Elevator Chat: Fred Bronstein, Dean, Peabody Institute
Elevator Chat: Fred BronsteinDecember 05, 2014Arts Across Maryland
On June 1, 2014, Fred Bronstein, a musician, music educator, and chief executive of American symphony orchestras, became dean of the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University. Bronstein previously served as president of the St. Louis Symphony, the Omaha Symphony, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. A pianist, he toured for eight years as part of Aequalis, a chamber group he co-founded.
MSAC: What are your goals for Peabody?
FB: In many ways, my goal is to broaden the vision of what the Peabody Institute is. I’m very interested in continuing to make Peabody as competitive other programs at Hopkins—which is not to say we’re not [competitive], but I want to continue to see us grow.
I also want us to think innovatively. There’s a huge opportunity for us to reach many more people through online activity whether it’s master classes or classes or vignettes of students working with their teachers.
Finally, I think we need to think about community. We are part of this robust community around Baltimore, and sometimes it feels like we have been a little bit separate. This feels like a huge opportunity to partner, collaborate.
MSAC: What is essential in preparing young musicians?
FB: My first job when I moved into the orchestra world was running the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, which is the training orchestra for the Chicago symphony. I enjoyed that a lot and recognized how important the training of young musicians is, particularly in the 21st century with an increasingly complex environment which can be difficult to navigate.
Our students need to learn the skills to create flexibility as artists. We need to create the ability in them to find audiences, be entrepreneurs, educators, to become communicators. These are all things that are absolutely essential to that role of the 21st century artist.
Something I tell the younger musicians is, “Look, you may be thinking you’ll be doing exactly what you’re doing today, but you don’t know what you’re going to be doing in the future or where this career will take you. Be prepared and open to possibilities and develop a set of skills that will serve you well in the future.” My career path is a good example of that.
MSAC: What role does Peabody play in the arts community?
FB: Most of our connection to the community has been through the Preparatory. I would like to expand on that with partnerships with institutions. A simple example is the Baltimore Symphony. We haven’t done nearly as much with the symphony as I would like to see us do, but we’re starting to do more, including having guest conductors coming through to conduct our orchestra. We’re also partnering with the Henderson-Hopkins School to build a robust music program there that will involve internal music programs, Peabody, and some collaboration with the BSO. To me, being an active participant means forging relationships with and creating much more synergy with the arts community. I think Peabody can bring a lot to that conversation.
MSAC: Peabody recently hosted a forum dedicated to the question “What’s next for classical music?” How would you answer that?
FB: I’m optimistic about the future of classical music, but with the caveat that it will require change and flexibility and creativity and a willingness to look through the lens of classical music differently than the way we have done so traditionally.
I think that performing arts institutions need to present concerts that meet people on their own terms because everyone’s experience is not going to be uniform. For some people, a full two-hour classical concert in a hall is the right experience. For other people, it’s an interactive chamber music experience in a small, unconventional space. My point is: the institutions that are going to thrive are the institutions that will find ways to deliver their mission in new ways.
Part of it is being able to be interactive. People are looking for a way to connect with artists. They want to be able to talk to the musicians and find out how they do what they do. People want and expect to be engaged.
MSAC: What set you on your career path?
FB: I had a tremendous love for music from an early age. It was nurtured by my parents. I went to concerts. I loved all kinds of music. I listened to everything and still do. I took piano all through elementary school and had an aptitude for it, but in 7th grade I kind of crashed out of it. In 8th grade, I came back, and all I wanted to do was practice and play the piano. I got completely riveted by it. So that’s when I knew I really wanted to be a musician.
MSAC: When you sit down at the piano what do you play?
FB: I have to confess, these days I’ve had almost no time to do this. But when I do have time, I might play a Mozart sonata or a Schubert sonata or the Webern Piano Variations or Schoenberg. It could be a range of things. But I won’t sit down and practice unless I know I have something to prepare for. That’s the reality of it given my time constraints.