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Remembering Pianist Van Cliburn

Photos: L: Van Cliburn performs for a capacity audience including “stage seating” in Hill Auditorium in March 15, 1968. R: UMS president Ken Fischer with Van Cliburn during his visit to Ann Arbor for the first Ford Honors Program in 1996.

When Penny and I were teens at Interlochen in 1961, we had the thrill of accompanying this ‘rock star’ of classical music as members of the National High School Orchestra when he performed the Tchaikovksy piano concerto in the Kresge Auditorium at Interlochen. It was this piece that sealed his winning the first Tchaikovsky competition in Russian in 1958 at the height of the Cold War between Russia and the U.S.

I served on the Interlochen board with Van in the early 1970s. He maintained a long relationship with Interlochen for many years and provided scholarship support to many students.

He received the UMS Distinguished Artist Award at the inaugural Ford Honors Program on May 11, 1996. The photo above was taken of Van and me outside of Sloan Plaza in Ann Arbor where Van stayed in the apartment provided by Don Chisholm. I gave him a photo I had taken the previous November when I was in Moscow’s Red Square. It’s a photo of St. Basil’s Cathedral taken in a snowstorm.

UMS commissioned Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Dave Barrett to produce a 4-minute video on Cliburn’s career that we showed at Ford Honors. Barrett set the video to the music of “One Shining Moment,” the famous sports song that Barrett wrote and that has accompanied the highlight film following CBS’s coverage of the NCAA National Championship basketball game for the past 27 years. The song has been performed by such artists as Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, Jennifer Hudson, and Barrett himself. It’s Barrett who performs it in the video.

Van Cliburn had “One Shining Moment” at the Tchaikovsky competition so it seemed appropriate to use this music with a few word changes as a backdrop to the video. The images in the video are from a 1996 documentary directed by Peter Rosen titled “Van Cliburn: Classical Pianist.”

I will remember Van as a warm, gracious person who loved people, loved the arts, and loved life.

A note from Ken: 50 Years ago on the White House Lawn…

1. Close up of President Kennedy welcoming Interlochen founder and conductor Joseph E. Maddy, the Interlochen orchestra and dancers to the White House, 08-06-1962. 2. Interlochen dancers at the White House. This photo appeared on the front page of The New York Times on August 7, 1962.

Dear UMS Lobby Readers,

50 years ago today I was one of 117 lucky Interlochen Arts Camp orchestra members (French horn) and dancers who performed on the White House Lawn for President Kennedy and an audience of young people. Our hosts were the children of Kennedy Cabinet members. Our conductor was Interlochen founder and president, Dr. Joseph E. Maddy, and the program represented works by composers from many nations.

1. Interlochen dancers at the White House, 08-06-1962 performing Johann Strauss’s “Emperor’s Waltz.” 2. Interlochen campers having lunch on floor of East Room of White House with the children of Kennedy cabinet members. We picked up a plate of spaghetti in the State Dining Room and walked to the East Room, 08-06-1962.

Before the concert, President Kennedy gave a 5-minute speech on the importance of the arts in America and delivered it without any notes. I’ve attached the speech to this message. After the concert he greeted us in the Rose Garden and invited us to enjoy a spaghetti lunch sitting on the parquet floor of the East Room. My lunch companions were Kathy McNamara, daughter of the Secretary of Defense, and Peggy Rusk, daughter of the Secretary of State. An unforgettable experience!

Kennedy’s speech is really terrific. Take five minutes to listen to it.

President Kennedy speaking at the White House, 08-06-1962



Michigan Messiah: Caitlin Lynch, soprano

It’s Messiah week at UMS–and extra special this year is our cast of soloists–all have Michigan connections! Some are Michigan natives, some are alumni from U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and some are both!

This week, we will feature a post from each Messiah soloist, where they will reflect on what it means to return to Michigan and sing in our annual tradition of Handel’s Messiah!

