UMS Director Michael Kondziolka to Receive Chevalier Award
UMS Programming Director Michael Kondziolka was recently named a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French Minister of Culture.
This distinction recognizes eminent artists and writers, and those who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world. Kondziolka receives the award in recognition of his significant contributions to bringing French performing arts to the United States.
Said UMS National Council member Marylene Delbourg-Delphis:
As a French citizen, I am thrilled to learn that Michael Kondziolka is now a Knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters). The significance of this prestigious award is that it recognizes a continuous series of achievements and, as a result, is very hard to get. I am glad that my country values how effectively Michael evangelizes the French performing arts and I am sure that many other countries will follow suit. Michael’s personal acumen, tireless efforts and talent bolster Ann Arbor’s visibility and influence on a national and international scale and confirms UMS’s standing as a truly diverse and cosmopolitan breeding ground for the arts.
The award will be presented later in 2016 in France.
Kiss & Cry and Push Boundaries
UMS director of programming Michael Kondziolka on why he’s excited about the upcoming boundary-pushing film, theater, and dance work Kiss & Cry. Charleroi Danses perform Kiss & Cry at the Power Center October 10-12.
What happens when you leave your office unattended on your birthday…
What happens when you leave your office unattended on your birthday….Happy Birthday to our director of programming Michael Kondziolka!
Celebrating Our Programming Director
Putting On “The Suit”
Editor’s note: Student volunteers at UMS often get the chance to take a deep dive into a performance or art form. In this essay, UMS Marketing intern Clare Brennan reflects on her experiences with “The Suit” directed by the legendary stage and film director Peter Brook. The performance will be at Ann Arbor’s Power Center on February 19-22, 2014.
Photo: Clare Brennan and the UMS Student Committee take the suit around town as part of U-M Museum of Art’s “Love Art More” project. Photo by UMS Student Committee.
It’s not hard for me to remember one of the first books that really moved me. I was sitting in my living room, home alone on a bright August afternoon, finishing up some reading I’d been assigned for my last year of English in high school. I read the final paragraph, closed the back cover, and sat quietly for a while. I might’ve teared up a bit, if I’m being honest. The book was Alan Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country, and it was then that I became infatuated with the stories and storytellers from South Africa.
As it turns out, my love for the French language and culture was growing right alongside this, as well as an absolute obsession with all things regarding Anglo-Saxon theater. Imagine, then, my elation when an opportunity to dive head first into The Suit fell into my lap. My nerdy heart fluttered. I accepted as nonchalantly as I could.
Apparently, my fixation with The Suit is not uncommon. Legendary theatrical director Peter Brook loved this story so much that, after directing the story once in French in 1999, he chose to return to it, this time in English. I had the chance to sit down with Michael Kondziolka, the Director of Programming here at UMS. He saw the debut of this production of The Suit last year in New York, and knew that Ann Arbor had to have the chance to see it. “It’s so painterly. A supreme colorist can use shadow and light and color and understands exactly how to use these different media to create a masterpiece. That’s what Peter Brook is doing. He knows how to use actors and written text and music and light and staging and movement and the audience, and how to craft all of that into something that is really powerful, really masterful.”
Of course, any discussion of South Africa must mention the recent passing of Nelson Mandela. The Suit is set on the cusp of Mandela’s most prominent years, and this energy of anticipation of what’s to come silently fills the stage. It provides an opportunity to see a South Africa without Mandela and his work, and as the world reflects on his incredible dedication to his country, taking a moment to step back and hear from those who came before him feels even more powerful.
With that context, The Suit might seem like a eulogy. Far from it. In talking with Michael, I got the chance to hear about what makes a Peter Brook piece tick. At the heart of each of his works is a dedication to simplicity. “This piece has a real lightness to it. And the lightness comes from the performance.” Over almost half- century of work, Brook has pared down his stages, from the intricate scenery of his staging of the Bard for the Royal Shakespeare Company to the openness of The Suit’s space. “It creates a sense of the fun of the performance. So you’ve got this really interesting visual experience. Your imagination is unlocked as an audience member, and that’s really entertaining and satisfying.” Brook trusts his audience, an honor not frequently given, and we’re free to reap the benefits.
While we covered many topics, my chat with Michael really focused on the music embedded in the show. From Schubert on the accordion to a poignantly placed introduction of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion (what Michael reverently referred to as “The Sistine Chapel of classical music”), it is evident that Brook knows exactly how to carefully weave music into his work. “Peter Brook is not only a master theater maker but he clearly is a student of culture, and the way in which he understands the meaning of these specific pieces of music and uses them to get his theatrical idea across.”
Studying up for The Suit has been a joy. Peter Brook knows how to tell a story, and his ability to transcend the barriers of the stage and approach each member of the audience with this incredible story of love and loss has no comparison. I’m so looking forward to seeing this show and finding what discoveries I still have left to make. The stage has a magical quality, and, in The Suit, it’s clear that Peter Brook knows it. “It’s pure poetry,” as Michael eloquently sums up. From what I can tell, I think he’s on to something .
