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A towering figure changes venues

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A towering figure changes venues

Gail Rector and his 'extraordinary reputation' have left the Musical Society after 30 years at the top



Gail Rector scraped his own name off the door of what was once his office.

The man who was, until last month, the president of the board of trustees of the University Musical Society, and who was, until last Tuesday, the executive director of the University Musical Society, has, in his own words, “as far as the Musical Society is concerned, no clout now.” After three decades of service, Rector has stepped down.

John Reed, the new president of the Musical Society board, expresses best the impact of Rector’s retirement from his post as executive director of the Musical Society: “It represents a loss of a lifetime career of knowledge and experience.”

No one would challenge this assessment. During his 30 years at the helm of the Musical Society, Rector’s talents and abilities were recognized as second to none.

His ability to present concert series which were artistically as well as financially successful was acknowledged to be among the finest, if not the finest, in the country. Kenneth Fischer, Rector’s successor as executive director who was successor, Kenneth Fischer. a well-known concert promoter in the Washington, D.C., area, expresses best Rector’s stature among his peers: “He has an absolutely extraordinary reputation. Gail is positively revered by everyone in the business.”

Those who revered Rector will now look for leadership to Reed and Fischer, who split between them the duties Rector had as executive director and president of the Musical Society Board.

The search for a new leader — or leaders - was given long consideration. According to Reed, the Musical Society had already started planning for Rector’s retirement before the first Ann Arbor Summer Festival in 1984, in which the Musical Society was extremely active. Reed says that at the same meeting of the Musical Society board at which Rector proposed the society’s involvement in the Summer Festival, University President Harold Shapiro suggested that the board might consider starting the search for Rector’s successor so that, when the time came for his retirement, the transition of power could be handled as smoothly as possible.

The University of Michigan has a policy of mandatory retirement at the age of 70. “If that law about 70 years and out had not been in effect, I might not have been asked to leave,” Rector says.

As in any organization, however, the departure of an old leader and the arrival of a new one is a time for reassessment. Says Reed, “Gail was absolutely first-class for his day. But we have now come to a time when we must gear up for a new generation.”

Reed speaks accurately when he talks of the necessity of gearing up for a new generation. While the Musical Society’s traditional audience has remained faithful, by and large, to its traditional, staunchly classical programming, that audience is getting older and a new generation — with conceivably different tastes - needs to be lured to campus concert halls for Musical Society bills of fare.

Not surprisingly, then, the graying of the Musical Society’s audience is one of the top two items on new executive director Fischer’s agenda. The second item is the rising costs of presenting classical concerts, which affects not only the organization’s financial stability but its programming and the ticket prices it must charge.

Fischer freely admits that “the challenges are formidable. We (the board and Fischer) have an agreement to continue the tradition of excellence, to bring the best of music and dance to Ann Arbor. At the same time, we know that there are some things we are going to have to change. We are going to have to find ways to bring in more people and to raise more money. We have some hard days ahead to make sure that happens.”

Rector has some parting advice to the two men who will fill his posts: “They must follow their own inclinations and not be turned by every suggestion. I was very fortunate to have the board be sympathetic and supportive of my artistic decisions. I hope it will be the same for Ken.”

-Gail Rector sits under Burton Memorial Tower, where he plied his trade as one of America's top impresarios for the University Musical Society for 30 years.-