University of Rochester

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Eastman in the 21st Century

By Joel Seligman

Recently Newsweek magazine ranked the Eastman School of Music “the hottest school of music in the United States.”

The school is about to get a lot hotter.

On August 1, Doug Lowry began his appointment as dean. An educational administrator and composer of the first order, Doug has demonstrated an extraordinary vision that will guide the Eastman School, its students, and faculty as they capitalize on the school’s leadership position in the 21st century.

On September 10, Doug presided at an exciting event in a parking lot next to the Eastman Theatre where it was announced the school would embark on a $35 million renovation of the Eastman Theatre and add a new wing that will provide much needed rehearsal, performance, and studio space for students and faculty. The renovation of the theater—announced earlier this year—will reduce the seating capacity from 3,094 to approximately 2,250, incorporate 21st-century acoustics, and be linked to the new wing.

The new wing was George Eastman’s dream. When originally conceived in the early 1920s, Eastman Theatre stretched across two full city blocks, including the famous façade along Gibbs Street, but Eastman also envisioned a similar façade extending along Main Street to Swan. Eastman’s plan to complete his theater was stymied by the owner of an apartment complex with whom he was unable to negotiate a satisfactory sales price.

The wheels of time grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. Many decades later the University acquired the land and for the past several years has used the space as a parking lot with the beguiling name of the “K-1 Wedge.”

The new wing will be constructed on this parking lot exactly as George Eastman envisioned it. It will include a new 200-seat recital hall wired for digital Internet transmission—rehearsal space large enough so that when major performances such as operas occur at Eastman, they can prepare offstage and open up the Eastman Theatre for more events—new faculty offices and studios, and a state-of-the-art recording studio.

To put this in different terms, the new wing will allow for enhanced performing and teaching modalities that previously have not been available. The improved acoustics in the Eastman Theatre will bring sound quality at the Eastman School into the 21st century and sufficient space so that more events can occur in downtown Rochester’s favorite venue and more students can perform in their school.

The financing of the project is a triumph of community support.Our State Assembly delegation, led by Assemblyman Joe Morelle and including Assemblymen David Gantt, Susan John, and David Koon, helped galvanize $13 million to support this project. The overall cost of the project will be approximately $35 million, and others in the community including those on the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Board, the Eastman School’s Board of Managers, and friends of the theater and school have stepped forward. I am confident we will be able to raise the entire total by the time construction is completed.

Work on the renovated theater and on the new wing will begin July 1, 2008. The theater renovations should be complete by October 2008 to facilitate the season of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the world-class performance group that, outside of the school’s own ensembles, uses the theater the most, and work on the new wing should be completed by late 2009.

Separately, Doug and the Eastman faculty are working on a strategic plan that will be presented to the Board of Trustees’ Strategic Planning Advisory Committee in late November of this year. A core question for the plan will involve the future of musical education, and indeed music itself, in the first decades of the 21st century. No school is better positioned and no dean is better prepared to address this question.

I would like to make special mention of the enormous continuing contributions of Eastman’s Senior Executive Associate Dean Jamal Rossi. Jamal served so extraordinarily capably as interim dean during the search for Doug Lowry. His passion and commitment to the renovation project have been outstanding.

As do so many, I look forward to countless opportunities to hear beautiful music at the Eastman School and the Eastman Theatre long into the future.