November 17, 2016: Quarterly Update

It is hard to imagine that we are already closing in on the end of the first semester of the 2016-17 Academic Year here at Peabody.  As we approach this mid-point, I’m pleased to report on a number of developments, achievements, and initiatives.

Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall 150th Anniversary

We embraced the 150th anniversary of the Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall as an occasion to celebrate its rich legacy and make further advances in the experience of our musicians and audiences. This past summer we completed the first phase of a two-part project to make acoustical improvements, including expansion of the stage, thanks to the support of the France-Merrick Foundation. The work has been under the supervision of Lawrence Kirkegaard, one of the world’s leading acousticians, who is responsible for projects as renowned as the renovation of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Orchestra Hall, and construction of Ozawa Hall at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home at Tanglewood.  On October 28th we celebrated with a special concert with the Peabody Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Marin Alsop.  The 150th Anniversary Concert was free as are all Peabody concerts starting this year.  Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake helped celebrate with comments and a photo op around a detailed replica of the original Peabody Conservatory building in the form of a cake!

Naxos Recordings

While we may have been celebrating a great history, the Anniversary concert was very much of our time with a performance of Aaron Jay Kernis’ second symphony, which will be featured on the Peabody Symphony Orchestra’s second CD on Naxos. The CD will also feature Kernis’ Flute Concerto, co-commissioned with the Detroit Symphony for Peabody faculty member Marina Piccinini, which will be performed and recorded this spring under the baton of Detroit Symphony music director, Leonard Slatkin.  New music is thriving here at Peabody as demonstrated by the recent release of the first PSO CD on Naxos featuring the works of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and Peabody faculty member Kevin Puts, conducted by Marin Alsop. The disc has received critical acclaim and made Billboard’s “top classical” chart.  Through projects like this, Peabody is staking an artistic claim to music of our time.

Peabody Pop-Ups

While Peabody’s new series of recordings with Naxos are helping tell the national and international story for Peabody, right here in Baltimore we are staking out a vibrant role in our community.  For two intense hours on October 11, the Peabody “Pop Ups” curated by Special Assistant to the Dean for Innovation, Interdisciplinary Partnerships, and Community Initiatives Sarah Hoover, saw 31 students from the Conservatory fan out to 17 different sites around Baltimore offering mini-concerts that surprised and delighted unsuspecting listeners. Sites included City Hall, Penn Station, Market Place, Kennedy-Krieger Institute, Kimmel Cancer Center, University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore VA Medical Center, Manna House, Marian House, My Sister’s Place, Basilica Place, New Shiloh Village Senior Living, Pratt Library/Pennsylvania Avenue Branch, Motor House, Baltimore Impact Hub, Station North Tool Library, and Open Works Studio.

Breakthrough Curriculum

Peabody musicians are making a difference. On campus, in the community, and beyond in the world of music, Peabody is taking a leadership role in training and showcasing the next generation of professional musicians, while leading a dialogue about the importance of music and the arts here in Baltimore, nationally, and internationally.

We are in the process of finalizing an exciting plan to augment the traditional Peabody experience by providing our students with opportunities to surround their artistic development with skills essential to cultivating effective and flexible citizen-artists.  Over the last year, two task forces here at Peabody have engaged more than fifty faculty, students, administrators, and alumni on issues of curriculum and ensemble performance.  Under the leadership of Senior Associate Dean for Institute Studies Abra Bush and Sarah Hoover, as well as faculty member Alan Stepansky who chaired the Ensembles Task Force, many have contributed to this process.  I am especially grateful to our alumni who through surveys and thoughtful dialogue have helped us immeasurably in shaping this new frontier based on their own professional experiences.

The Peabody Institute Breakthrough Curriculum will infuse our grand tradition with its focus on excellence in artistry with new perspectives to create a model at the forefront of arts training in the United States.  Students will develop skills in written and oral communication; cultivate skills in programming, audience development, music entrepreneurship, and citizen artistry; and develop a digital portfolio with which they can propel their careers in any direction immediately upon graduation. In addition, instrumentalists will have ensemble training that emphasizes the flexibility increasingly needed for success in the music world.  Through four phases that we call EXPLORE, BUILD, IMPLEMENT, and LAUNCH, this new curriculum will engage every student, undergraduate and graduate, in meaningful training experiences across these critical areas, always led by the guiding goal of excellence and musical accomplishment.

