VanBesien to head University Musical Society

Michael H. Hodges, Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

The president of the New York Philharmonic, Matthew VanBesien, will head the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, officials announced Tuesday.

VanBesien will replace Kenneth C. Fischer, outgoing UMS president, who just celebrating his 30th anniversary with the 138-year-old nonprofit.

Fischer, 71, will serve through June. VanBesien, who has steered the Philharmonic since 2012, will step in July 1.

In a release, VanBesien, said that despite having spent his career mostly with orchestras, “I’m extremely excited about the diversity of programming that UMS offers, both on the stage and working throughout the community.”

Linda Gregerson, UM professor of English and literature who was one of the 12 members on the search committee, wrote from England to say that the candidate pool was diverse and impressive.

“It was an honor to meet them,” she said, “and we are absolutely thrilled with the spectacular appointment that has been made.”

VanBesien hails from St. Louis, and earned his bachelor of music in French horn performance from Indiana University. His wife is Rosanne Jowitt, a geoscientist in the petroleum business.

UMS is affiliated with UM, though it is an independent, self-governing entity.

Anne Parsons, president and CEO of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, notes VanBesien got to know Michigan through Philharmonic partnerships both with UMS and the Interlochen Center for the Arts. 

“I’m thrilled that Matthew’s chosen to come and bring his family here and make this home,” she said. “I think it says a lot about Michigan, Ann Arbor and especially UMS — one of the great presenting organizations in the country. I’m hoping we’ll have some fun together.”

Every year it presents more than 70 performances in music, theater and dance by professional touring artists, and has a reputation for snagging international talent that ordinarily only plays the cultural capitals on the coasts.

Famous mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli had her professional debut in Ann Arbor with UMS in 1993. Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Society had a partnership with the organization from 2001-2012, with numerous performances on the UM campus every year.

In 2014, UMS became the first organization of its type to receive the National Medal of Arts from former-President Barack Obama, an award that ordinarily just goes to artists and arts patrons.

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy