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Interview: Matthew VanBesien and Ken Fischer

UMS welcomes Matthew VanBesien, seventh president of UMS. Learn more about Matthew in this joint interview with outgoing UMS president Ken Fischer. Jennifer Conlin moderates.

Part 1

Jennifer Conlin: I thought that we would start with how you met. I hear it is a meeting that did not occur in the hallowed halls of Hill Auditorium or at the Lincoln Center, but rather here at the University of Michigan Ross Business School.

Matthew VanBesien: That’s right.

Ken Fischer: You should talk about that.

Matthew: [laughs] Well, I think it was a great opportunity. I think I won the award for coming the farthest for that session here at Ross. I’d never been to the University of Michigan before, and coming to the Ross school with all these great colleagues, meeting Ken, meeting the wonderful people from the National Art Strategies, it made a real impression.

Ken and I met and we said to each other, “How is it that we’ve never met?” Because I knew all about UMS here. I know Ken’s brother, Norman Fisher, who teaches cello at Rice [University], at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice in Houston, where I used to live. I think we just made a connection immediately, I don’t know that I knew Ken was a horn player, but we sussed that out pretty quickly. Ken took me on a road late night to literally every performance venue on the University of Michigan campus but it was so clear what a special place this was and, of course, Ken is so effusive and wonderful about what happens here and why it’s so special.

Ken: So that’s where we first met.

Jennifer: Then, let’s talk about the [New York] Philharmonic Residency, because you also work together now and there you are with the oldest orchestra in the country and one of the oldest — Is UMS the oldest?

Ken: Well, the oldest of the university related presenters, at 138 years like you said. From Melbourne, Mathew came to the New York Philharmonic and of course, this is an orchestra that we love and that we’ve had coming here for a number of years. In 2013 they were here, where we had a chance, actually, to work together in building that program. Then, of course, the big residency of 2015 which had some really distinctive features. But in working together, of course, we are deepening that relationship; he’s getting to know a bit more about Ann Arbor and we are able to do some great things together.

Matthew: I remember, I was here for 2013, not too long after I started at the New York Philharmonic. The Philharmonic has been coming here, I think, 1916 was the first —

Ken: That’s right.

Matthew: That was before the New York Philharmonic had gone to Europe for really toured anywhere internationally, they were here in Ann Arbor, at Hill [Auditorium]. [In 2013,] I remember Ken took me to breakfast at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. So, it was important for me to understand this iconic landmarks here in Ann Arbor. The wheels started turning right there, and I started telling Ken about some of the orchestral training initiatives that we started, really trying to work intensively with young musicians to help them. Not just to understand how to play their instruments, they get a great education about that at a great conservatory, but the fine craft of orchestral playing.

So we thought, let’s think about a way to have a regular presence for the New York Philharmonic here in Ann Arbor, then to build a lot of rich activity around the main stage concert. I think, when we were here in 2015, we played three main stage concerts but we did 35 — I don’t want to call it ancillary in a smaller way, but really important events around that at the music school, across the university.

Jennifer: And at the halftime show. [laughs]

Matthew: [laughs] There was a halftime show.

Ken: Don’t you love that we have now a person who grew up in the Midwest but also went to a Big Ten school. Now it’s Indiana, they are generally better in swimming and basketball than in football. [laughs] But there was a sense of what can happen on game day.

Jennifer: We weren’t going to mention Indiana specifically.

Matthew: The brass players were thrilled about doing it. Alan Gilbert, our music director, conducted part of the show but it was amazing to see. I think it was about thousand musicians, the UMS Choral Union, the Michigan Marching Band, Alumni. To see a thousand musicians out there….It was just a very special moment.

Our players in New York still talk about this, this was really one of the most memorable things that they’ve done, and being a member of the New York Philharmonic you get to do some memorable things along the way. But that was incredibly special and I have a big photo in my office in New York that Ken and UMS sent to me. A special thing.

