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creative:impact - Replacing Respected Arts Leaders Requires Advanced Planning And Even Then…

Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra

All was on track to find the next executive director to succeed Mary Steffek Blaske who, after 25 years leading Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra (AASO), was retiring at the end of 2019. Then, unexpectedly, the AASO found itself in search of a music director, too.  Mary tells David Fair and Deb Polich how the AASO has adapted to manage two major leadership changes simultaneously on this week’s edition of "creative:impact."

Deb Polich
Deb Polich, President and CEO of The Arts Alliance

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.  In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of The Arts Alliance, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Credit Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra / a2so.com
Arie Lipsky conducting the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra.



June 17, 2019 (Ann Arbor) – In a joint statement, Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra Board President Richard Hendricks and Executive Director Mary Steffek Blaske announced today that Arie Lipsky has stepped down from his current role as Music Director and Conductor of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra.  Lipsky joined the organization as Music Director in 2000 and has served as conductor for 19 seasons.  Guest conductors have been secured for the A²SO’s 2019-2020 season and a national search for a new music director will be led by a search committee.

“We are heartbroken for Arie that his very difficult health struggles in the last six months have led him to this decision,” said A²SO Board President Richard Hendricks. “His resignation was yet another act of leadership, and we accepted his decision in that same spirit.  We owe him our sincerest gratitude for the amazing work he has done over the years to elevate our Symphony to its current highest-ever-quality, both in its music-making and in the breadth and depth of its educational enrichment and community engagement,” continued Hendricks.

“During Arie’s 19 years at the podium, we have heard inspiring world premieres, welcomed rising stars and living legends of classical music to our stages, sparked the imaginations of hundreds of thousands of young people, and reached artistic heights never before seen in our community.  He made the concept of ‘grow with your A²SO’ come alive by starting family, pops, Stained Glass and chamber concerts,” said A²SO Executive Director Mary Steffek Blaske.  “Arie’s legacy will live on in the very DNA of our symphony, through the lives he has touched with his warmth and music-making, and through his unwavering dedication to building the highest-quality musical organization in our region.”

“Arie has been a wonderful friend and colleague to the musicians during his time as Music Director.  Together, we have worked to grow the Ann Arbor Symphony from a community-based ensemble into an esteemed professional orchestra, a valuable educational resource, and a wellspring of cultural capital and artistic inspiration throughout the region —all while maintaining the community-centered focus that is so integral to our symphony’s mission,” said Tim Michling, Principal Oboist and elected spokesperson for the orchestra’s musicians.

A2SO Music Director Search Process

  1. Concertmaster Aaron Berofsky was engaged to serve as our Artistic Advisor to provide the A2SO with artistic guidance and continuity to ensure the continued high quality of the A2SO’s music making.
  2. A 10-person Music Director Search Committee, composed of A2SO musicians, board members, staff, former guest artists with the A2SO, and audience members has been formed.  The Committee, with the full A2SO board support, honed the job description and it has been posted.  
  3. The deadline for applications is Nov. 15.  To date we have received 75 applications from local, state, national and international candidates.   
  4. After the Nov. 15 deadline the committee will decide the finalists who will each be assigned to conduct a concert during the 2020-2021 season.  
  5. A decision will be made, through orchestra performance and feedback from the orchestra, interviews, focus group meetings with the final candidates.  That winning candidate will begin as our Music Director / Conductor beginning July 2021.

About Mary Steffek Blaske

Mary Steffek Blaske
Credit Linda Levy
Mary Steffek Blaske helping Sam Grand with violin

Mary Steffek Blaske is responsible for the A²SO’s audience development, concert-related public relations, educational programs, and production.  Steffek Blaske oversees the A²SO administrative staff in the execution of all Symphony Orchestra activities. Mary is a highly skilled nonprofit director with over 25 years of managerial experience. Steffek Blaske also possesses an extensive musical background as a performer in, and organizer of, several community musical events and organizations.


Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra

Mary Steffek Blaske

Arie Lipsky

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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