Infographic: Propeller’s Journey to Ann Arbor
Presenting: UMS Tweet Seats Pilot Project
TWEET SEATS EVENTS
Tweet Seats 1: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. Find out what happened.
Tweet Seats 2: Théâtre de la Ville: Ionesco’s Rhinocéros. Find out what happened.
Tweet Seats 3: Mariinsky Orchestra of St. Petersburg. Find out what happened.
Tweet Seats 4: Find out what happened.
WHAT ARE TWEET SEATS?
This season, UMS is launching a new pilot project: an experiment at the cross-section of live performing arts and technology commonly known as “tweet seats.”
Tweet seats refer to seats in which tweeting is permitted during the performance.
UMS has invited 5-7 people to participate in our tweet seats pilot project at 4 select performances. Only these 5-7 tweet seats participants will be permitted to use devices to participate in this pilot project; for the rest of the audience, our standard device policy applies (“Turn off all cellphones and electronic devices”).
The tweet seats participants will silence their phones and dim back-light to lowest setting; we’ve also prepared individual phone containers which will almost completely minimize any light emitted from the devices so that the experience of other patrons is not affected by tweet seats. Ensuring a smooth performance experience for all is our top priority.
At each of the 4 designated performances, participants are required to tweet 3-5 times using the hashtag #umslobby. No specific instructions for content of tweets are given. We’ll follow up with participants after the performance and chat with them about their experience; interviews will appear here on UMS Lobby.
You can follow or join the conversation after the performance here.
WHY TWEET SEATS?
Studies show that for some, engaging with technology is the preferred method of processing a performance and of “being present” at a performance.
In one such study, (“Making Sense of Audience Engagement”) Alan Brown & Rebecca Ratzkin refer to this subset of audiences as “technology-based processors.” They “love all forms of online engagement, and appear to be growing in number, especially among younger audience segments. Technology-based processors search for information online before and after the event. They connect with others on Facebook and other social media, and are most likely to read and contribute to blogs and discussion forums on the arts organization’s website. Their motivations are both intellectual and social in nature.”
So, we thought, let’s get together a group of people with differing attitudes towards technology to learn more about the effects of using technology during a live performance experience for all.
Our question: what can experimenting with technology teach us about being “engaged” or “present” at a performance?
We’ve pre-interviewed some of our participants so that you can get to know the range of attitudes that are part of the project. We asked them questions like:
- In one sentence, how would you describe your relationship with technology?
- What kinds of arts experiences do you like or look forward to most?
- To you, what does it mean to “be present” during a performance or another arts experience?
- What are you looking forward to in this experiment of experiencing performing arts with technology? What questions, concerns, reservations, or anxieties do you have about this experiment?
Learn more about them & their thoughts about technology and this pilot project below :
- Leslie Stainton, U-M School of Public Health Findings magazine editor and umslobby.org contributor
- Michael Kondziolka, UMS Director of Programming
- Mariah Cherem, Production Librarian at Ann Arbor District Library
- Paul Kitti, writer for iSPY magazine
- Mark Clague, U-M Associate Professor of Musicology and UMS Board member
- Greg Baise, Detroit-based concert promoter, arts writer, and DJ
- Garrett Schumann, composer, U-M Master of Music in Composition student, and umslobby.org contributor
- Neutral Zone and the University of Michigan participants
UMS : Tell us about you. If you have an online presence you like to share publicly please tell us the relevant websites or user names/handles.
Leslie Stainton: I’m an editor at the UM School of Public Health and the author of a biography of Spanish playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca and a history/memoir of an American theater. My website is lesliestainton.com.
Greg Baise: I am Detroit-based concert promoter, arts writer, and occasional DJ. Some of my playlists can be found at vivaradio.com/lavie
Paul Kitti: I am a writer for iSPY Magazine, a monthly entertainment publication. I’ve spent the past two years covering a wide range of local events, including concerts, festivals, and screenings. Music and writing consume most of my brainpower, and I’ve found Ann Arbor to be an ideal environment for discovering new artists. In addition to journalism, I’ve held positions within U of M’s Athletic Department and Career Center. Magazine: http://mispymag.com/ LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=91711849&trk=tab_pro
Mark Clague: I’m an Associate Professor of Musicology, American Culture, African American Studies, and Non-Profit Management (whew!) at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance as well as a member of the UMS board. I tweet as @usmusicscholar and have a couple of WordPress blogs, including one on the bicentennial of the U.S. National Anthem (osaycanyouhear).
Michael Kondziolka: My name is Michael Kondziolka and I am the Director of Programming at UMS. My online presence is limited to Facebook and a couple of blogs that I regularly comment on.
Mariah Cherem: My love of music started with singing as a toddler, and has followed me through years of violin, various bands, and the occasional DJ set. My interest in how communities articulate their values through policy led me to EMU’s Arts Management MA program. A few years later, curiosity about online communities and the interplay between on and off-line behavior led me to UM’s School of Information. I now count myself extraordinarily lucky to be bringing all of these interests together in my work as a Production Librarian at AADL.
Garrett Schumann: I am a composer pursuing my doctorate in Music Composition at the University. In addition to writing music, I host a music show on Washington Public Radio called We Are Not Beethoven where the ever-changing place music holds in the 21st-Century world is discussed. Learn more at garrettschumann.com and follow me on twitter @garrt.
