Saturday night, Hill Auditorium filled with over 3,500 people for one of the University Musical Society’s last performances this season. Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile Bach Trios celebrated Bach’s music in a two-hour concert, ending in a standing ovation and two encore performances.
Yo-Yo Ma opened the show with a personal speech addressing current UMS president, Ken Fischer’s last season before retirement. He said the musicians’ collective decision to play Bach’s music was an appropriate way to celebrate Fischer’s 30-year career with UMS and the transition to his successor, Matthew VanBesien.
“With my staff, we plan a couple years in advance. They knew that I would be retiring at the end of this 2016/2017 season. They sat down with me and said, ‘So Fisch, what special would you want to happen in your final season.’ And I said, ‘by all means, do whatever you can to have Yo-Yo Ma, my good buddy, perform here one more time in this season.’ I’ve presented him ten times while I’ve been here, and he’s been here 13 times overall,” Fischer said.
Yo-Yo Ma’s first performance at the University was in 1982 with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy. In 2013, Ma received the UMS Distinguished Artist award for his performance with the Silk Road Ensemble — a non-profit founded by Ma in 1998 to promote multicultural artistic exchange. Currently, Ma’s performances strike a balance between both solo and collaborative work. He has performed for eight United States presidents in the past, including the 56th Inaugural Ceremony for President Obama.
“He’s such an exceptional artist and person. He’s imaginative, he’s always open to new ideas. We have this personal relationship, but we also have an enormous regard for his talent, so this was an opportunity to present him,” Fischer said. “And then, they chose to play Bach, who is my favorite composer. It was a coming together of a whole variety of things — the ending of my career, the availability of this ensemble, my desire to have Yo-Yo come once again.”
Fischer said prior to the show that he didn’t know about the UMS Board’s plans to announce his retirement, along with the Ken Fischer Legacy Endowment Fund — a fund to honor Fischer and to support future performances and outreach programs at UMS. He also said he was not expecting a personal acknowledgement from Yo-Yo Ma, or souvenir booklets celebrating Fischer’s accomplishments over the past 30 years.
“It was a complete shock and surprise, and I was really overwhelmed by the response,” Fischer said regarding the standing ovation he received at the beginning of the concert. “I was made to feel very warm, and just enormous gratitude that I’ve had this job for the last thirty years and had this wonderful Saturday evening to experience the music of a great composer, performed by three guys at the top of their game. It’s really special.”
First-year Rackham student Logan Morrison spoke about the welcoming mood of the auditorium during the performance. This was Morrison’s first time attending a classical music performance. He said he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see Yo-Yo Ma.
“I was impressed by the acoustics. As soon as they started playing, it was like you were right there on stage. It was resonant and warm and just gorgeous, even from fifty rows up,” Morrison said. “I’ve never been to a performance where there is the collective attention of thousands of people just focused on these three performers. It was incredible.”
SMTD sophomore Lydia de Leeuw echoed Morrison’s sentiments.
“They’re all world-class performers and to see them in-person is a really unique experience. The way they were able to bring the audience closer to them on stage with their intimate style of performance is really great to see,” she said.
She also said the accessibility to these performances as an undergraduate is vital to her education as an aspiring performer herself.
“As a cellist, seeing a world-class cello player is definitely a valuable experience,” de Leeuw said. “Watching him in particular, he plays the cello with such a nonchalant ease, it’s all about sharing this experience with his audience. I think being able to see someone like that always makes you think about the bigger picture of how your art can reach people.”
As the president of UMS, Fischer reflected on his role and relationship with University students. He spoke about the importance of providing job opportunities through UMS internships, as well as providing places where students can see and hear high caliber work for an affordable price.
“I wanted to be available to any students that are looking at career opportunities or want someone to talk to. I’ve always tried to give a high priority to students,” Fischer said. “For any student, the opportunity to have experiences now that can live with them forever is one of the things we’re trying to provide.”
LSA sophomore Michael Hostetler spoke about the affordability of UMS shows.
“I thought it was really amazing that UMS is able to bring artists of his caliber to the University and allow us to see him for the cheaper prices,” Hostetler said. “If I saw him at any other venue, I would be paying a few hundred dollars, but it was affordable to see him.”
Fischer spoke about continuing his legacy and care for students. The excitement in his voice was audible when he spoke about his successor, Matthew VanBesien. He said VanBesien’s breadth of experience in three international orchestras, as well as his personality, curiosity and enthusiasm is something to look forward to.
“Last night, people were entertained and inspired seeing these artists,” Fischer said. “We want to provide a theatre that is provocative and challenges, at the same time providing opportunities for all voices to be heard. That’s what’s exciting about Michigan, the commitment for being able to use the arts as a vehicle for fostering better understanding and appreciation of each other.”