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Performing Arts

Remarkable cultural icon

By Marilou Carlin

May 14, 1913 was the first night of many “nights to remember.”

On that spring evening at the dawn of the 20th century, the Chicago Symphony performed a program of music by Wagner, Beethoven and Brahms. In the second half of the concert, the University of Michigan Choral Union presented an original musical work composed by the director of the School of Music.

That blend of honoring an artistic tradition and presenting contemporary creative works is the distinguishing mark of one of the most well-known and remarkable icons on the University of Michigan campus. A place, cited by cultural enthusiasts, as the “other” Big House.

Nearly 100 years after the inaugural concert, Hill Auditorium stands in the pantheon of the greatest acoustical gems in America, marking significant moments in cultural history just as Michigan Stadium has been the stage for great Big Ten gridiron rivalries and memorable games.

For many visitors, faculty, students and alumni, the great hall occupies an indelible place in their memories of the U-M experience. Evoking life-long personal connections and a vital role in our community’s cultural history, Hill Auditorium has welcomed a diverse range of legendary performers, such a Enrico Caruso, Vladimir Horowitz, Miles Davis, Elton John, the Grateful Dead and Yo-Yo Ma. Plus, the great hall has been center stage for U-M ceremonies and commencements, a venue for addresses given by great Americans, including Martin Luther King, Jr., and a primary performance space for student musicians.

“Hill Auditorium speaks to the quality and the standards that we expect in our performances,” said Kenneth Kiesler, director of university orchestras and professor of conducting. “It distinguishes our school from any other school in the world,” he said. “Very few, if any, have a hall as magnificent as Hill. It requires the best of us.”

The U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD), which presents dozens of student concerts at Hill each year, honors the centennial with its annual “Collage” concert on Saturday, January 19, 2013.

Meanwhile, UMS (University Musical Society) dedicates its current season to the special bond with Hill Auditorium. From September through April, UMS presents internationally renowned artists from the world of classical music, theater, dance and jazz. A highlight is the performance of Darius Milhaud’s mammoth and rarely-performed Oresteian Trilogy, featuring the University Symphony Orchestra and a 350-voice choir. The April 4 concert brings SMTD and UMS together for a powerful musical celebration of Hill’s centenary.

Walking up the steps and down the aisles of majestic Hill Auditorium is an inspiring journey through the pages of history, and a voyage to a front-row seat to witness today’s most respected, exciting and challenging performers, as well as tomorrow’s stars. Hill isn’t merely a hall, it’s a way of deepening your appreciation of culture and the many differences that define the great range of artistic expression.

For more information on UMS (University Musical Society), please visit For more information on SMTD, visit

Marilou Carlin is a writer at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.



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