Berlin Philharmonic heads for … Michigan

Berlin Philharmonic heads for … Michigan


norman lebrecht

December 02, 2014

Looks like the university has come into some money. It has announced three residencies by the New York Philharmonic in alternate years between 2015 and 2020. In the intervening years, there will be residencies by the Berlin Phil and one other orch, yet unnamed.

This is  a significant illustration of the new working life of orchestras in the post-recording age – more time on the road, off the beaten track.

ann arbor


  • william osborne says:

    Detroit (home of the Michigan Opera) ranks 276th in the world for opera performances per year, and yet they spend money importing an expensive orchestra from Germany instead of building their own culture. It illustrates the American mentality that culture is not something nurtured and built, not something to represent a community and its people, but rather something that is simply appropriated.

    • Mark Henriksen says:

      First of all Ann Arbor is not Detroit. UM has, for quite awhile now, offered faculty that are as good as any of the East coast schools and produced many successful students. They built, nurtured, a music school that is one of the best. But the Ann Arbor Symphony isn’t the NY or Berlin Phil. I interpret what they are doing is trying to provide exposure to the best orchestras comparable to what the East coast schools offer.

      • william osborne says:

        Ann Arbor is only 43 miles from Detroit. The first thing the state should do for its students is build its own high level of culture, not import it from the Northeast or Europe. I realize, of course, that this is a radical idea in the USA.

        • JAMA11 says:

          Replying to you is tough, insofar as it’s consistently difficult to figure out which misstatement to address first.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Any time Detroit wants to have a full-time, publically-funded opera company they can do it. Nothing is stopping them. Except being bankrupt.

      • william osborne says:

        And 50% of the city’s population being functionally illiterate. What does that say about the United States?

        • Greg Hlatky says:

          That we should have fewer teachers unions? The US spends more per student than almost all other countries. Detroit schools aren’t starved for funds. If 50% of the population is functionally illiterate, where is all that money going?

          • william osborne says:

            The money goes to educating students so deeply debased by a racially informed class system that it makes the challenges of educating them more difficult than in any other developed country in the world.

          • william osborne says:

            BTW, all the countries in Europe have teachers unions too, and in fact, they are generally much stronger.

          • Greg Hlatky says:

            Once again it’s the “wreckers, kulaks and foreign agents” argument that’s trotted out when the Left worldview is challenged.

    • New Yorker says:


      The Metropolitan Opera and the Cleveland Orchestra and the Boston Symphony achieved what they have purely because they “appropriated” european talent, is that it? Do you mean the European emigre players who came here to build lives when Europe was no longer a fertile ground for them? Your bigoted drivel is costing you credibility.

      • william osborne says:

        The point, as I discuss in the Cleveleand/Miami case, is that at least in major cities the core of orchestral culture should be locally based, and locally developed. We should stop the model where a small number of orchestras loot the donor base in a wide range of cities and weaken or destroy local orchestras. This is especially true in Detroit where its remarkable cultural institutions need all the help they can get. Or is that too difficult for a “New Yorker” to understand? After all, its exactly in that city where the Met doubled its budget, thus consuming so much of the donor base that it contributed to the demise of the NYCO.

  • Ben says:

    Let’s get some facts straight. The events are hosted by the University Musical Society (UMS), an independent organization of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Google it. World renowned orchestras and performers have been invited there for decades. If I recall correctly, when Horowitz tour in 1986/1987, Ann Arbor was one of the five American cities he choose. So Ann Arbor is no small village on the music map. 🙂

    Berliner is no stranger to the UMS. Karajan used to bring the Berliners there almost every May, during UMS’s May Festival. Ditto Wiener Philharmoniker, Philadelphia Orchestra et al. So it’s not entirely correct that Berlin Philharmonic was never been in Ann Arbor before.

    However, Norman is correct that the orchestras nowadays are more willing to travel to more cities.

    • sdReader says:

      Karajan conducted in Ann Arbor in 1955 and 1961 only.

      Berlin Phil first visited the campus in 1955.

      • sdReader says:

        Sorry: also 1956 and 1965.

        • sdReader says:

          Karajan, that is. He did not go back after 1965. The orchestra did. Karajan may have been scheduled to go back in 1986, but got Lyme disease.

      • sdReader says:

        Berliner Philharmoniker
        Dirigent: Karajan, Herbert von
        Veranstaltungsort: USA, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Hill Auditorium

        March 15, 1955

        Tristan und Isolde (Vorspiel) – Komponist: Wagner, Richard
        Tristan und Isolde (Isoldes Liebestod) – Komponist: Wagner, Richard
        Symphonie Nr. 35 D-Dur KV 385 “Haffner” – Komponist: Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
        Suite Nr. 2 h-Moll BWV 1067 – Komponist: Bach, Johann Sebastian
        Symphonie Nr. 1 c-Moll op. 68 – Komponist: Brahms, Johannes

        • sdReader says:

          Source: Karajan Centrum, which is unreliable. Bach was not billed.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            That’s a bug in the database – it lists the h-moll Suite in *every* program. Apart from that, I have found it quite reliable.