Ken: It was one of those things that really deepens your relationship between an ensemble presenting organization but especially the community. Imagine what we can do for the next residency in November 2017. It just happens to be approaching the centenary of Leonard Bernstein. A man who not only loved that orchestra, but boy did he love Ann Arbor and coming here. We’re going to remember Bernstein in a very special way.

Jennifer: It’s the Young People’s Concert.

Matthew: I think it’s great because it’s not just an entire homage to Lenny. It’s really a testimonial for all the things that he did. The opening concert will be with the incoming music director of the New York Philharmonic, Jaap van Zweden, who would never have even begun a conducting career had it not been for Leonard Bernstein who was then conducting the Concertgebouw, asked Jaap who was the concertmaster to conduct a little bit so he could go out into a concert hall and listened on a tour. Jaap had never even conducted before, and he’ll tell this story when he comes to Michigan this fall.

The Young People’s Concerts actually started in the 1920s in New York, but they were catapulted to this unbelievably iconic status in the 1950s with Leonard Bernstein because they were televised on CBS. Back when major networks televised something like the Young People’s Concert, and of course, Bernstein was on television a lot. Then, of course, we’re doing his music. We’re doing the third symphony, the Kaddish Symphony, which is an incredibly powerful work. It’s a great mix. Some of the things that we’ve talked about around the residency are also very, very exciting in terms of how they really engage students, how they engage the greater University of Michigan community, Ann Arbor community, and Southeast Michigan. It will be a lot of fun.

Jennifer: I hear as well that it was during the halftime show that you started even considering UMS.

Matthew: Rosie, my wife, had reminded me of a conversation that we’d had before we went to New York. That conversation was, “It’s such an amazing opportunity, we’re going to New York. I’m so happy for you to have this chance to work with the Philharmonic.” The discussion was, “What happens at some point when you’re not at the New York Philharmonic, what would that look like?” She never said a word during the entire process here for UMS. The day that I was announced as being Ken’s successor, she reminded me that we had this discussion. Apparently, I said, “You know what I think would be really great is to go to UMS and the University of Michigan after I finished with the New York Philharmonic.”

Jennifer: [laughs]

Matthew: I really gave her a hard time, because I was like, “I can’t believe you never mentioned this during all the last several months of going back and forth.” I do remember when we were here in 2015, Ken and I were walking to the stadium, the day of this great activity. I think Ken started saying, “I’m thinking about my future and possibly stepping down in a few years.” There’s no question in my mind that that planted the seed.

Ken: If that was a bug that was put into your ear at that time, I’m thrilled that it was because I hope you know how great I feel about having a friend, a colleague whom I highly respect in an ensemble that he has been leading that has more than 100-year affiliation with us. We both have Interlochen in our experience, which was for both of us a transformative experience. Then, my dear, we both play the French horn. I was just thrilled, yes.

Matthew: Well, for someone who’s looking at a position like this, I mean one of the things that really makes an impression is, who will be your predecessor and all that they’ve accomplished and the spirit. Ken has this unbelievable spirit of generosity. I mean, it’s unrivaled, I would say, in the performing arts. It means a lot to me to be able to come here and succeed him. Understanding that the incredible 30-year tenure that he’s had here and how much UMS has evolved into much, much more than an organization who presents concerts.

The evening before I was announced, I called a good colleague, Wynton Marsalis, and he went on and on about how much he loves UMS. He talks so much about how it’s not just about what’s on stage but what happens around the performances; going out into the community, engaging students at the university, engaging Ann Arbor, engaging Southeast Michigan. That’s the testament to the work that Ken has done here.

For me, it’s a real honor to be able to come here and succeed this guy because he is a great colleague, he is a great friend. I know what an amazing job he has done here. I consider it a great responsibility, a fun responsibility, to learn as much as I can from Ken during this transition period, but also, to really uphold the legacy that he has created.

Part 2

Ken Fischer’s Next Gig

What will Ken Fischer do after he retires from UMS on June 30, 2017? Find out.

