Peabody is losing Sirota to New York

June 28, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Robert Sirota, whose 10-year tenure as director of the Peabody Conservatory helped to generate an extraordinary growth in the institution's artistic reputation and physical properties, has been named president of the Manhattan School of Music.

The appointment, effective Oct. 1, will be a homecoming for Sirota, 55, who was born in New York City and did some of his early studies at the Juilliard School of Music.

"I'm not leaving because I'm in any way disappointed in Peabody," Sirota said yesterday. "These have been the best 10 years of my life. But this was literally an opportunity I could not refuse."

Besides serving as president of the Manhattan School, founded in 1918, Sirota will become a member of the composition faculty there.

"My composing career has gotten busier and more successful," he said. "And New York is a place I wanted to be as a composer."

In April 2004, Peabody Conservatory - now part of the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University - unveiled $27 million in renovations of its historic campus on Mount Vernon Place, an extensive project devised and spearheaded by Sitrota.

"Bob had a vision of how Peabody was going to open up to the community," Hopkins provost Steven Knapp said. "When he arrived 10 years ago, it was a fortress closed in on itself. Now it's more welcoming to the community. The renovation gave a boost to the morale of the whole institution."

Sirota is also credited with broadening the curriculum at the conservatory, including the addition of a jazz program, and updating the administrative structure and processes. He also was closely involved in the creation of Peabody's Asian counterpart, the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory in Singapore.

"Disappointed as I am to lose such a talented colleague and good friend, I fully understand [Sirota's] decision to accept this new challenge," said William R. Brody, president of Hopkins, in a campus-wide e-mail last night.

Nicholas Maw, the distinguished British composer recruited for the Peabody faculty by Sirota in the late 1990s, echoed that sentiment yesterday.

"I'm not surprised that someone was really anxious to get him," Maw said. "Peabody has benefited enormously from him. He's raised its standard in the country. I hope the next person they get will be able to keep it at that level."

Peter Landgren, a longtime Peabody faculty member and associate principal horn of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, has been named interim director.

"What Bob's done to this place is a sheer marvel," Landgren said. "In addition to the renovations and the improved financial stability, he really transformed how we teach music and how we think about preparing students for the future. My intent is to continue the momentum he has built over the past 10 years."

A search committee of faculty and students will be formed in the next few months, and a new director may be in place by the start of the 2006-2007 academic year, Knapp said.

Sirota was selected for the Manhattan School post out of eight finalists.

"He's just a dynamo," said David Rahm, board chairman of the school and a member of the search committee. "Bob's very energetic, very personable and very committed. He has a strong sense of what it takes to raise money for an institution and to deal with a board."

Sirota succeeds Marta Istomin, former artistic director of the Kennedy Center and widow of cellist Pablo Casals and pianist Eugene Istomin, who just finished her tenure as the seventh president of the Manhattan School.

Although not as well known as the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School has established its own strong reputation, reinforced by such distinguished alumni as composers John Corigiliano, Michael Daugherty and Aaron Jay Kernis, soprano Dawn Upshaw and jazz artists Herbie Hancock and Harry Connick Jr. "Juilliard absorbs so much media attention," Sirota said. "It is, after all, so outstanding.

"But, rather than compete with Juilliard, I plan to look at the distinctive strengths of the Manhattan School, its superb orchestral training program, an innovative and internationally known opera program, and very fine programs in jazz and music theater. I want to find a way of getting more people to know about these things."

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