Manhattan School of Music President to Step Down

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Manhattan School of Music president Robert Sirota announced Wednesday he will step down this fall in order to devote more time to composing.

“For almost my entire professional career, I have divided my time between two vocations: school administrator and composer,” said Sirota in a statement. “Running music schools has been extremely rewarding, but it is now time for me to focus my energies on doing what I became a musician for in the first place.”

Sirota's music has been increasingly heard around New York. His Triptych (2009) was performed as part of the Trinity Church’s commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in September, and his opera Holy Women was performed a month later at Corpus Christi Church. His 1988 chamber opera The Clever Mistress is to be performed in April at Symphony Space.

Sirota, 62, has been credited with raising the profile of the Manhattan School at 122nd St. and Broadway as it sought to escape the large shadow of the Juilliard School, 50 blocks to its south. He has built new programs in contemporary music and entrepreneurship, created a summer voice institute, purchased new Steinway pianos, and overseen the final stages of the school’s facility expansion.

His tenure has not been without discord. Earlier this month, the school’s newly unionized pre-college teachers organized a demonstration outside the school to protest low wages. They are attempting to raise their hourly rate to $60 an hour, claiming over half of them earn less than $50 an hour. The school is quoted in The New York Times as offering a two percent increase for the first year and a 1.75 percent increase for the following two years.

Sirota will leave behind some significant perks, among them, a lavish 3,000-square-foot presidential penthouse adorned with designer furniture, fine paintings and a 1,500-square-foot terrace overlooking the Hudson River. The apartment was part of a $70 million tower that opened in the fall of 2001 and which provides living quarters for 380 students. 

Sirota, a native of New York City, was recruited in 2005 to replace Marta Casals Istomin, who retired after 13 years in the position. He will remain a “special advisor” as the school searches for a successor.