Ken Fischer’s Retirement Party

On June 1, 2017, the anniversary of UMS President Ken Fischer’s first day on the job in 1987, we hosted Ken’s retirement celebration. View a selection of photos from the celebration below.



Photos by Jesse Meria.

UMS Ovation Celebrating Ken Fischer

On Saturday, May 6, 2017, at our Ovation Spring Gala we honored Ken Fischer and his 30 years of leadership at UMS, while raising important funds for UMS Education and Community Engagement programs. Explore a selection of photos from the celebration below, or view the complete gallery.
View Full Gallery

UMS will host an official retirement reception on Thursday, June 1, the 30th anniversary of Ken’s first day on the job at UMS. The event will take place at Rackham Assembly Hall from 4-6 pm and is free and open to the public. RSVP requested. Join us!

UMS Announces Ken Fischer Legacy Endowment Fund


When Ken Fischer first arrived at UMS in 1987, the organization presented 40 concerts each season, primarily classical music.

Fast forward 30 years.

Today UMS presents 60-70 performances each season that represent the best in international theater, dance, jazz, global music, and classical music, as well as innovative new work from emerging artists. And every year, over 100 UMS education and community engagement activities enrich thousands of U-M and area K-12 students, educators, and community members with an impact that extends far beyond the stage.

Leading with an inclusive philosophy of “Everybody In, Nobody Out,” Ken has brought UMS to global prominence as an internationally respected arts presenter. Expanding the breadth of artistic programming, integrating the performing arts into students’ academic experiences, introducing educational residencies, building community partnerships, and expanding access have all been signature initiatives during Ken’s tenure. In 2014, UMS received the National Medal of Arts.

Please join UMS in honoring Ken’s 30 years of extraordinary leadership and service to UMS, the University of Michigan, and our community with a gift of any size to the Ken Fischer Legacy Endowment Fund.

As a permanent endowment at UMS, the Fund will support a performance or unique opportunity each season.

The Ken Fischer Legacy Endowment Fund will not only honor Ken’s legacy, but will also help ensure the continued success of UMS.


UMS will host an official retirement reception on Thursday, June 1, 2017 the 30th anniversary of Ken’s first day on the job at UMS. The event will take place at Rackham Assembly Hall from 4-6 pm and is free and open to the public. RSVP requested by May 26. Join us!

Supporter Spotlight: Habte Dadi and Almaz Lessanework, Owners of Blue Nile

Habte Dadi, Ken Fischer, and Almaz Lessanework.

As we reflect on the impact Ken Fischer has had on UMS during the past 30 years, perhaps one of his greatest contributions has been his commitment to presenting authentic cultural expressions from around the world and to building relationships locally with communities of shared heritage—part of his guiding “Everybody In, Nobody Out” philosophy. More than 20 years ago, a deep friendship grew out of an unexpected catering request as UMS was presenting a cappella vocalists Sweet Honey in the Rock for the first time. Today, the Blue Nile Restaurant remains one of UMS’s longest-standing community partners.

UMS sat down with owners Habte Dadi and Almaz Lessanework to talk about that first encounter, their Ann Arbor business, and why they support UMS.

UMS: You met Ken Fischer for the first time at the Ann Arbor Art Center in 1992. What brought you two together, and what that event was like?

habte dadi, ken fischerHD: Actually,  Ken was hosting Sweet Honey in the Rock, in October 1992, a long time ago. I had just got into the restaurant business, and he came in and asked me to cater for that event. I said, “Okay, but what do I do?” I had no idea how to set up catering because I was just getting started. But, with a lot of help and clues from Ken, we ended up catering the event at the Art Center. And since then, we’ve worked with UMS.

UMS: You said that you were new at that time.  What made you want to get into the restaurant industry? 

