Year One for Ann Arbor’s New UMS President, Matthew VanBesien

Sep 7, 2017

2017 marks the 138th year of the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, but it’s also Year One for its new President, Matthew VanBesien. WKAR’s Jamie Paisley spoke with him earlier this week as the UMS season is about to kick-off.


Jamie Paisley: We're almost at the eve of the unveiling or the start of the UMS season, but since this is also your first year as president, did you have a hand in what was coming this season?

Matthew VanBesien: Well, our season planning is done actually quite far out. So we're, I kind of describe as being neck-deep right now in the 2018-19 season planning. So by the time I was even appointed here in late January of this year, the vast majority of that programming was set in stone. So, it's been great for me to be a part of the discussions of some of the finishing touches and we're even going to be announcing a theater festival that's in late January, early February, to which I've been able to be a part of those discussions, obviously.

JP: In terms of getting employed here, I know there was the official vetting process and trying to bring you in, the interview process, but your introduction happened many, many years before when you came in from Australia [where VanBesien was managing director of the Melbourne Symphony].

MVB: Yeah, I was here in 2011, in fact, I was just with Scott DeRue, the wonderful dean of the Ross School of Business and I let him know that, in fact, my first introduction to the University of Michigan and this community was not actually through UMS, it was through the Ross School of Business. I was invited along with 99 other arts CEOs from around the world to come here for a week-long sort of session and immersion and curriculum. And I think it was that first experience that told me this is a very special place.
Actually, the first time I had met Ken Fischer, my wonderful predecessor, and I had known Ken's brother Norman Fischer, who's a wonderful cellist and on the faculty of the Shepherd School of Music in Houston [at Rice University]. And so Ken and I hit it off immediately, and I think Ken took me on what was probably an unsanctioned late-night tour of every UMS performance venue here in Ann Arbor.

JP: Which I think is a great segue to this season that's coming up. Including there are certain subscription elements, but let’s talk about some of the free elements.

MVB: Yeah,

...part of our charge is to not only create compelling and amazing artistic experiences for people, but to create opportunities for them to enter into that world. - UMS's Matthew VanBesien

And sometimes remove the barriers to entry. Whether it be schedule, whether it be price, whether it be sometimes what people perceive as an intimidating environment in which to come. Even our opening night, while it's not a free event coming up this Friday on the 8th of September, at the Downtown Home and Garden, aka Bill's Beer Garden. You know, we're doing this in a much more open- while we have a sell-out of 600 people to come and hear Henry Butler & the Hot 9, I know there will be kind of a buzz around the Home and Garden as well because it's not something that you can close off. And two of the things we're doing this month and into the fall are some outdoor, I want to call them screenings, they're kind of simulcasts, if you will, projected onto the University of Michigan's Museum of Art; UMMA, as we call it here. And one, the first is the first is the opening night of the New York Philharmonic which will be broadcast from Lincoln Center directly here to Ann Arbor, but specifically to sort of give us a primer for the New York Philharmonic's residency later this fall. And we're also going to be simulcasting the wonderful Einstein on the Beach that UMS helped reconstruct, if you will, and remount here several years ago.

In a few months, we'll have more here on WKAR from President VanBesien regarding that three-day residency the New York Philharmonic will have in conjunction with the UMS.
You can also find out more about the UMS season by clicking here.