UMS: In one sentence, how would you describe your relationship with technology? OK, you can elaborate beyond this first “thesis” sentence if you would like.
Greg Baise: If a new record comes on vinyl with a digital download, I always opt for the vinyl over the cd. If the vinyl doesn’t come with a digital download, I buy the vinyl anyways.
Leslie Stainton: Troubled! I’m dependent on it, like everyone, and annoyed by it. I want it to do what I need it to do, and that’s it—I’m not a gadget person, don’t like games, don’t find technology interesting for its own sake. While I see the utility of social media, it strikes me as a giant time suck, and so I seldom engage—though I do enjoy blogging for UMS. I enjoy the way it makes me think more deeply about what I’ve seen onstage. I’ve done some tweeting and Facebook posting for the School of Public Health, but not enough to feel confident or particularly comfortable in either area.
Mariah Cherem: Technology can be fun and fascinating and super-mind-blowingly-cool, but I’m most interested in how people use it to connect to each other, to information/resources that they need, and to things that they’re passionate about. Also, I think our definitions of what constitutes “technology” are constantly shifting. A pen or a typewriter doesn’t seem like technology now, but there was once a point when it did.
Michael Kondziolka: I have an enigmatic relationship with technology. I tend to be a late adopter….and, while I accept that technology is here to stay, I sometimes bemoan its impact on our culture. In my view, the irony of “connectivity” embedded in much of mythology/ideology of social media is one of the great farces of our time: users seem decidedly less connected. (This is in no way an insightful observation as much has been written on the topic.) This fundamental concern aside, I can be a fanatical user of technology from time to time and I don’t think I could give up my iPhone at this point. I have social media sites that I use on a semi-regular basis. At the end of the day, I have a very healthy skepticism and think it is important to push back on assumptions in all sectors of life.
Garrett Schumann: I believe the Internet Web-based media have created a new and unprecedented aesthetic experience in the 21st Century, and it is imperative for those involved in the performing arts and other parts of culture to interact with and embrace those technologies if their work is to remain relevant to society at large.
Paul Kitti: I’m an email addict, avid texter and internet junkie with a loyalty to Apple products. Despite growing fully accustomed to the constant technological buzz of my generation, I still prefer hard copies of books and magazines.
Mark Clague: I enjoy exploring technology for new views on our world and to grow my own creativity, skills, and perspectives.
UMS: This pilot includes a broad range of performing arts experiences: theater, dance, global music, orchestral performance. What sorts of performing arts experiences are you most familiar with? More broadly, what kinds of arts experiences do you like or look forward to most? What do you wish to have more experience with?
Leslie Stainton: I did my BA in drama and my MFA in dramaturgy, so I’m passionate about live theater and know a fair amount about it, or at least once did. I’ve studied dance off and on and am interested in the form, though don’t know as much about it as I probably should. Ditto music: I’m married to a musicologist, and we attend many concerts and talk about music and listen to it at home. But I’ve never taken a theory course so don’t understand it in the kind of depth I’d like. I’m far more drawn to classical music than to popular forms, jazz, country, or so-called global music. I adore museums—think of them as spiritual centers and seek them out almost every time I travel—and spent six years working for UMMA. I’m interested in arts experiences that provoke and challenge, that cross traditional genres and boundaries, that make me think more profoundly.
Mariah Cherem: I am most interested in (and luckily can attend) the orchestral performance and the performance by Gilberto Gil. In general, at some point I’d love to do UMS “Night School” related to a dance performance, as that’s an area I feel that might help my enjoyment even more.
Greg Baise: In music, I’m mostly familiar with rock, world music, contemporary classical music and modern dance. I’m very interested in art history in general, and modern art in particular, especially stuff that’s too current for the latest art history surveys. I’d love to get deeper into experimental theater and more modern dance.
Paul Kitti: I’ve played a couple instruments and attended several classical concerts. The most memorable performance I’ve witnessed was “Einstein on the Beach” as presented by UMS earlier this year. My knowledge about theatre and dance is limited, although I’ve grown more and more interested in these types of productions over the past year. The art-related experiences I look forward to most are the ones involving music and/or acting.
Garrett Schumann: Because I am a composer I am most familiar with music and musical performances. However, I love all kinds of performing arts and cultural experiences from dance shows to theatrical performances and, particularly, contemporary arts exhibits.
Michael Kondziolka: Relatively speaking, I have a lot of experience with most forms of the performing arts and a passing familiarity with the others. I am least familiar with some forms of contemporary popular music and culture. I look forward to a broad range of experiences from the very traditional to the very experimental.
Mark Clague: My primary arts experience is as an orchestral musicians (bassoonist), but I also masquerade as a photographer, saxophonist, and singer. Inspired by John Cage, I like to challenge myself to explore new kinds of art and to open myself up to new ideas and experiences. Thus I’ve increasingly attended UMS dance, theater, and world music events to stretch beyond my orchestra and jazz comfort zone.
UMS: Why did you decide to participate in this project?
