Sunday, November 28, 1999

Growing prominence marks school's history

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        What is now known as the College-Conservatory of Music was the result of a merger in 1955 between the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (founded by Clara Baur in 1867) and the College of Music (founded in 1878).

        In 1962, CCM became the University of Cincinnati's 14th college. CCM moved into its $5 million building on the UC campus in 1967.

        From the beginning, philanthropy has played an important role. Many names are seen throughout the CCM complex, but two couples stand out: J. Ralph and Patricia Corbett; and Louis and Louise (Dieterle) Nippert.

        “Without them, we wouldn't have gotten off the ground,” said Jack Watson, who was dean 1963-74. “We had many monied friends, but they didn't turn the money loose like Ralph Corbett.”

        In 1962, the Corbetts funded the Corbett Music Lecture Series to stimulate national interest in CCM. Speakers included composer Aaron Copland, pianist Glenn Gould, and choreographer Agnes de Mille.

        “We were really not very well known,” Mrs. Corbett said. “We wanted to bring the school to the attention of the country, and my husband succeeded in doing that.”

        In the early years at UC, Mr. Watson worked to make the opera and musical theater departments “a showcase for the school.”

        He hired opera stars Andrew White, John Alexander and Metropolitan Opera basso Italo Tajo to his faculty. Mr. Tajo built up the opera program to national prominence, a tradition which continues under Malcolm Fraser. When Mr. Tajo died in 1993, the singer bequeathed his scores, recordings, stagings and memorabilia to CCM. This slice of operatic history now has a home in the Dieterle Vocal Arts Center.

        Despite a period of leadership turmoil following Mr. Watson's tenure — a string of seven deans in six years preceded current Dean Robert J. Werner — the faculty roster in the '70s and '80s read like a Who's Who in music: Zara Nelsova (cellist); Donald McInnis (viola); violin pedagogue Dorothy DeLay; and pianists David Bar-Ilan and Bela Siki.

        CCM's Percussion Group Cincinnati performed works composed for them by maverick John Cage. The LaSalle Quartet premiered many major works composed for them, and their concerts were standing-room-only — even when Ohio Gov. James Rhodes declared a snow emergency in 1978.

        When Cincinnati-born Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine appeared as pianist with the LaSalle Quartet in 1980, WGUC-FM broadcast the concert live to 60 stations in the United States.

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