June 5, 2015: Quarterly Update

The academic year has come to a close with both familiar, time-honored traditions and new efforts and initiatives. That juxtaposition of the new and the old is becoming a defining characteristic of the Peabody Institute, and I am excited to share with you a few recent updates.


At the 133rd graduation of the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University in May, we celebrated the 224 students of the class of 2015 who received degrees ranging from the Bachelor of Music to the Doctor of Musical Arts. It was moving and exciting to see these young artists prepare to take the first steps in their careers as they enter the next phase of their lives. It was a time both to reflect on their time at Peabody, and to contemplate the complex and increasingly unpredictable world that the 21st Century musician faces.

It was also a time to reflect on the opportunities and challenges our communities face. To help us do this, we welcomed Congressman Elijah Cummings to address our graduates. Congressman Cummings has spent a career being an inspirational voice for many who would otherwise be without a voice. He was also a picture of reassurance and steadfastness through recent unrest in west Baltimore.

Recent Challenges in Baltimore

That brief period of unrest also brought a proactive and thoughtful response from the Peabody community. The Peabody campus remained completely safe and secure during those few days, but like all Baltimoreans, we felt the pain of our west Baltimore neighbors. In response, we held a Town Hall conversation for students, faculty, and staff that provided a candid forum for feelings to be expressed.  Peabody students helped with the clean-up efforts, and brought their musical talents to serve the community through impromptu performances in Mount Vernon, and by participating in a special Baltimore Symphony Orchestra community concert. I think Baltimore is a wonderful city, and wrote a letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun saying so. And in perhaps one of the most poignant moments, a long-planned set of performances of Peabody student Frances Pollock’s new opera –Stinney – came to fruition, displaying with immediacy both the power of music to express the human condition and its timely relevance to contemporary society.

In short, we were reminded of the importance of community connectivity – one of our four pillars at Peabody – to both Peabody’s role in its home city, and to individual musicians training for their roles in contemporary communities. Looking ahead, students and faculty will have a new opportunity to develop innovative interdisciplinary and community projects through the recently announced Dean’s Incentive Grants, available for the first time this coming year.

Enrolling a New Class

During this time, we also have been finalizing our incoming class for next year. After several challenging years, applications were up five percent for the 2015-16 academic year, and we are seeing a higher percentage of accepted students enroll. We are on track to meet our enrollment goal of 550 full-time students next year in the Conservatory, slightly more than the current year. In addition, the prevalence of high audition ratings among those accepting offers of admission indicates a level of excellence in students choosing Peabody.

Putting Peabody on the Cutting Edge

Enrollment is what happens before students come to Peabody; we want a dynamic musical environment awaiting them when they arrive. Conservatories tend to be “conservative” as the name indicates. Here at Peabody we are moving in a new direction. This in part entails a commitment to music of our time from bold new compositional voices writing today for new audiences and new venues. How is that manifesting itself?

Peabody has a world-class composition department with Kevin Puts, Michael Hersch, and Oscar Bettison. In addition to the Peabody Modern Orchestra, Peabody will launch a flexible new music ensemble beginning this fall. Also this fall, Peabody presents Michael Hersch’s opera, On the Threshold of Winter, sure to be a major event. And putting Peabody on the international stage in the area of commitment to music of our time, BSO Music Director Marin Alsop records works of Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Kevin Puts with the Peabody Symphony Orchestra for release on Naxos in 2016.  In addition, the New Music Gathering – a national conference of performers and composers – will be hosted here in Baltimore at Peabody in January 2016. Peabody will also be part of a co-commissioning consortium that includes the Detroit Symphony for a flute concerto by Aaron Jay Kernis, written for flute faculty member Marina Piccinini, with the PSO giving the mid-Atlantic premiere during the 2016-17 season.

Look for more to come as Peabody makes music of our time a vital hallmark of our brand, along with a growing focus on the path required to become a holistic and complete artist-musician in the 21stcentury.