HD: At that time, I actually had no intention of getting involved in the restaurant business. I was working for another company, but that company transferred to Atlanta. I didn’t want to go to Atlanta. I was taking classes at Wayne State University for graduate school. So, I started working in restaurants: washing dishes, sweeping the floor, and eventually I started to prepare the food, then learning to cook, serving the customer, and so forth. I didn’t start from the top, I started from the beginning.

UMS: You have been a long-time partner with UMS sponsoring our ticket backs and hosting UMS artists/events at your restaurant. Why has it been important to you to continue to support UMS over all of these years?

AL: UMS is absolutely gathering a community, from Michigan, out of state, the world, and of course, the university. Ken is a connector, and I think over a period of time he has helped UMS build up a strong sense of community. From that first event in 1992 until now we have had a great time with it. We love to be a part of it.

habte dadi, almaz, dianne reeveshabte dadi, ken fischer, and kodo drummers

From our archives: On left, Habte Dadi, Ken Fischer, Almaz Lessanework, and the Kodo Drummers. On right, Habte Dadi and Almaz Lessanework with jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves.

Since moving to their current location on Washington Street, Habte and Almaz have extended their world-class hospitality by hosting many UMS artists and community gatherings in their restaurant, including Dianne Reeves, Wynton Marsalis, and the Kodo Drummers, to name a few. The story goes that when Wynton arrived at the restaurant following one of his performances with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, he and the other musicians kept the place open until 4:30 in the morning! The Blue Nile partnership is one of our favorite demonstrations of the impact of Ken’s “Everybody In, Nobody Out” philosophy.

UMS Announces Matthew VanBesien as New President

New York Philharmonic President Becomes 7th President Since 1879

Matthew VanBesien, president of the New York Philharmonic, will become president of the University Musical Society of the University of Michigan in July 2017.

VanBesien, who has served as president of the New York Philharmonic since 2012, will take the reins from Kenneth C. Fischer, who retires at the end of June 2017 after 30 years in the job. He will become only the seventh president in UMS’s 138-year history.

We caught up with Matthew in New York in January.

We can’t wait to introduce Matthew to you in the coming months! Please join us in welcoming him to UMS and to Ann Arbor.

Full Press Release

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ANN ARBOR, MI (January 24, 2017) — Matthew VanBesien, president of the New York Philharmonic, will become president of the University Musical Society of the University of Michigan in July 2017.

VanBesien, who has served as president of the New York Philharmonic since 2012, will take the reins from Kenneth C. Fischer, who retires at the end of June 2017 after 30 years in the job. He will become only the seventh president in UMS’s 138-year history after Henry Simmons Frieze (1879-81, 1883-89), Alexander Winchell (1881-83, 1889-91), Francis Kelsey (1891-1927), Charles Sink (1927-68), Gail Rector (1968-86), and Ken Fischer (1987-2017).

Matthew VanBesien said, “I am truly honored to become the next president of UMS. UMS, its extraordinary programming, staff, and board are, simply put, among the most admired in the performing arts field. It’s my great privilege to be able to succeed Ken Fischer, who I know and deeply respect, and with whom I’ve collaborated during my tenure at the New York Philharmonic. While my career has been centered in the orchestral world for the last 25 years, I’m extremely excited about the diversity of programming that UMS offers, both on the stage and working throughout their community. I’ve visited Ann Arbor several times over the past few years and love the energy and sense of commitment that pervades both the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor community. My wife Rosie and I are looking forward to moving to Michigan and immersing ourselves in all that the region offers.”

Stephen Forrest, chair of the UMS Board chair and of the Search Committee, commented, “We began the search process over a year ago and were extremely pleased with the quality, diversity and strength of the candidate pool. Matthew’s experiences in Ann Arbor and with the New York Philharmonic, his appreciation for the unique university environment in which we operate, and his vision for the organization catapulted him to the top of our choices for the next president of UMS. We are thrilled and honored that he has elected to join UMS, and are excited to embark on this next chapter of UMS’s extraordinary history under Matthew’s leadership.”

