborator with famous Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar (who, still going strong at 90 years old, recently appeared at Hill with his daughter Anoushka) and released joint recordings with legendary jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.  He founded the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey, England, received fourteen honorary doctorates, and was made a life peer by Queen Elizabeth II.  He died in 1999.

“This day in UMS History” is an occasional series of vignettes drawn from UMS’s historical archive.   If you have a personal story or particular memory from attending the performance featured here, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.

This Day in UMS History: “Paderewski’s Piano Recital” (Feb 15, 1892)

February 15, 1892
University Hall, Ann Arbor

During my time at UMS, I’ve become used to seeing the ghosts of famous musicians.  I’ve stumbled across signed photos of Jascha Heifetz (for whose violin classes current U-M Professor Martin Katz played) and records of Sergei Rachmaninov’s appearances at Hill.  Even so, I did a double take when I found the program for Ignace Paderewski.  The billing simply said “Paderewski’s Piano Recital”, adding that it was “For the Benefit of the Woman’s Annex to the WATERMAN GYMNASIUM.”  I figured it was a society named after the Polish composer-pianist, and was very excited to discover that it was in fact a recital by Paderewski himself.  I was even more excited to learn more about this pianist – I knew from Arthur Rubinstein’s memoirs that he was an inspirational pianist, mentor, and composer – but I also found out that he was an ardent Polish patriot, and was even Prime Minister of Poland for a brief time.

His recital program was formidable (Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt transcriptions of works by Schubert and Mendelssohn, and his own compositions), as befits a pianist who had just conquered the musical capitals of Europe (UMS’ archives includes a biography of Paderewski by a London reviewer) and was in the process of doing the same to America’s musical capitals – then as now including Ann Arbor.  Paderewski returned to Ann Arbor five more times, the last in 1933.  He died while on tour in New York City in 1941.  He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery until 1992, when his remains were brought to Warsaw.

“This day in UMS History” is an occasional series of vignettes drawn from UMS’s historical archive.   If you have a personal story or particular memory from attending the performance featured here, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.

History – In the Making!

UMS_Living_ArchiveExciting news! After dreaming for years of digitizing the UMS archive, this massive project is finally underway! UMS has teamed up with the Ann Arbor District Library to digitize the UMS archive in all of its many forms: programs, photos, publications, and more. Please stay tuned as we continue to build and tweak a fully-searchable database for you to explore. Even more exciting are the innovative features we plan to include to create a “living” archive: the opportunity to submit your own comments, memories, and observations about events that you attended, whether that event was 50 years ago or yesterday! We’ll be asking for stories from patrons, donors, artists, ushers, staff, crew, and other UMS stakeholders to make this historical archive of the performing arts in Ann Arbor come alive.

In the meantime, please join UMS and the AADL for a sneak preview of the digitization progress in March!

A Sneak Peek into the Future of UMS’s Past:
100 Years of Concert Programs and Photographs

Sunday, March 14, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Ann Arbor District Library Downtown Branch, Multi-purpose Room

Join Ann Arbor District Library staff and Ken Fischer, President of UMS, as we launch two new online collections celebrating UMS’s concert history. We’ll show you how to browse and search thousands of pages of historical concert programs from UMS’s first 100 seasons; we’ll also unveil a growing collection of images that include both performance and rare backstage photographs of celebrated UMS artists over the past eight decades. Following a brief demonstration, Ken Fischer will present a talk on the history of the University Musical Society and the future of its archives.

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