Manhattan School of Music Names New President

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The Manhattan School of Music said on Wednesday that James Gandre, a college administrator who is currently the executive vice president and provost at Roosevelt University in Chicago, will be its new president.

He will succeed Robert Sirota, who announced a year ago that he would step down in order to devote more time to his composing career. Gandre will begin his new job on May 6, becoming the school’s ninth president.

Gandre, 53, began his career in academia at the Manhattan School of Music in 1985, as its dean for enrollment and alumni. He left in 2000 to become the dean of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, a job he held until 2007, when he was promoted to his current post.

Based in Chicago's loop, Roosevelt has 7,300 students and an $80 million endowment.

Gandre returns to the Manhattan School as it begins planning for its centenary in 2018, but also at a time when conservatories are increasingly called upon to teach career skills for a shifting music industry, including entrepreneurship, technology and education.

“To be named the president as we go into a centenary is particularly exciting because big anniversaries like this are a time to look back and to look forward,” he said in a telephone interview. “As you look forward, you look at, how are we going to ensure that our students – whether they become musicians or decide to do something else – are going to be able to thrive and survive in this crazy world we live in?”

Gandre acknowledged that the majority of students at conservatories ultimately pursue careers outside of music. "Truth be told, that’s always been an issue within the arts,” he said. “But it’s certainly becoming more difficult as time goes on." He added that he hopes to strengthen programs like the Manhattan School's own Center for Music Entrepreneurship.

A tenor by training, Gandre earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Lawrence University, a Master of Music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and his Doctor of Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His resume includes a long list of performance credits as a soloist and chorister.

Gandre notes that working for an urban academic institution presents particular challenges and opportunities, often involving real estate. At Roosevelt University, he helped to oversee the development of a 32-story, $123 million tower in downtown Chicago, which included a mix of classrooms, dormitories and a student union. Considered a financial gamble, it expanded Roosevelt's classroom space by 40 percent. The building opened last May.

Gandre says that a conservatory should be a driver of change in classical music, rather than simply reacting to the needs of the professional world. "Often, performing arts organizations feel hesitant to take risks – about how they program, how they change their formats, where they perform, etcetera,” he said. “Conservatories, because they don’t have subscribers and don’t have to worry about their donors or their corporate sponsors, can take some bold and interesting risks which might in turn engage new audiences in new ways that might not happen otherwise.”

Audio: Gandre on the changing role of conservatories: