“Are we ambitious? Yes, insanely,” Chris Dempsey laughs.

In 2008, Dempsey was elected president of the Academy of Early Music. He’s since been rebuilding the group that put Ann Arbor on the early music map in the 1980s, then largely faded from view.

Thirty years ago, when early music–from the era of Gregorian chant up to the end of the Baroque era, around 1750–was the new thing in classical music, Ann Arbor was one of three American cities that mattered. And in Ann Arbor, the early music organization that mattered most was the Academy of Early Music.Founded in 1980, the Academy was run by the leaders of Ars Musica, the scene’s best band. Its Sunday night concerts, featuring a mix of local and imported talent, made Sunday the hottest concert night of the week.

That ended in 1985. “There was a split between [Ars Musica leader] Lyndon Lawless and the Academy board, and the remaining members of Ars Musica left when Lyndon Lawless was fired,” explains longtime board member Eberhard Gerlach. After Ars Musica broke up, many of the musicians left town. Soon attendance at concerts was in the low double digits, while attendance at board meetings was in the low single digits.

“We limped along, although there were some high peaks,” recalls Gerlach. “Then the peaks were further apart, and after a while there were no high peaks.”

Chris Dempsey’s out to bring back the high peaks and hot nights. “Our audience in ’08-’09 was about thirty-forty people per concert,” he says. “Last year, it was nearly double that: sixty to seventy-five. This year, we’re budgeting for eighty people–we’re trying to be conservative–but we’re hoping for 100-125.”

Instead of a mix of local and imported ensembles, Dempsey is concentrating almost exclusively on imports. “We’ve got Greensleeves from Canada, La Voix Humaine, also from Montreal, Gravitacion from outside of Chicago, and the Rose Ensemble from Minneapolis. Plus, of course, Anonymous 4 is coming.

Anonymous 4–a four-woman a cappella ensemble with a unique tone and unearthly blend–is the best-known group the Academy has ever presented. “We wanted to do something big for the thirtieth anniversary year,” explains Dempsey. “We’re hoping three hundred people will come. If we can get them to come, we think we’ll be able to get them to come back.”