Michael Kondziolka: As a way of testing my own, sometimes staunch, assumptions.
Greg Baise: UMS’s programming plays a huge part in my cultural activities. HUGE. I’m still astounded that within the past year I’ve seen the Gate Theatre, Einstein on the Beach, and Jessye Norman perform John Cage, all thanks to UMS. I hope I can contribute through these tweet seats and raise awareness of UMS’s presence and programming. And I’m honored to be asked to participate.
Mariah Cherem: In general, I think very highly of UMS’s programming. I’m not often able to attend that many performances, however, due to time and budget constraints. I’ve been interested in how various technologies can help or hinder enjoyment or engagement in experiences (in this case, it’d be performances). I’m not sure that I think that Tweeting about performances is really quite right for me, but I’m willing to give it a shot and try it in the name of experimentation. This idea pushes me a little bit out of my comfort zone of “things I tweet about” or talk about online, and I think that nudging around one’s boundaries now and then is important.
Garrett Schumann: I use twitter a lot in my life both for fun and for professional purposes, so I feel like I am experienced enough with the technology to contribute a meaningful opinion to this project’s discussion. Also, I think the tweet-seat question is emblematic of performing arts organizations’ struggle to maintain relevance in the 21st-century.
Paul Kitti: I appreciate what UMS brings to Ann Arbor, and I’ve immensely enjoyed my past experiences with their productions. Honestly, the opportunity to witness and participate in these events is something I knew I couldn’t pass up.
Mark Clague: I’ve heard a lot of buzz about Tweet Seats and enjoyed the few times I’ve surreptitiously tweeted at an arts event and thus wanted to try it out for myself when it was “legal.”
Leslie Stainton: Because I’m addicted to working with UMS?!
UMS: To you, what does it mean to “be present” during a performance or another arts experience?
Garrett Schumann: Obviously, attending an event is step one to ‘being present’, but I think the phrase involves incorporating the experience you’ve had at a concert/performance into your life at large. By this, I mean talking to people you know about what you’ve seen/heard, breaking down your experience in conversations and sharing it with others either online or in person.
Greg Baise: Hmm. Present? Paying attention. Learning. Enjoying. Not distracted. Taking it in in the present, and remembering it for later, too.
Paul Kitti: Art requires the beholder to suspend all preconceptions and unrelated thoughts; to be present during an arts experience is to lend your mind as best as you are able to what is before you, constantly trying to identify the message, meaning, uniqueness or beauty of what you’re seeing and hearing.
Leslie Stainton: To shut out the workaday world and become utterly absorbed in the experience at hand; to come away with some new understanding.
Mariah Cherem: The ideas of presence and focus are those that I struggle with most when thinking about how this experience might go. For me, I often don’t want to be the lens – don’t want to be capturing pieces of something, as then I become detached. Even at rock shows, I get a little annoyed when the guy in the front feels the need to film everything instead of just getting into it and being “in the moment.” However, at the same time, I think that there may be potential for people to raise awareness of their experience of a particular musician, play, etc. via social media channels. I don’t want the arts to get lost in our larger conversations because we “shouldn’t” be talking about them in some way or another – using some tech or another.
Mark Clague: It’s more than just physically attending; To be present is to connect with the art and engage with it, allowing the motivations, messages, and even the spiritual dimension of the art to converse with you. For me Twitter is one way to honor that conversation by translating my nebulous experience into 140-character thoughts, documenting and sharing these, and potentially chatting with others about these reactions.
Michael Kondziolka: This, for me, is the nub of the issue. I do not tend to believe that a mediating device can truly help in this regard. Of course, there are tools that can help mediate the experience and enhance it — infra-red listening devices, subtitles, etc. But, at the end of the day, those are mediating tools which are necessary to aid the user in accessing some aspect of the presentation that they otherwise could not. Critique, the intellectual processing and analysis of what has happened, starts during the performance but is codified through words after the performance. (“How can I put this experience into words….?”) Even a non-critique, a purely emotion-based exclamation – “I loved that!” — to be tweeted, takes one out of the experience. I have yet to understand what/why/how the dimension of time plays into all this. I can’t wrap my head around why something tweeted in real time — at the moment it is felt or realized during a performance — is more valuable than something tweeted during a natural break in a performance — at intermission or after the show. (“Wow…impressive return to the tonic key!”) That is how we have always tended to process our collective experiences pre-technology…and I don’t understand why we frame the real-time possibilities offered by tweeting to be somehow better…or an improvement. (It may be, as umsLobby’s Musiclover would call it, a “disimprovement.”) I view the communication that takes place between a performer and an audience member — whether it be lyric, declaimed or movement based – to be sacred. Therefore, anything that breaks that bond is anathema to the notion of being “being present.” I also subscribe to basic norms, rightly or wrongly, of what I was taught to believe are civil manners — if someone is speaking (or performing) they deserve your full attention.
When I really drill down on this topic, I realize that I actually believe that the use of technology in new and possibly intrusive ways — in this instance, as part of the performance experience — is most probably an ideological metaphor of independence: a classic moment of generational division.. (“Look Ma, we have our own ways of doing things.”) And that ideological position probably exists outside the forum that is being created to address this question.
