When Robert Sirota became director of the
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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