NY Phil Revisits Ann Arbor’s UMS With Bernstein and Slatkin

Nov 16, 2017

This weekend, the New York Philharmonic is again in residency in Ann Arbor brought about by the University Musical Society. WKAR’s Jamie Paisley has more with UMS President, Matthew VanBesien and Maestro Leonard Slatkin.


Before he became the new president of the University Musical Society earlier this year, Matthew VanBesien used to head the New York Philharmonic.  And it was during this time that he first witnessed this partnership between New York and Michigan.

"And I remember being here and they asked me to come and give a talk to some students which I did," recalls VanBesien "and then [former UMS president] Ken Fisher and I spent some time together. And I remember we got together and had breakfast a Zingerman's Roadhouse and basically concocted this idea that we could bring the New York Philharmonic to Ann Arbor quite regularly. You know, the New York Philharmonic came to Ann Arbor for the first time in 1916. That was before that New York Philharmonic had even gone to Europe. So Ken and I talked about these residencies not just being about bringing  the orchestra to come and play some concerts. But the idea that the orchestra would really come, sit down here for a few days, perform mainstage concerts, but really create a whole other realm of activity that really helped impact both the university, but also the greater Ann Arbor and southeast Michigan community."

You may even remember the 2015 residency when members of the New York Phil played during halftime at a Michigan Game….

"I don't know that we can top that halftime show event," says VanBesien "but we have some wonderful things planned this time that are not just about on campus activities, but also getting the orchestra off campus, including some events that we call 'Off The Grid" which are kind of more intimate, smaller settings primarily aimed at younger audiences. Although we're quite open to audiences from all backgrounds and ages. So, we're really looking at a way to make sure that as many people as possible experience the New York Philharmonic when they're here in Ann Arbor."

But the anchor point of the New York Phil residency in Ann Arbor with the VanBesien’s UMS are three concerts in Hill Auditorium. Friday featuring the Phil’s music director designate Jaap van Zweden conducting Mahler’s 5th Symphony. Saturday’s afternoon concert will be a recreation, of sorts, of Leonard Bernstein’s famed Young People’s Concert, featuring his daughter, Jamie Bernstein and leading Saturday AND Sunday’s performances, Maestro Leonard Slatkin.

"If you want to get to know Leonard Bernstein, there are five works that you should listen to." says Slatkin. "Because even though they are different, essentially they are Bernstein's autobiography. There are the three Symphonies. The first of which is 'Jeremiah' dedicated to his father exploring his religious heritage. The second Symphony, 'The Age of Anxiety,' which is all about alienation and how people are different and he certainly felt himself being different. Spending a lot of time trying to fit in. Or at least have people follow him. The third is 'Kaddish' which is the Jewish prayer for the dead, it's recited. But it's more about Bernstein's continual struggle with his own identity."

As for the other two autobiographical works, according to Slatkin, well, maybe that’s for another concert series.

On Saturday, Slatkin leads the New York Philharmonic through moments of Leonard Bernstein’s 1st & 2nd Symphonies as part of the Young People's Concert. But on Sunday afternoon’s concert, a performance also being broadcast live on WKAR, Slatkin conducts the New York Philharmonic, the UMS Choral Union, the MSU Children’s Choir, and soloists, including actor Jeremy Irons, in Bernstein’s 3rd Symphony, "Kaddish." Tickets and more information at UMS.org