Peabody director Pierce to leave institute in 1995

September 15, 1994|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,Sun Staff Writer

Robert O. Pierce, the former symphony French horn player who led the Peabody Institute of Music from red ink to financial stability, will step down as director next summer.

After a decade of scrambling to find funds and to enhance Peabody's reputation for training classical musicians, Mr. Pierce, 60, said it is time for him to leave both the 137-year-old Baltimore college and the world of professional music.

"I've been in this business one way or another for my entire professional life, and that's been nearly 40 years," Mr. Pierce said yesterday. "It seems like I've been pedaling fast the whole time."

"The institution looks good," he said. "It is now operating on a balanced budget. That's the first time that's happened in any living person's memory."

The principal French horn player of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra from 1958 to 1982, Mr. Pierce was named director of Peabody in 1983 by the Johns Hopkins University, six years after the university took the ailing school into its fold.

When Mr. Pierce was appointed, Peabody held an endowment of $2 million and depended on large subsidies from Hopkins to balance the operating budget and repair dilapidated buildings. At the time, students were practicing under umbrellas because some roofs leaked so profusely.

Today, after two fund-raising drives, the school boasts an endowment of $25 million, and the student body has reached a record 600.

Achieving financial health required some tough measures: The operating budget was pared; 10 percent of the nonacademic positions were cut; salaries were frozen for a year; and the institute renovated town houses for a revenue-generating inn, where senior citizens stay for seminars.

After Hopkins announced in 1988 that it could not continue to subsidize Peabody, Mr. Pierce and Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg devised a fund-raising plan: Ownership of the institute's art collection was sold to the state for $15 million, to be added to the school's endowment in 1996. The state will pay $3 million annual subsidies until then.

Mr. Pierce, a native of Kansas, holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music.

As word of the resignation, effective June 30, 1995, got out yesterday, Mr. Pierce won plaudits from his colleagues for his work to keep Peabody alive and to heighten its reputation. He strengthened the faculty and encouraged top-flight student performers, some of whom won national and international awards.

"What we saw in Bob Pierce was someone who was clearly a musician by profession and by reputation, but also someone who had the ability to deal with everyday life, particularly in fiscal reality," said Steven Muller, former president of Johns Hopkins.

Mr. Pierce said yesterday that he had told Hopkins President William C. Richardson 18 months ago that he intended to step down in the middle of this summer, but that he was persuaded to stay for another year.

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