Sarah Nicoli, vice chair of the UMS Board, added, “Matthew brings everything that the search committee had hoped to find in its ideal candidate: long experience in the arts, a gift for making connections with people, and an extraordinary ability to turn long-term vision into short-term action. Ken Fischer has left an incredible legacy at UMS, and I have every confidence that Matthew will continue to expand that fine work.”

A former French horn player, Matthew VanBesien spent eight years performing with the Louisiana Philharmonic before joining the League of American Orchestras’ management fellowship program. Upon completion of that program, he worked with the Houston Symphony for seven years, rising to executive director and CEO for the final four years of his tenure. He spent two years as managing director of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in Australia before returning to the United States to become executive director of the New York Philharmonic in 2012. He was named president of the New York Philharmonic in 2014.

During his tenure at the New York Philharmonic, Matthew VanBesien has helped develop and execute innovative programs along with music director Alan Gilbert, such as the NY PHIL BIENNIAL in 2014 and 2016, the Art of the Score film and music series, and exciting productions like Jeanne d’Arc au bucher with Marion Cotillard and Sweeney Todd with Emma Thompson. He led the creation of the New York Philharmonic’s Global Academy initiative, which offers educational partnerships with cultural institutions in Shanghai, Santa Barbara, Houston, and Interlochen to train talented pre-professional musicians, often alongside performance residencies. He led a successful music director search, with Jaap van Zweden appointed to the role beginning in 2018; the formation of the Philharmonic’s International Advisory Board and President’s Council; and the unique and successful multi-year residency and educational partnership in Shanghai, China.

He serves on the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras, a membership organization comprised of hundreds of orchestras from across North America, and the Executive Committee for the Avery Fisher Career Grants, which provides professional assistance and recognition to talented instrumentalists.

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Matthew VanBesien earned a bachelor of music degree in French horn performance from Indiana University. In May 2014 Mr. VanBesien received an Honorary Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Manhattan School of Music. He is married to Rosanne Jowitt, an accomplished geoscientist in the oil and gas business.

“A university can be neither excellent nor comprehensive without fostering cultural appreciation and the humanistic connections made possible by the arts. U-M’s 200 years as a premier public institution would be much less meaningful without the University Musical Society,” said University of Michigan President Mark S. Schlissel. “I have had the pleasure of seeing the benefits of Matthew’s work on our campus and in Southeast Michigan, and I am certain that he will continue to advance the amazing impact of UMS and extend its influence ever more broadly throughout our academic community.”

Aaron Dworkin, dean of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance and a member of the Search Committee, said, “I am greatly looking forward to working with Matthew VanBesien in his new role at UMS. Our students at the School still talk about the wonderful New York Philharmonic residency last year and how it expanded both their performance and entrepreneurial skill sets. UMS and SMTD have a history of partnering on projects large and small, and I couldn’t be happier that we’ll be able to continue that important work with Matthew.”

“I was elated when UMS Board leadership told me that Matthew VanBesien would be UMS’s next president. I’ve known Matthew for many years, and I know that UMS is in great hands under his leadership,” said Ken Fischer, current president of UMS. “This is a wise choice, and that we could attract a candidate of Matthew’s caliber says a lot about the vibrancy and support of this organization, this University, and this community. I couldn’t be more delighted.”

UMS Programming Director Michael Kondziolka added, “Having had the opportunity to work with Matthew in various contexts over the past few years, I am confident that his appointment provides an opportunity for seamless transition for our UMS team. Together, with Matthew at the helm, we are energized to continue our mission of serving diverse audiences, artists, and communities. Indeed, we are excited to watch our work evolve and flourish over the coming years.”