UMS: What are you looking forward to in this experiment of merging performing arts with technology? What anxieties, concerns, reservations, or questions do you have about this experiment?
Paul Kitti: I’m looking forward to simply experiencing these productions, and the chance to offer input and be engaged through technology is kind of an added bonus.
Greg Baise: I’m looking forward to new cultural experiences, and sharing my impressions and observations. And also getting feedback – I hope I say stuff that’s of interest to both my friends and to total strangers. I might be a little reserved about thinking about (or over-thinking) what I tweet, maybe to a point where I’m concentrating more on the tweet than the performance. Also, I’m concerned about interfering with the enjoyment of others through use of technology and wonder how isolated we will be from the general audience.
Michael Kondziolka: I am looking forward to the basic act of testing one’s strongly held views. I am most concerned about breaking the scared bond and I take solace in the fact that I can go again and have the same experience in a completely unmediated, truly present, way on a subsequent evening. Anxiety would come in the form of worrying that, through my actions, I am interfering in someone else’s sacred moment.
Leslie Stainton: I’m honestly not sure about my ability to tweet—haven’t quite gotten the hang of 140 characters and don’t really understand hashtags. I’m also frankly worried about the ADD element of all this—trying to multitask while watching a performance. I’m not at all sure I’ll enjoy the experience or want to repeat it, but I’m sufficiently curious I’m willing to try it once.
Mariah Cherem: I think that my answers to the two questions above actually already hit on these points! : )
Garrett Schumann: I’m most interested in the arguments against allowing twitter into the concert hall. Because I am unabashedly in favor of the ‘tweet seat’ idea, my bias tends to inhibit my ability to relate to the dissent that is out there, and I look forward to an opportunity to learn more about viewpoints that oppose mine.
Mark Clague: I’m looking forward to the real-time conversation with other Tweet-seaters; my only worry is in getting criticism from other patrons who either think we’re doing something wrong or who just personally object to social media in an arts event.
Stay tuned for more interviews with our participants about their experiences over the course of the pilot project.
[VIDEO] Producing Einstein on the Beach
UMS Programming Director Michael Kondziolka and UMS Technical Director Jeff Beyersdorf discuss the technical challenges of producing an epic-scale work like Einstein on the Beach.
Part of Pure Michigan Renegade.
The 2012 production of Einstein on the Beach was commissioned by: University Musical Society of the University of Michigan; BAM; the Barbican, London; Cal Performances University of California, Berkeley; Luminato, Toronto Festival of Arts and Creativity; De Nederlandse Opera/The Amsterdam Music Theatre; Opéra et Orchestre National de Montpellier Languedoc-Rousillon. Produced by Pomegranate Arts, Inc.
[VIDEO] AnDa Union from Inner Mongolia
UMS is presenting AnDa Union from Inner Mongolia this Wednesday, November 9th. Discover this group’s incredible history, and learn more about Asia Series at UMS in the video below.
How do we innovate to make things better? What does it mean to be a maverick?
More on the themes within our 11/12 Season at Montage.
Renegade Series will shake up your mud months
Some renegades: 1. Einstein on the Beach and 2. Random Dance.
A friend from Minneapolis was visiting earlier this summer, and we got to talking about the dreaded “mud months” up here in the icy north—February, March, alas, even April. Our friend mentioned that she’d spent a week in Arizona last February, but when I said I envied her, she shook her head. “Actually,” she said, “I cut my trip short. I couldn’t wait to get back.”
“What made you do that?”
The cultural life, she said. “There’s no cultural life down there.”
With apologies to the Heard Museum and Ballet Arizona, I think she’s got a point. And I’ve promised myself that this year, no matter how bad it gets, I’m not going to complain when it’s mid-March and I’m shoveling snow for the third time in a week, because the cultural offerings in Ann Arbor more than compensate. (Of course nothing about winter seems bad right now, so long as there are no mosquitoes.)
I’m actually looking forward to the mud months of 2012, because that’s when UMS—in what’s either a brilliant move or a potentially ruinous gesture of faith in the weather gods—is presenting its Renegade series. For me it’s the most tantalizing thing on offer this season, and I’ll be tracking it here on the Lobby, hoping to answer some of the questions I’ve long had about the process of art and art-making, and what makes some artists true outposts of genius and others mere followers. The series starts in January with a reconstruction of the 1976 opera Einstein on the Beach and winds up in late March with the San Francisco Symphony’s “American Mavericks” series, and in between covers a wide and intriguing arc of genres and eras. Beethoven, Gesualdo, Robert Lepage, Jessye Norman, Meredith Monk, Robert Wilson, Philip Glass—they’re all part of it, and they’ll all be here, in spirit or person, as we hunker down under Michigan’s gray skies and count the days until the crocuses bloom.
Because he has as much to do with the evolution of this series as anyone on the planet, I’m starting my personal Renegade “journey” with UMS Programming Director Michael Kondziolka:
LS: What’s the genesis of the Renegade series?