Dr. Blackstone (whom my dad has always referred to as Dr. Whiterock) is the reason that I fell in love with music. I attended the Interlochen All-State High School Choir Camp for four summers and he was our conductor. He was my first real conductor and he terrified me! He was so smart and so serious about music-making and choral singing. His validation was my ultimate goal—I just wanted to be worthy of singing in his choir. When I was given a tiny solo in “Freedom Come” my first summer there, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Those summers at Interlochen were magical: I spent the first two with my best friend, Megan, singing through the camp, music everywhere…we loved every minute. All of us worshipped Dr. Blackstone. His passion for music was contagious and I most certainly caught the bug. His expectation of nothing less than our absolute best was fundamental in my development as a young musician. My final summer at Interlochen I was a senior in high school and was awarded a partial scholarship to study music at the University of Michigan. Four more years in Dr. B’s choirs! I am forever grateful to him for those lessons. Handel’s Messiah is my favorite oratorio and every opportunity I have to sing it feels like a true blessing. But the opportunity to sing this beautiful work at my alma mater with Dr. Blackstone conducting is truly a dream come true. Talk about coming full circle. I feel honored to be making music at Hill Auditorium and being presented under UMS auspices along with such fantastic other soloists (who happen to be friends). What a joy to have Dr. Blackstone keeping us all together.

-Caitlin Lynch, soprano soloist, Michigan native, and alumna of the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance

UMS Summers “Up North”

Northern Michigan Sunset, courtesy of Marnie Reid

Northern Michigan Sunset, courtesy of Marnie Reid

Ah, summer. For many Michiganders, that means packing up the car and heading to a place we lovingly call “Up North,” the land of fresh air, blue skies, and sandy shores that stretch on for miles. Head north of Cadillac and west of Houghton Lake this summer, and you’ll find a myriad of arts opportunities and UMS connections.

Paul Taylor Dance Company: Piazzolla Caldera. Photo courtesy of Paul Goode.

Twenty minutes southeast of Traverse City, Interlochen Center for the Arts is nestled between tall timbers and two inland lakes. Catch an encore performance of the Punch Brothers and Chris Thile on July 17 (they performed to a sizable crowd at the Power Center this past fall) or get a sneak peak of the Paul Taylor Dance Company on July 23 before their week-long residency in Ann Arbor this fall.

Interlochen is also home to a world-famous summer arts camp that draws young musicians, dancers, writers, visual artists, and more from around the globe for two to six weeks of intensive study, and a high school arts academy. Its list of high-performing alumni is astonishingly long, and includes musicians in the Berlin Philharmonic, The Cleveland Orchestra, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra; dancers and directors of the Martha Graham Dance Company, Mark Morris Dance Company, and José Limón Dance Company; jazz musicians Regina Carter and Chris and Daniel Brubeck, and many more. In any given year, you’re bound to find at least a few alumni on the UMS schedule. In fact, UMS also used the Interlochen Academy Orchestra in the past for performances of Handel’s Messiah.

But that’s not the only place Interlochen alums appear. Several members of the UMS staff are also alumni. I myself have wonderful memories of six summers in the All-State piano, band, and orchestra programs and one summer on faculty as a flute instructor. UMS Choral Union conductor Jerry Blackstone led the University of Michigan All-State Choirs for 17 summers in addition to serving as Director of the All-State Program for several years. And UMS President Ken Fischer met his wife Penny there during summer camp in 1961 and now serves on the Board of Trustees.

Speaking of Ken, if you’re traveling to the Petoskey or Charlevoix areas, you may bump into him around town, as he often spends a few days each summer meeting with members of the UMS National Council, donors, and new friends of UMS who call this region home for part or all of the year.  For members of the U-M Alumni Associations who travel to Camp Michigania, he also gives annual talks at the Education Center.

Whatever your summer plans, we’d love to hear how you are making the arts a part of them, whether in northern Michigan, here in Ann Arbor, or by traveling to Stratford, Aspen, Tanglewood or one of dozens of other summer festivals.