The search was led by Spencer Stuart. The search committee included Stephen Forrest, chair of the UMS Board; Rachel Bendit, secretary of the UMS Board; Lisa Cook, UMS Board member; Aaron Dworkin, dean of the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance; Linda Gregerson, U-M Professor of English and Literature; Michael Kondziolka, UMS director of programming; Tim Lynch, U-M vice president and general counsel; Tim Marshall, president & CEO of Bank of Ann Arbor; Sarah Nicoli, vice chair of the UMS Board; Mike Ross, director of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois; Rhemé Sloan, U-M ’14, working at Rice University; and Dr. James Stanley, UMS Campaign co-chair.

About UMS

A National Medal of Arts recipient (2014), UMS contributes to a vibrant cultural community by connecting audiences with performing artists from around the world in uncommon and engaging experiences. By juxtaposing innovative/creative work with traditional/interpretive work, UMS frames an exploration of performance forms within a diverse, international cultural lens.

Also known as the University Musical Society, UMS is an independent non-profit organization affiliated with the University of Michigan, presenting over 70 music, theater, and dance performances by professional touring artists each season, along with over 100 free educational activities for K-12 students, teachers, university students, and the community, with sustained efforts to engage and celebrate regional communities of shared heritage. Since its founding in 1879, strong leadership, coupled with outstanding venues, authentic artistic and community collaborations, dynamic education programs, and enduring commitment to excellence, has placed UMS in a league of internationally-recognized performing arts presenters.

Legendary artists presented by UMS over the years include Marian Anderson, Vladimir Horowitz, Leonard Bernstein, Robert Wilson, Ornette Coleman, Jessye Norman, Robert Lepage, Enrico Caruso, Celia Cruz, Sonny Rollins, Peter Brook, Youssou N’Dour, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Gilberto Gil, along with extended campus residencies with leading ensembles such as Royal Shakespeare Company (England), Complicite (England), Setagaya Public Theatre (Tokyo), Théâtre de la Ville (Paris); Martha Graham Dance Company (New York), and Handspring Puppet Theater (Johannesburg); the New York, Vienna, and Berlin Philharmonics, and others. UMS also hosts the Grammy-Award-winning UMS Choral Union, a 175-voice chorus that performs with local and visiting orchestras.  UMS presents performances in multiple venues throughout the region and on the University campus, most notably including Hill Auditorium, acknowledged by many artists since its opening in 1913 as one of the great concert halls of the world.

UMS is part of the University of Michigan’s “Victors for Michigan” campaign, reinforcing its commitment to bold artistic leadership, engaged learning through the arts, and access and inclusiveness. Since 1990, the organization has co-commissioned and supported the production of nearly 80 new or reimagined works over the past 25 years, such as the recent remounting of Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s iconic opera Einstein on the Beach.


Media Contacts

Sara Billmann, Director of Marketing & Communications
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Lawrence Perelman, Semantix Creative Group

National Medal of Arts in Photos

ums presidence ken fischer receives national medal of arts from president barack obamaUMS was selected as one of the 2014 recipients of the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest public artistic honor, awarded annually at the White House by the President of the United States to those who have “demonstrated a lifetime of creative excellence,” according to the National Endowment for the Arts, which oversees the selection process. In the photo above, UMS president Ken Fischer receives the award.

Explore other photos from the ceremony below, including photos of the UMS delegation, the other National Medal of Arts recipients, and President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.


UMS President Ken Fischer Announces Retirement

UMS President Ken Fischer announces retirement. Fischer will step down at end of 2016-17 season after 30 years.

Kenneth C. Fischer, president of the University Musical Society of the University of Michigan (UMS), has announced that he will retire from UMS on June 30, 2017, at the conclusion of his 30th year in the job. A long UMS tenure is not unique to Ken; he is only the sixth person to serve as UMS president during its 137-year history after Henry Simmons Frieze (1879-81, 1883-89), Alexander Winchell (1881-83, 1889-91), Francis Kelsey (1891-1927), Charles Sink (1927-68), and Gail Rector (1968-86).