MK: I’ve been having a conversation for 10 years about Einstein on the Beach. And I was also having a conversation with the San Francisco Symphony about a remount of their American Mavericks festival—the first one they did was 10 years ago, in San Francisco. Both of these conversations were long-term and ongoing. And there was a moment when I realized, “Huh! It appears that both of these projects are going to land in the same season.” And when I realized that, I started thinking about the commonalities.
The American Mavericks festival is really all about Michael Tilson Thomas’s vision for a certain kind of American sensibility and “mavericky-ness” when it comes to orchestral music composition—what it means to be American, and what it means to be an innovator and an experimenter. And how can that not in some way relate to Einstein on the Beach, which is, of course, an American work of music, theater, or opera that very much embodied those same ideas of risk-taking, innovation, scale, in creating something really new.
That, strangely enough, collided with another moment that I had last season, where I’m sitting there listening to Pierre Boulez talk about his life, his ruminations on the 20th century, and his role in that. And a student asked a really wonderful question about what the new electronically based media means for music and composition. And Boulez said, “Je ne suis pas un prophète.” “I’m not a prophet. ” And he started to expound on artistic works that are truly important, that are game-changers—works we could never, ever have possibly anticipated, and once we’ve experienced them, could never imagine living without. This was his definition for something that’s truly important.
And I guess it was that statement from such an important intellectual, about art and culture, and these two projects that were long-term conversations, coming together and forming the possibility of a thread of performances devoted to this idea of work that really has changed the direction of the form.
LS: I like the term “game-changers.”
MK: It also felt very zeitgeisty to me. That these things came together at a time when our popular discourse, and our popular political discourse, is just polluted with vocabulary about innovation. “Innovating our way out of the difficulties that we face today.” “Being a maverick.” “I’m the real maverick.” All of this bullsh!t that’s kind of like wallpaper, but there’s no real there there. And of course there are lots of examples of real mavericks, of people who are really innovating, but it also seems kind of … cheap. We’re cheapening the meaning of some of these ideas, of what it means to be a real change-agent.
LS: Why “renegade”?
MK: Ultimately we wanted to choose a word that hasn’t been overused, a word that maybe made people feel both a little bit curious and a little bit uncomfortable. I like the word, because it toggles between the artists, their artistic output, and the audience. What does it mean if you’re an audience member who chooses to go to these sorts of events? Are you a little bit of a renegade? Are you taking a risk? How do you feel about taking that risk, and what do you get out of taking that risk? As consumers of the arts—as listeners and observers—it is the moments when we take risks, or step into something that we have no idea what it is, and are completely bowled over and changed, that matter. Period.
LS: In an ideal world, what do you hope audiences might take away from this?
MK: In a dream world, I want the takeaway to be something really simple. I want people to leave the experience with some sense of that quality of innovation, or change-agency, or specialness, that defines the work as part of this series.
LS: You start with a bang—Einstein on the Beach—and end with another bang, the San Francisco Symphony’s Mavericks series. So how did you decide to flesh out the middle?
MK: How did I want to fill in that time between those two bookends (which is what we’re calling them)? The one thing that was really important to me was that it not focus only on work of the last 50 years. I didn’t want this to feel like a quote-unquote contemporary music series. I wanted to tell a much larger story about moments of extreme change. So I asked Peter Phillips of the Tallis Scholars to put together a Renaissance mavericks program. And we’ve included the Hagen String Quartet’s all-Beethoven concert as a wonderful way of creating an opportunity to understand how Beethoven really changed classical music aesthetics. That’s an obvious concert to include in a series like this. I think Beethoven’s the ultimate maverick.
LS: Beyond just having an interesting cultural experience, and coming away saying, “Wow, I was there for that,” does a series like this have the potential to change our culture by changing the audience? In the best of all possible worlds, how might this shake people up? What might they get from this that goes beyond just the bragging rights, and the curiosity factor?
MK: Obviously, if entering into an unexpected experience opens those kinds of ideas up in an audience member’s mind, that for me would be a very important, possibly transformative takeaway—because we’re reminded, ultimately, of the intrinsic value of the arts and not just the instrumental value of the arts. Now: is that any different from the experience I want people to have when they go to the all-Brahms program with the Chicago Symphony? Probably not.
LS: It does seem that when you’re packaging this as “renegade,” you’re focusing on the process of creating this art, rather than just, “Let’s go hear these great works that are part of the canon.” I mean, how did they get to be part of the canon in the first place?
LS: And what does that mean for us, and how and where we need to move our culture forward?
MK: That’s right. I think you’re right. I also think that accessing a lot of work really ultimately has everything to do with giving yourself permission. Einstein on the Beach, for example, is a five-plus hour work without an intermission …
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In my next post: More from Michael Kondziolka on Einstein on the Beach.
What do you think? Do renegade works fill audiences with renegade spirit? Have you attended a ‘renegade’ work?
Propeller: Q&A with UMS Programming Director Michael Kondziolka
All week long guest blogger Leslie Stainton will be following the Propeller theater company residency in Ann Arbor. She starts the week with a Q&A with UMS Programming Director Michael Kondziolka about how he learned about Propeller.
