Since its founding in 1879, the group had presented classical music in Ann Arbor under only four leaders: Henry Simmons Frieze through 1889, Francis Kelsey through 1927, Charles Sink through 1957, and Gail Rector from 1957. Tradition ran deep: Sink had trained under Kelsey, and Rector had trained under Sink.
Like his predecessors as president, Rector led the UMS as if it were his own private kingdom: setting budgets, signing contracts, coddling artists, seducing donors, and hiring and firing staff. As an autonomous nonprofit, the UMS received no support from the U-M and was thus entirely responsible for its own finances. So long as ticket sales covered expenses, the president was king.
Then, in 1984, philanthropist Gene Power enlisted Rector to help launch the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. The UMS put on a full roster of classical music and dance concerts--and lost so much money that in just two years, it piled up a $400,000 deficit. Only a huge loan from the university kept the UMS in business.
The Summer Festival regrouped and found its niche presenting popular music and hosting the free Top of the Park festival. But the UMS had deeper problems. Its flagship Choral Union concert series featured a mix of expensive international stars and inexpensive Eastern European orchestras, but few new artists and little new music. Its aging audience continued to buy tickets, but younger listeners weren't coming up to replace them.