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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 3, 2005 | Vol. 35 No. 5
A Farewell to Bob Sirota

Bob Sirota enjoys a moment at his farewell party, where friends and colleagues paid tribute to his 10-year tenure at the helm of the Peabody Institute.

Peabody director leaves behind an enhanced program and facilities

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

When Robert Sirota became director of the Peabody Institute 10 years ago, the words exquisite, magical, inspiring and beautiful were often used to depict the music created by the renowned school's virtuoso students. Today, those same words also describe the grand physical space that houses both the degree-granting Peabody Conservatory and the community-based Peabody Preparatory — a renovated complex that will forever be a monument to Sirota's vision.

The Peabody Institute and scores of guests honored the departing director and his wife, Vicki, in a farewell ceremony on Tuesday in Griswold Hall. On Oct. 1, Sirota assumed the post of president of the Manhattan School of Music.

A celebrated composer and conductor, Sirota became director of the Peabody Institute in 1995. He previously served as chairman of the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions at New York University and as director of Boston University's School of Music.

The most visible achievement of Sirota's tenure as Peabody director has been the enhancement and repair of the Peabody campus. Sirota spearheaded the $27 million physical transformation of Peabody, turning aging and, in places, crumbling edifices into a vibrant and elegant campus with some of the finest musical facilities in the world.

A major goal of the project was to create a more welcoming, inviting Peabody that before the renovation was beset by black iron gates, guardhouses and a labyrinth of halls that impeded access into and through the one-block campus in Mount Vernon. The renovated campus, completed last spring, now features a restored entrance to Peabody on Mount Vernon Place, vibrant colors, a well-dressed Grand Arcade and new and reconfigured performance spaces.

In his remarks on Tuesday, President William R. Brody heaped praise upon his "talented colleague and good friend" who leaves a school that, under Sirota's leadership, has risen to even greater prominence.

"One of the greatest pleasures of my time as president of Johns Hopkins has been to watch America's oldest music conservatory fulfill its destiny — to be not only a national, but an international, cultural treasure," Brody said. "When I look at Peabody Institute today, I see a revitalized campus that opens its doors and its heart to the Mount Vernon neighborhood. Bob Sirota was the driving force behind that transformation."

Brody, who over the years performed a number of public piano duets with Sirota, said that the presence of the affable and energetic Sirota will sorely be missed in Baltimore.

"When I stand here today and see this room filled with so many friends and colleagues and administrators from all across Johns Hopkins, I know the infectious enthusiasm Bob and Vicki have brought to Peabody, to Johns Hopkins and all of Baltimore is something that has meant a great deal to us all," he said.

In addition to Peabody's physical changes, Sirota also started an institutewide change initiative that is radically altering the way the school works, better aligning its operations with its mission to be one of the world's great conservatories. He has attracted enhanced support for students and faculty and broadened the standard model of conservatory education, making room for development of what he calls the "entrepreneurial musician."

Sirota has also forged closer ties between the institute and its Mount Vernon neighbors.

Beyond Baltimore, Sirota made Peabody a critical partner in the creation of Yong Siew Toh Conservatory in Singapore, envisioned to become one of the great musical institutions of the Asia-Pacific region.

Established in November 2001, the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory is the collaborative effort of the National University of Singapore and the Peabody Institute. The school welcomed its first incoming class in the summer of 2003 and will soon open its permanent home. In its role, Peabody assisted the new conservatory, Singapore's first, in curriculum design and development, recruitment of students and faculty, and the setting of admissions standards. In addition, Peabody has made available composers and performing artists from its faculty on a short-term basis and sends both soloists and chamber ensembles to perform in the region.

Benjamin Griswold, chair of the Peabody National Advisory Council and a Johns Hopkins University trustee, said at the farewell event that all at Johns Hopkins have been blessed by the tireless spirits of the Sirotas.

"Bob and Vicki have left an incredible physical and intellectual imprint on Johns Hopkins and Peabody that will last many lifetimes," Griswold said. "When Bob first came here, he said to me, 'We are going to take Peabody and place it firmly in the top tier of conservatories worldwide,' and that is exactly what has happened."

Sirota said that the two overwhelming factors that led to his leaving Peabody were a desire to spend more time composing and the opportunity to return to his native New York.

An accomplished composer, Sirota's catalog of works includes three short operas and a full-length music theater piece as well as orchestral, symphonic band, chamber and recital works. He is especially well-known for his rich choral music and his many works involving the organ. As a farewell gift, Sirota was presented with an oversized artist cabinet intended to house the compositions he has yet to write.

Sirota said that he leaves Johns Hopkins saddened that a chapter in his life is ending but excited by the prospect of new challenges and exploration.

Always keen of wit, Sirota could not help but begin his remarks on a slightly less than serious note.

"I'm very rarely at a loss for words. And this is not one of those times," Sirota said to the sounds of audience laughter. "Honestly, it is very difficult to leave a place that you basically put your heart and soul into, and to leave the dear, wonderful souls that I see here about the room."

Sirota called his 10 years at Johns Hopkins both a pleasure and a dream.

"This week has been surreal," he said. "It's been very hard to let go of a place that has been your home for so long."


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