          • sdReader says:

            I used to think so. Actually there are many problems with that database, and the Institute doesn’t seem to have any responsible person to take care of fixes. I once corresponded with a woman called Ina, but she left maybe 20 years ago.

            For instance, HvK’s Carnegie concerts on 1989-02-25 and 1989-02-28 are both shown without the Strauss waltzes — the last music he conducted in America.

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      According to, he was in Ann Arbor only 5 times, the last time in 1965…

  • Max Grimm says:

    The Berliner Philharmoniker have been to Ann Arbor before. If I remember correctly they even performed there when Claudio Abbado was still at the helm.

  • Ken J. says:

    re: Norman, on orchestras “… visiting places they have never been before.”

    Ann Arbor’s University Musical Society has a long tradition of bringing symphony orchestras to Ann Arbor. The 2014-2015 schedule includes visits from the San Francisco Symphony, the Mariinsky Orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. The Berlin Philharmonic, according to Google references, visited Ann Arbor in 2001 and 2009.

    Before the 21st century decline in the classical music business, Ann Arbor hosted maybe twice as many major symphony visits each season. Leonard Bernstein used to play in Ann Arbor approximately annually.

    The New York Philharmonic did a previous residency in Ann Arbor in 2013. These residencies are in cooperation with the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater and Dance, and they involve lots of teaching and learning opportunities for the University’s music students.

    (The sign in the photo is walking distance from my house… 🙂 )

    I’ll defer any response to Mr. Osborne, except to note that after the beating Detroit’s car industry has taken in the last few decades, it’s a miracle that the Michigan Opera Theater continues to exist. Auto firms were major donors, and all that support dried up in 2008 for quite a few years as GM, Ford and Chrysler concentrated on survival.

    • william osborne says:

      It is astounding that the destruction of Detroit and the auto industry was effected through consciously created economic policies — the technical term being neoliberalism — whose results were fairly predictable. The social conditions in the city now boggle the mind, so talking about the Michigan Opera, the Symphony, and DIA seem almost grotesque considering the more fundamental forms of neglect and suffering.

      The contrasts are striking. Europeans view the city itself as the greatest and most complete expression of the human mind and spirit. Venice, Florence, Rome, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Dresden, Barcelona and Paris, just to name a few, are all imbued with this ideal. Americans, by contrast, behave almost as if they have lost hope in their cities, as if they were dangerous and inhuman urban wastelands to be abandoned for the suburbs. This tacit assumption has had a profound but largely unrecognized effect on American political and cultural discourse. Classical music is one of the most urban of art forms. Its status will always be measured by the health and vibrancy of our cities. Ultimately, questions of arts funding will only be fully resolved when we recognize that the well-being of our cultural and urban environments are deeply interdependent.

      I think if there is any place where America will find a way to reinvent itself, it will be in Michigan. Or am I too optimistic?

  • Liz says:

    For a more in-depth history on UMS, the 136-year-old presenting organization which has hosted the Berlin Philharmonic in Ann Arbor 7 times since 1956, please visit!
    The Berlin Phil’s history in Ann Arbor is outlined here:

  • Vinyl Hero says:

    This isn’t terribly significant. Top orchestras frequently perform in Hill Auditorium. It seats 3,500, making it an ideal destination to draw a wide audience that might not otherwise see these ensembles.

  • Milka says:

    How unkind of anonymus to lump
    Dudamel & Nelsons with Mickey Mouse ….Mickey Mouse is an
    artist …Dudamel & Nelsons run of the
    mill .

  • torreadorable says:

    The SF Symphony just came to Ann Arbor on tour, and they did two – count em, two – shows in that 4,000+ seat auditorium. There is quite a remarkable audience for classical music in Ann Arbor.

  • Simon Dearsley says:

    When I was a graduate there in the mid 80s Ann Arbor was known as the New York of the Mid-West. The programme of visiting musicians and orchestras was stunning. I heard the BP in 1986, I think, Karajan was not conducting, can’t remember who was waving the wand. Delighted that orchestras still have Ann Arbor on their lists. Gustav Meier the fabulous conductor and teacher who set up Tanglewood with Kousivitsky was on faculty at that time. I always assumed it was him who had put Ann Arbor on the orchestral Map. The Hill auditorium was and I suspect remains one of the most outstanding halls for listening. The Organ is stunning, the Accoustics simply wondrous. The faculty in the 80’s were utterly inspiring. Marilyn Mason longest serving professor of organ, Thomas Hilbisch, choral conductor. Willis Patterson ( one of the Kings in Menotti’s Amahl for ABC), Gustav Meier, Glen Watkins ( author of book on Gesualdo with Stravinsky preface and the seminal book (aside from yours Norman) on 20 century music ‘Pyramids at the Louve’), James Dapogny(Jelly-Roll genius), Richard Crawford ( musicologist genius on tin-pan alley), Ellwood Derr, who discovered the Debussy G minor piano trio. I was only there two years, but the talent, drive and enthusiasm was mind-blowing! So delighted for all concerned that world-class musicians are still visiting a world class university town. I highly recommend a visit – when you go, you can spin the cube in front of the library! Sx

