Sunday, June 09, 2002

Dean ready to conduct business

CCM's faculty is relieved Lowry will be staying on

By Janelle Gelfand,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Faculty members at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music breathed a sigh of relief last week that Douglas Lowry, dean since August 2000, is staying. The decisions he makes in the coming months will determine whether the school can maintain its reputation as one of the top-tier conservatories in the country.

        Mr. Lowry was a finalist in a search for a new dean of the Flora L. Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California, where he was associate dean until coming to CCM in August 2000. On May 31, he withdrew his candidacy.

        While some faculty members were dismayed that he was looking at another job so early in his tenure, others were relieved that he is staying. Prior to his predecessor Robert J. Werner's tenure (1985-2000), the college struggled through a period of leadership turmoil, when it had seven deans over six years.

        “I thought, oh my God, if we lose him, it will be more devastating than when we lost Joseph Polisi (to the Juilliard School) after a year,” says pianist Sandra Rivers, professor of accompanying.

        Now that CCM has a new $93.2 million campus village, the project of Mr. Werner, Mr. Lowry faces the tasks of developing a strong faculty, creating better communication between departments and raising the school's national profile.

        Thrown into the mix is the increased need for undergraduate scholarship money to keep up with UC's tuition hikes. Further, university-wide budget cuts over the past decade have become a fact of life.

        Scholarship money is high priority, because it is “one of the currencies that the best schools of music all play in,” Mr. Lowry says.

Faculty appointments

        Also on his agenda are several critical faculty appointments. Violinist and renowned pedagogue Dorothy DeLay died in March. Opera department chair Malcolm Fraser has been on medical leave this year and will not return.

        Opera professor Jonathan Eaton, who left for Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University in 1999, has not been replaced. Neither has dance division head Carol Iwasaki, who left in June 2001.

        In addition, the school did not replace its young quartet-in-residence, the Amernet String Quartet, when it moved across the river to Northern Kentucky University in 2000. Although the Tokyo String Quartet, successors of the renowned LaSalle Quartet, provides cache, its busy members tour internationally, record and teach at Yale University. Without a resident ensemble to share teaching duties, the chamber music program has suffered.

        “We've had to just make the best of a difficult circumstance this year,” says Terrell Finney, who heads the division of opera, musical theater, drama and arts administration. “How do you maintain the kind of academic standards that you want, in the face of continuing budget cuts?”

Opera chief sought

        Finding a new head for the opera division is on the “front burner,” says Mr. Lowry, who will form a search committee soon. In the interim, he hopes that Thomas de Mallet Burgess will stay on another year as a visiting assistant professor of opera.

        Also crucial is luring an illustrious successor for Miss DeLay, the former distinguished teacher of superstars such as Itzhak Perlman and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Whoever is selected will impact the future of CCM's violin program.

        Mr. Lowry has also been in talks with the dance division. The school will bring in some “prominent guests” next year, to be announced soon, he says.

        Two important new hires he has made are musicologist Hilary Poriss and Richard Cawood, the latter a digital artist with a background in arts on the Internet.

Technical crews

        CCM has other needs as well, such as the full-time technical crews that most university music schools have, says Mr. Finney.

        “Every time a student steps on one of those stages, somebody has to be responsible for making sure the facility is ready, that the lights are on, the sound system is set up. To be perfectly frank, we've never had that kind of infrastructure, ever,” he says.

        The quest for funding is ever-present in electronic media, the fast-growing division in the school, where courses depend upon up-to-date technology.

        “It will be expensive for us to stay competitive,” says Marjorie Fox, associate professor of electronic media.

        As he views these diverse facets of CCM, Mr. Lowry's vision is a kind of “collaborative melting pot” where departments benefit from synergy within CCM, as well as in the community. But, says Ms. Fox, integrating the e-media division will be difficult.

        “We're so outside of the main thrust of CCM,” she says. “The kids who major in (electronic media) have minimal interest in classical music and theater. They love rock music.”

        A good start, the faculty say, is CCM's new relationship with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra — to hold master classes, joint events and concerts. On Tuesday, the CSO will open its series of summertime chamber music concerts in Corbett Auditorium, now in its second season.

        “When you look at other established schools in the country — like the Eastman School of Music, Indiana University, USC and Michigan — their status really hasn't changed that much in the last 30 years,” says Eugene Pridonoff, professor of piano. “CCM is still emerging. The challenge is for us to define the kind of school we want to be.”

        Mr. Finney agrees.

        “It's a school with a disparate mission, and we all are serving very different kinds of students,” he says. “Doug has listened very carefully over the last year and a half. It takes time for any administrator to get his or her finger on the pulse of an institution.”

        Says Ms. Rivers: “I see him really making things happen. There's so much potential.”


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