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Bard College Conservatory of Music Receives $1.7 Million Endowment Gift from László Z. Bitó '60

Mark Primoff
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—The Bard College Conservatory of Music has received a $1.7 million gift from Bard alumnus László Z. Bitó, class of 1960. The donation from László Z. Bitó ’60 is a major contribution toward matching the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s challenge grant. In September 2008, the Mellon Foundation awarded Bard College a grant of $2.5 million to be matched three-to-one within four years to establish an endowment for the undergraduate program of The Bard College Conservatory of Music. Bitó’s generous gift of $1,686,304, together with $20,000 raised from other supporters, brings the Conservatory closer to its goal of raising $7.5 million by 2012.

In addition to their endowment gift, Bitó and his wife, Olivia B. Carino, have been actively involved in recruiting gifted students from Hungary for the Conservatory. This year, the Conservatory has enrolled 10 young musicians from Budapest, Debrecen, and Komarom. In recognition of the enthusiasm and support of the Bitós, six Conservatory students from Hungary have been designated as “Bitó Scholars.” Future donors will be similarly recognized.

Laszlo Bitó writes: “It is my pleasure to support the budding conservatory program of Bard, remembering the support I received from the college that started my academic career.”

The Bard Conservatory of Music was founded in 2005 with the intent not just to become one of the nation’s best music conservatories, but also to radically change the conservatory model of music education for the 21st-century. The design of Bard’s conservatory curriculum is based on the belief that the traditional conservatory curriculum—with a focus almost exclusively on music performance—does not adequately prepare students for contemporary careers in music.

The traditional conservatory model has remained largely unchanged for the past 200 years, but the opportunities and demands of musical life have changed dramatically. Those who are most successful today are articulate, literate, curious, intellectually adventurous, and able to absorb new material quickly—precisely the qualities associated with a fine liberal arts education. “We believe that gifted young musicians both need and deserve a liberal arts education,” notes Melvin Chen, associate director of the Conservatory. Toward this end, Bard’s conservatory curriculum is built around a unique double-degree program that requires all students to undertake studies in music and an academic subject other than music, culminating in both bachelor of music and bachelor of arts degrees.

“The Conservatory’s mission is to provide the best possible preparation for a person dedicated to a life immersed in the creation and performance of music,” says Robert Martin, director of the Conservatory. “The College and the Conservatory are committed to fostering a unified learning environment where the serious study of music is part of the education of the whole person.”

In Bard’s view, a liberal arts education is more than a few humanities courses offered to students in a conservatory setting. Conservatory students should have the experience of taking courses alongside students who are not fellow music students—with those who are passionate about history or literature or philosophy or physics. The ability to comprehend two very different worldviews is a core experience that Bard’s double-degree program offers.

While the double-degree requirement is at the core of Bard’s unique program, it is one of numerous curricular innovations. All students are required to study composition. Bard’s Conservatory Seminar integrates music theory with music history in a performance-based course. Mixed student-faculty chamber music performances are a regular part of each season. An orchestral studies course includes material on historical performance practices, readings of major works beyond those to be performed, and readings of student compositions. Concerto competition winners have the opportunity to perform as soloists with the American Symphony Orchestra. The graduate Vocal Arts Program includes lectures on the poetry and art history associated with each period of art song, as well as a career development workshop. The Piano Fellows program provides a two-year collaboration between competitively selected young pianists and instrumentalists and singers through master classes, lessons, and recitals.

Bard’s Conservatory faculty has embraced the opportunities to continue to explore their own “double” areas of expertise. Violin faculty member Eugene Drucker, a member of the Emerson
String Quartet who has also recently published a novel, will offer a mini-course at Bard on music and literature. Associate director and pianist Melvin Chen, who also holds a Harvard Ph.D. in chemistry, offers courses in the College on physical chemistry, computer graphics, and music and the brain. Director Robert Martin teaches a course on symbolic logic in the College; his philosophy classes regularly include Conservatory students.

Since its inception, the Bard College Conservatory of Music has enrolled 95 students and assembled a roster of 42 faculty who are renowned performing artists. Faculty musicians are on campus weekly to give lessons, coach chamber ensembles, offer master classes, and lead sectional rehearsals of the Conservatory orchestra. The faculty in music history, theory, and the liberal arts and sciences are in residence at Bard College. The Conservatory consists of the core undergraduate program and two graduate components: the Graduate Vocal Arts Program, created and directed by Dawn Upshaw, and the Graduate Conducting Program, directed by James Bagwell, Leon Botstein, and Harold Farberman.

Within its first five years, students in the Conservatory have performed alongside faculty members at The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; the Reading, Pennsylvania, Friends of Chamber Music; the Rhinebeck Chamber Music Society; and the Bard Music Festival. A Bard student string quartet appeared as finalists in the Coleman Chamber Music Competition in Pasadena, California. Seven Conservatory students have appeared as soloists with the American Symphony Orchestra – winners of the annual Concerto Competition. Conservatory students performed as soloists this season with the Albany Symphony and Woodstock Chamber Orchestra. Bard Conservatory students have received scholarships for summer study at Tanglewood, the Aspen School and Festival, Kneisel Hall, Music Academy of the West, Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in Germany, Pacific Music Festival, and Yale Summer School of Music. Bard’s distinguished faculty, including Richard Goode, Peter Serkin, David Krakauer, Dawn Upshaw, Arnold Steinhard, and Ida and Ani Kavafian, to name a few, have expressed satisfaction and pleasure in working with their Bard students.

Though still young, The Bard Conservatory of Music is clearly finding success, as well as widespread support, for its new approach to the conservatory experience.
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This event was last updated on 11-16-2009