Beginning in Fall 2017, the Breakthrough Curriculum will fully integrate entrepreneurship and artistic citizenship training into the traditional training for which Peabody is renowned.  We’ll continue to refine and perfect this path as we walk down it, but in putting a stake in the ground around this critical issue, Peabody is using its rich history as the oldest conservatory in the United States to lead the way in new directions of professional music training and a new vision for how a modern conservatory can relate to the world around it.

The Dean’s Symposiums

The possibilities that creative leadership can bring to our field are further delineated in the second year of the Peabody Dean’s Symposium Series, which welcomes music industry thought leaders to campus for a conversation about music in the 21st century.  Aaron Dworkin, founder of the Sphinx Organization and dean of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater, and Dance recently spoke eloquently on the hopes and challenges surrounding diversity in music.  Coming up are Blair Tindall, author of Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music, the book which formed the basis for Amazon Studio’s show now in its third season; Alex Ross, award-winning writer and chief music critic for The New Yorker; and Peter Sellars, renowned opera and theater director known for his innovative productions. The Dean’s Symposium Series provides a platform to discuss the future of music and the issues facing professional musicians today with these four guests, among the most innovative thought-leaders out there. As practitioners and writers, to a person they are clear-eyed, insightful and witty about the challenges facing our industry and bold in their work to advance music.

The road to a more diverse Peabody

An important part of our quest for excellence and expanding the audience for classical music is built around the notion of diversity and inclusion.  Diversity is essential for excellence and if we want to build new audiences, performers must reflect the fabric of different communities.  We must be honest and recognize that in classical music, this is a challenge given the history and real as well as perceived barriers.  In a recent full-day retreat led by Dr. Derrick Gay, the Peabody Pathways to Diversity Task Force devoted itself to a deep discussion of diversity and inclusion, what it means, and how to expand the pipeline to our field, recruit diverse faculty, staff, and students, and then ensure that we have a culture that celebrates and holds up its diversity.  We are working on this with the same dedication that we’ve tackled critical academic innovations around curriculum and ensembles.  We know we have a distance to travel, but the commitment is there.  We are in the process of developing benchmarks by which we can measure our progress on this journey in a transparent and material way.  One of our first steps will be to establish more robust, cultural competency learning sessions for all faculty, students and staff.

Five-Year Academic & Business Plan

Over the last six months, we have been working to develop a multi-year academic and business plan that follows the key strategic pillars of the Breakthrough Plan:  Excellence, Interdisciplinary Experiences, Innovation, and Community Connectivity.  There are two prongs to our priorities for the plan: 1) it must be driven by our academic mission with a focus on excellence, incorporating innovations in curriculum that have been discussed, and new programmatic development that can broaden and extend the Peabody brand to new constituencies; and 2) it must address Peabody’s long-standing points of financial exposure and stabilize the school while continuing to build academic excellence and output.

Key elements of this plan include building new programs such as a BFA in dance as well as a new media program.  We are working with consulting expertise — and in the case of new media, a faculty committee under the leadership of Scott Metcalfe — to shape these initiatives.  Other important initiatives include opening an on-line suite of courses, expanding summer activities at Peabody, and ratcheting up a commitment to “life-long learning” as well as a possible expansion of the Preparatory beyond its current campuses.  At the same time, we’re looking at selected growth opportunities in the Conservatory itself while right-sizing to ensure that recruitment and quality is high and that instrumental areas are consistent with the ensemble needs in a newly reconfigured ensembles program.  Finally, a high priority is building new philanthropy with an expanded donor base and a focus on increasing current use funds for new initiatives, seed investments, continuing to build scholarship aid, and generally increasing financial stability and sustainability.

Wrapping Up

As always, there is much going on here at Peabody, and as always, too much to note all activities in this space.  Most important, I appreciate everything our faculty and staff are doing to advance our work, and to serve our fabulous students.  As we approach this holiday season, I know they will continue to do so with the knowledge that what we do with music has the power to heal and move people at a time in our nation when this is so sorely needed.

With warm wishes,

Fred Bronstein
The Peabody Institute