For years, Michael Kondziolka, UMS’s Programming Director, has been my go-to guy for all things cultural. If Michael says see it (as he does about Propeller), I move heaven and earth to heed the call. So I asked him how Propeller caught his eye…
MK: Through the RSC—the gift that keeps on giving. Caro MacKay, one of the RSC producers I worked with 10 years ago on the Henry VI/Richard III tetralogy here in Ann Arbor, brought to my attention the work of Propeller and Ed Hall in general. Ed Hall is the son of the British director Sir Peter Hall—and Caro said, “I think he’s doing important work. You owe it to yourself to see it.” So I checked it out and was blown away by the sort of arch, vaguely edgy sensibility. At the same time, they had a lot of integrity and respect for the text. This wasn’t about trashing Shakespeare—it was about bringing a young, fresh, edgy sensibility to the text. I remember leaving the theater and going to King’s Cross Station to get my sleeper car up to Edinburgh for the festival there. I’d planned to sleep on the way up, but we stayed up all night and talked about the production.
How does Propeller fit into the broader UMS vision for theater—and for Shakespeare in particular?
MK: Over the long term we want to celebrate the work of companies like the RSC and the Globe Theatre, but we also want to start painting a picture of the versatility and the broadness of Shakespeare, and of just how wonderfully elastic these texts are. It’s one thing to understand that intellectually, and it’s another thing to actually witness it. Well, this company will help people with that!
How different will the Propeller experience be from, say, the RSC?
MK: I’m not so sure it’s going to differ that much. I think that ultimately what people are going to respond to and recognize is the absolute craft, the absolute training that’s in evidence, and more so than almost anything, this wildly profound commitment to ensemble. For people who don’t go to the theater every day, there’s something so special about the mystery and magic of a truly trained ensemble working together over an extended period of time.
So in a nutshell, what’s Ed Hall’s take on Shakespeare?
MK: I would imagine that that’s what’s going on in Ed Hall’s mind is, how do you take this potentially strangling tradition—especially in the UK—how do you take the weight, the smothering weight of this tradition, and keep it alive? And keep it relevant and exciting and engaging and fresh? I think that’s one of the questions he’s trying to answer. I can imagine really great things for a company like Propeller in Ann Arbor—great audience reaction, a real recognition of the power, strength, integrity, and impact of this company’s work, and how that could build over time. I don’t want to make any predictions, but I have a feeling.
People are Watching: UMS Programming Director Michael Kondziolka interviews the Takacs Quartet’s Edward Dusinberre
Last spring, UMS Programming Director Michael Kondziolka interviewed Takacs Quartet violinist Edward Dusinberre. In this second installment of the interview, Michael and Ed talk specifically about the 10/11 season Schubert Cycle (which resumes this Sunday at Rackham Auditorium) and why audiences are still captivated by Schubert’s music. You can see both parts below:
Video: Edward Dusinberre of the Takács Quartet on Playing in Ann Arbor (Part 1)
Last season, UMS Director of Programming Michael Kondziolka had the chance to sit down with Edward Dusinberre, violinist of the Takács Quartet, to talk about what it’s like to play for the Ann Arbor audience, why Ann Arbor audiences are special, and how the adrenaline always rushes before an Ann Arbor performance. Above is part one of the two part interview.
An interview with Michael Kondziolka, UMS Director of Programming
UMS Programming Director Michael Kondziolka is a man brimming with enthusiasm for the performing arts, and that enthusiasm is infectious. Once you start a conversation with him about UMS performances, or about the history of UMS, or about the UMS Advisory Committee – a subject he knows more about than most AC members (more about that below) – you don’t want to stop!
But before I dive into the pleasures of our conversation, let me mention the pronunciation of Michael’s last name, so it sounds right in your mind as you read this. In Polish, dz sounds like j in the word judge or joke. The rest of the pronunciation is straightforward. So: Kon-jolk’-a (The i in dzio just happens. Try saying his name without it. You can’t.)
Since my enthusiasm is theater, we started our discussion with that – the excitement we both feel about the companies coming next season: Druid Theatre, based in Galway, Ireland; and Propeller Theatre, based in West Berkshire, England. Druid will bring one of Martin McDonagh’s famous darkly comic plays about life on the Aran Islands, The Cripple of Inishmaan. (If you don’t know anything about McDonagh, here’s an inducement to find out more: according to the Internet Movie Database, McDonagh is the first playwright to have four plays running simultaneously in London since Shakespeare.) The Druid Theatre has premiered all of McDonagh’s plays, which include the smash hit, The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
Propeller will bring its unique take on Shakespeare with productions of Shakespeare’s Richard III (itself darkly comic at times) and The Comedy of Errors. Michael reminded me that UMS has presented theater for only about a decade. We reminisced about Dublin’s Gate Theatre’s two Beckett plays during the 2000-01 season: the marvelous David Kelly (from Waking Ned Devine) performing in Krapp’s Last Tape; and the revelatory quality of the Gate’s Waiting for Godot, which blended in perfect proportions Beckett’s hallmark mix of comedy, pathos, and absurdity. Both plays brought out the vaudeville-type humor Beckett is known for (Krapp’s Last Tape memorably features a pratfall with a banana peel).