  • william osborne says:

    What astounds and disgusts me is this attitude that the Detroit Symphony is not good enough for the University of Michigan. Perhaps the Detroit Symphony should no longer accept any applications for U of M students, since by the school’s own logic the students at Julliard and the Manhattan School of Music will be superior since they get to interact with NY Phil members all year round.

    The guest residencies are made possible with a 7 figure donation while the DSO is struggling for its very existence. In spite of all its troubles, Detroit still has the 24th largest metro GDP in the world, ahead of cities like Minneapolis, San Diego, Barcelona, Rome, and St. Louis. The people of Michigan should be doing everything possible to save Detroit and raise its cultural life to equal terms with most any city in the world instead of spending millions on orchestras that will never have a close connection to the state. They need to learn that true culture is something you build locally, not something you buy and import for a short residency.

    It is also disgusting because it reinforces the impression that classical music is something for posh college towns comprised mostly of white suburbanites while our urban areas are something to be abandoned.

    To understand how destructive this mentality really is we only need look to Miami, an immensely rich city (21st in the world) with a metro population of 5.5 million, but which no longer even has a professional symphony orchestra. Instead, the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra was bankrupted by its board (many feel intentionally) and replaced by a Cleveland Orchestra residency. The Cleveland residency thus made it impossible for the musicians of the FPO to reform the group. Cleveland thus became a scab orchestra.

    People need to recognize this trend of major orchestras doing “business” in other major cities and slowly rotting out their local orchestra. That might not yet be happening yet in Detroit, but the U of M is certainly setting up the scenario.

    • sdReader says:

      One would think the University of Michigan would host half a dozen DSO concerts yearly, out of respect, goodwill, neighborliness. But there is a word for what you are legitimately discussing:


  • Anon says:

    Wow. So many inaccuracies. I went to the U of M for my undergrad, we were always encouraged to go see the DSO. But what is wrong with a college student wanting to broaden their horizons and see OTHER orchestras perform, as well as their hometown orchestra.

    I also lived in Miami for 3 years playing in the New World Symphony. Now, I know it is not technically a professional orchestra, but we had a 36 week season and did multiple programs every single week.

    • william osborne says:

      It’s question of facing essential priorities. There’s a big difference between encouraging students to attend DSO concerts and spending seven figure sums for guest residencies while your excellent, world class local orchestra is struggling for its existence — and in a city facing unimaginably dire circumstances. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns and the smug, indifferent white privilege created by America’s private funding system by and for the wealthy. At some point we have to stand up to this winner take all mentality that is evolving in the orchestral world — to say nothing of the basic contempt that is being shown to our urban environments.

      Miami is a clear warning of what’s evolving. An enormously rich city pieces together a season with residencies from scab orchestra and the New World Symphony which is a training organization for advanced students. This is obviously a poor way of supporting classical music. Pretending these observations are invalid is just more of the denial that played a big role in destroying Detroit and its cultural institutions in the first place.

  • Craig says:

    A search for Detroit Symphony Orchestra on the UMS website referenced above reveals 83 performances by them in Ann Arbor over the last century, most recently in 2013. That doesn’t seem like any shortage of appreciation on campus to me.

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    The database used to have a different interface, I can’t remember how long ago that changed, but it was quite a while ago, and it was much more searchable. The search filters on the current site don’t work so well, sometimes you can only use a limited number at the same time.
    That reminds me, I emailed them a few years ago, I had stumbled across an old article which said that Karajan conducted Strauss’ Festliches Präludium for the opening of the Internationales Congress Centrum Berlin, and I actually got a response from someone, but that was never added to the database. So yes, it looks like they don’t really have anyone maintaining that.

    • sdReader says:

      Ina Gayed, probably. She may have left more recently than I thought, and I have a feeling she was not properly supported and just gave up.

      Eliette of course is too elderly to be on top of databases and website GUIs, but it may be that nobody else in the “Institute,” or the “Centrum” or whatever it calls itself now, actually cares.

      Perhaps they just like to use convenient office space in the centers of Salzburg and Wien and take the tax breaks.

      Perhaps Karajan’s money is running out — anyway, it is hard to see how the facilities of this “Karajan” entity is serving the conductor’s legacy now. A shame.

  • Anon says:

    And, by the way, your beloved Detroit Symphony is one of those “scab orchestras” you’re referring to. I heard them play in Miami about a year ago.