“Ken has been a remarkable leader for UMS. He has brought this organization to global prominence that has changed not only the performing arts scene but also the quality of life in our city and region,” said Stephen R. Forrest, chair of the UMS Board of Directors. “Ken has followed a highly inclusive philosophy of ‘everybody in, nobody out’ that has had an enormous impact on so many people, who under his leadership have developed a lifelong passion for the arts. He will certainly be missed but he leaves a legacy that will continue long into the future.”

ken fischer

Fischer, 71, took the reins of UMS on June 1, 1987. Over the past three decades, he has overseen the organization’s artistic growth and diversification into ongoing commitments to art forms outside of classical music; expansion into K-12, university, and community education programs; and initiatives to put UMS on a secure financial footing. Under Fischer’s visionary leadership, UMS has greatly expanded and diversified its programming and its audiences, deepening its engagement with the University (including relationships with 70 academic units and more than 200 faculty) and southeast Michigan communities; created exemplary partnerships with leading artistic collaborators across the world; taken an active role in commissioning new works; and received significant grants awarded by prominent foundations that support the arts, including the Wallace Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Major artists and residencies presented during Fischer’s time include being one of only four cities in the country to present the Vienna Philharmonic’s final tour with Leonard Bernstein (1988), celebrating Bernstein’s 70th birthday and Hill Auditorium’s 75th; debuts of many artists who were unknown when they were first presented but went on to celebrated careers, most notably Cecilia Bartoli (1993); a celebration of Martha Graham’s centenary (1994); a multi-year partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company (2001-2012), which included the presentation of 10 plays as well as the creative development of five others; Einstein on the Beach (2012), which launched the final production with the original creators and went on to tour 14 cities in 11 countries; and in-depth work with the Arab-American community in metro Detroit, which launched eight years of global programming focused on specific regions of the world (Arab/Middle East, Asia and the Subcontinent, Africa, and the Americas). UMS has also commissioned, co-commissioned, or co-produced more than 60 works in dance, theater, and music since 1990.

Under Fischer’s tenure, UMS was named a 2014 National Medal of Arts recipient, the first university presenter to receive this highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government. Since his first season in 1987, UMS’s budget has grown fourfold, due in large part to expansion of mainstage artistic programs but also to the development of a robust education and community engagement programs.

Fischer is known widely as a caring, supportive, and enthusiastic colleague and mentor. He is legendary in his ability to build relationships and make connections among colleagues, often leading them to unique and fruitful collaborations. Fischer has developed UMS under his philosophy of “EINO” — Everybody In, Nobody Out — which he attributes to his mentor, the late Patrick Hayes of Washington, DC. This philosophy is now intrinsic to UMS’s work and guides the organization in building a truly inclusive and multicultural community around all of its mainstage and educational programming.

Fischer has also contributed to the performing arts presenting field as a speaker, workshop leader, panelist, and cultural ambassador to Brazil, China, Lithuania, and Mexico under U.S. State Department auspices. He serves on the boards of directors of National Arts Strategies, International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA), Arts Midwest, Sphinx Organization, and Ann Arbor SPARK and has also served on the boards of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) and Chamber Music America (CMA). ISPA honored him with the Patrick Hayes Award in 2003, and APAP and CMA have presented him with their highest recognition through the Fan Taylor Award (APAP, 2011) and the Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award (CMA, 2016). He is an emeritus trustee of the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Locally, he has been recognized by the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan, The Links, Inc., the Ann Arbor Public Schools Foundation, Neutral Zone, Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County, and others for his contributions to the Ann Arbor community.

A native of Plymouth, MI, Fischer spent considerable time in Washington, D.C. prior to coming to UMS, working as a management consultant with particular focus in higher education (he completed coursework for a PhD candidate in higher education at the University of Michigan) and independent concert production. He is married to professional flutist Penelope Peterson Fischer; they have one son, Matt, who lives with his wife Renee and their two children in California.

Fischer says, “When I look back at my first season at UMS and the season that we are just finishing, I am so proud of how this organization has grown artistically and educationally, and of the astonishing support that our devoted community of audience members and donors provides. Their willingness to take risks means that UMS can program exciting, ground-breaking artistic work that balances the traditional programming that we were known for in our early years. But I want to reassure people: while I get a lot of the credit for UMS’s success, I have a terrific team of over 30 colleagues that makes it all happen, and they will continue to do so after I retire as president.”

UMS will announce its 2016-17 season, which includes several concerts programmed with Ken’s final year in mind, on April 16.

The executive search and recruitment firm Spencer Stuart has been retained and a search committee appointed to assist UMS with the search for a new president. The search committee includes: Stephen Forrest, chair of the UMS Board; Rachel Bendit, secretary of the UMS Board; Lisa Cook, UMS Board member; Aaron Dworkin, Dean of the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance; Linda Gregerson, U-M Professor of English and Literature; Michael Kondziolka, UMS Director of Programming; Tim Lynch, U-M Vice President and General Counsel; Tim Marshall, President & CEO of Bank of Ann Arbor; Sarah Nicoli, vice chair of the UMS Board; Mike Ross, director of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois; Rhemé Sloan, U-M ’14, working at the Houston Symphony; and Dr. James Stanley, UMS Campaign co-chair.


One of the oldest performing arts presenters in the country, UMS (also known as the University Musical Society) contributes to a vibrant cultural community by connecting audiences with performing artists from around the world in uncommon and engaging experiences. UMS is an independent non-profit organization affiliated with the University of Michigan, presenting over 70 music, theater, and dance performances by professional touring artists each season, along with over 100 free educational activities. UMS is part of the University of Michigan’s “Victors for Michigan” campaign, reinforcing its commitment to bold artistic leadership, engaged learning through the arts, and access and inclusiveness. UMS was awarded the 2014 National Medal of Arts by President Obama.

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Ken Fischer Receives Award


We’re proud of our president Ken Fischer! He received Chamber Music America’s Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award this past Sunday.

At the Victors for Arts Gala

scenes from victors for arts gala
Scenes from our Victors for Michigan gala dinner, a special event kicking off a weekend of concerts and residency activities with New York Philharmonic.

In center photo, UMS president Ken Fischer (left), University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel (right), and Eugene Grant, whose $1 million gift makes the residency possible.

Interested in more? Explore the full range of residency events and activities.

Go Blue: National Medal of Arts

Go Blue moment: UMS President Ken Fischer & U-M president Mark Schlissel with UMS National Medal of Arts. Ken traveled to the White House to receive the medal on behalf of UMS on September 10, 2015.

U-M Swimming & Diving Team Meets UMS

On a summery July 2015 day, the University of Michigan Swimming & Diving team spent the day with UMS, getting an up close look at Burton Tower and historic Hill Auditorium, and learning more about performance. Go blue and watch the highlights of the day:

Interested in more? Read this great re-cap of the day.

UMS Choral Union Sings Ken Fischer Happy Birthday!

The Choral Union sang Happy Birthday to Ken Fischer, the UMS President,  last week!

The Choral Union wished Ken Fischer, the UMS President, a Happy 70th Birthday last week! Watch the video here. 

At the opening night reception for Théâtre de la Ville

Creative team, Ken Fischer, and Frank Legacki and Alicia Torres at opening night reception

At the opening night reception for Théâtre de la Ville: UMS president Ken Fischer welcomed members of the creative team (on the left). Thanks to opening night supporters Frank Legacki and Alicia Torres (on the right).

Did you attend the performances? Don’t forget to share your thoughts.

Itzhak Perlman with U-Mpresident Mark Schlissel, UMS president Ken Fischer and Penny Fischer

Ken and Penny Fischer with Itzhak Perlman and Mark Schlissel

From our 2014-2015 season opening performance, violinist Itzhak Perlman with University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel, UMS president Ken Fischer and Penny Fischer on stage at Hill Auditorium. Did you see the show? Join the audience conversation.