Then two years later, the Gate brought Fiona Shaw in its shattering production of Euripides’ Medea. Familiar to all of us are the capstone theater experiences of the past decade: the three Royal Shakespeare Company residencies, which engaged audiences, students, educators, and the general southeast Michigan communities through public talks, exhibits, the Sonnet Slam, and so much more.
This expansion of UMS’s range of programming into theater followed a similar expansion in the 1990s, into dance. Michael recounted the time someone asked him what dance events UMS had presented in the 1950s – a question easily answered: None! In the 80s and earlier, UMS was still presenting only music, largely classical. And the programs received at performances? A folded 8½ X 11” sheet of paper. The expansion into more kinds of programming and education, plus expanding the funds available to support those efforts, has formed a core part of Michael’s professional work for UMS.
The reason he knew doing this kind of work for UMS was what he really wanted to do is that he had already been a work-study intern at UMS for a year, while finishing a graduate fellowship in clarinet performance at the U-M School of Music, Theater & Dance. In fact, during his internship, he met every day with Advisory Committee members. He helped stuff envelopes, develop mailing lists, and other tasks associated with AC’s early fundraising efforts, which were focused mostly on the first night dinners before the annual May Festival, and on Encore, the early name for UMS’s annual donor fund program. At that time, fundraising for the ever-increasing costs of bringing outstanding performers to Ann Arbor was undertaken in a social rather than a business context. Advertising and corporate sponsorship were deemed slightly unseemly.
That began to change in 1988, through Michael’s and Ken Fischer’s efforts. Before arriving in Ann Arbor to pursue his musical studies (he has a liberal arts degree from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota), Michael spent a year as the operations manager for a subsidiary of Merrill Lynch in Minneapolis. He came from a family of successful business men and women, who were mystified by his interest in being a musician. When he came to the realization that bringing artists to the stage, rather than performing on stage, was his passion, he stopped classes and began working for UMS in marketing, production, group sales, and educational outreach.
The first educational programs were for adults and university students, and were also early collaborative projects with other parts of the university. One example is the symposium which was part of the Michigan Mozart Festival in 1989. Another early collaborative project, the American Contemporary Dance Festival, was followed by Shostakovich: The Man and His Age; In the American Grain: The Martha Graham Centenary Festival (both 1994); and the Cleveland Orchestra Residency (1995). In addition, Michael developed and implemented, with Ken Fischer, the first youth education performances, which were produced in conjunction with the New York City Opera.
After four years helping to develop these new and varied avenues of performance, education, and collaborative productions, Michael was ready to move on to New York and apply his skills there. But when he was offered the position of Artistic Administrator, he happily cancelled plans to move. That position, which developed into his current position of Director of Programming and Production, offered a perfect marriage of his business skills with his love for bringing great performances to the stage. He has been here ever since, and UMS programs have been the better for it!
Click here for a fascinating interview with Michael conducted by Living Music, put out by the U-M School of Music, Theater & Dance and the American Music Institute.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra: A Personal Reflection by Michael Kondziolka, UMS Director of Programming
I had such a formative concert experience as a 22-year-old with a performance by the Chicago Symphony that every time they come back to UMS, I relive it…and get really excited and end up feeling like an (overly) passionate young adult again!!
The concert was in Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall. Sir Georg Solti was conducting. It opened with the “Prelude and Liebestod” from Tristan and was followed by a performance of John Corigliano’s Clarinet Concerto which, in the last movement, features large choirs of brass, performed from the back of the house. It was so powerful and overwhelming (Chicago BRASS!!) that the next thing I knew, I was leading a standing ovation from the center of the main floor. My friends thought I had lost my mind. (Ah, youth!!)
This Wednesday’s CSO concert in Hill Auditorium is stacking up to be a repeat, I think. For many reasons…not the least of which is the antiphonal brass moments planned from the back of Hill Auditorium in the Bartók Bluebeard’s Castle. The score also calls for the BIG Hill organ.
Extraordinary and impactful repertoire (a 20th-century masterpiece, really)…one of the world’s great orchestras…and a conductor who is completely committed to inspiring the orchestra to greatness: PIERRE BOULEZ!! A veritable legend of 20th-century music in his own right.
A master with a masterpiece…my favorite combination.
Last week, I started hearing from some friends and colleagues who had witnessed the concerts in Chicago given earlier this month. They confirmed that they were really OVER-THE-TOP, -once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I went home that night and started snooping around on YouTube to find my favorite clips from Bluebeard…I wanted to crank the fifth door section loudly on my stereo. As I was “grooving” on C Major – there is nothing like it – I looked down and saw the most recent listener comment…and immediately sent it to the entire UMS staff. It only fueled my enthusiasm and reinforced what I was already suspecting and hearing:
“Just saw the Chicago Symphony Orchestra do this tonight! So @#$%#$ powerful! [expletive deleted] Not only are there 4 trumpets, four trombones, a tuba and organ, but 4 more trumpets and 4 trombones off stage…plus Judith screaming over the top! I was as close to a heaven as I am ever going to get.”
I hope you can be there this Wednesday.
UMS Director of Programming