Juilliard seeks new chief

Juilliard seeks new chief


norman lebrecht

October 05, 2016

Joseph W. Polisi has decided to step down in June 2018. He will have been president of the school for 34 years.

The New York Times calls him ‘transformative’ and tributes are flowing in from all corners of the music establishment. Detractors see Juilliard as soulless and efficient, a well-run factory for career musicians.

Here’s the Juilliard announcement:

1/5/16 12:30-3:00 PM -- Chicago, IL, USA

Juilliard School visit to the Nord Anglia Chicago Campus in Lincoln Park

© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2016


NEW YORK, October 5 — Joseph W. Polisi, Juilliard’s sixth and longest-serving president, announced today that he will step down at the end of June 2018. Polisi will have been in office for 34 years, presiding over one of the most dynamic and successful eras in the school’s history, one that is marked by steady expansion of Juilliard’s activities within the school, into the broader community, and, especially in recent years, internationally. Juilliard’s board of trustees has appointed a committee led by Board Chair Bruce Kovner to conduct the search for Polisi’s successor.

During his tenure, Polisi has brought formidable gifts as public speaker, writer, and musician, as well as educator and administrator, to the execution of his duties as Juilliard’s president, transforming nearly every aspect of the school. His concept of “the artist as citizen” — the title of his 2005 collection of speeches exhorting performing artists to become informed, articulate, and involved arts advocates in the world community — has had ripple effects in arts education not only at Juilliard, but around the country and the world.

“It has been an immense honor to help lead this distinguished institution in partnership with a motivated and generous board, a brilliant faculty, a dedicated administrative staff, and extraordinary classes of highly talented student artists,” said Polisi. “Juilliard is a place that gives back to our global society by educating new generations of artists who enhance the enduring traditions embodied in the art forms of music, dance, and drama. I know that this important mission will flourish in the time ahead.”

“Joseph has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to artistic and educational integrity while fostering a spirit of community and humanity at the school,” noted Kovner. “For more than three decades, he has embodied and enhanced Juilliard values, elevating educational standards to include an emphasis on entrepreneurship and social responsibility. Joseph’s contribution to the field of arts education is unparalleled.”

Highlights of the remarkable number and diversity of initiatives overseen by Polisi include:

  • Creation of Historical Performance and Jazz Studies programs, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Drama
  • Construction of Juilliard’s first dormitory, the Meredith Willson Residence Hall
  • A major renovation and expansion of the Juilliard building, adding nearly 40,000 square feet of additional space to the Irene Diamond Building at Lincoln Center, supported by major gifts from the Irene Diamond Fund, the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, and Juilliard Board Chair Bruce Kovner
  • Development of The Tianjin Juilliard School in China, for which he serves as board chair, and which will offer a U.S.-accredited master’s degree – a first for any performing arts institution in China
  • Formation of the Juilliard-Nord Anglia Performing Arts Program, a multifaceted collaboration involving an innovative arts education curriculum for students in grades K-12
  • Digital educational initiatives including the development of Juilliard Open Studios apps, online courses, and other products for the consumer education market
  • National and international touring programs for Juilliard’s Dance, Drama, and Music Divisions, and the commissioning of hundreds of new music, dance, and drama works
  • The Juilliard Manuscript Collection created through the donation of rare and invaluable items collected by Bruce Kovner, with digital images of materials freely available to all through the Juilliard Manuscript Collection website
  • Creation of the Alan D. Marks Center for Career Services and Entrepreneurship
  • Establishment of the Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts
  • Extensive community engagement programs including the Morse and Gluck Fellowships and the Music Advancement Program
  • Numerous and extensive scholarship programs including the Kovner Fellowship Program, which covers the full cost of attendance, and the Jerome L. Greene Fellowship program, the first to offer full-tuition scholarships across all divisions

Polisi, 68, became the school’s president in September 1984, having previously served as dean of the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (1983–84). Prior to that he had been dean of faculty at the Manhattan School of Music (1980–83) and executive officer of the Yale University School of Music (1976–80). A native New Yorker, he studied bassoon with his father, William Polisi, who served on the Juilliard faculty (from 1951 to 1982) and was principal bassoonist of the New York Philharmonic (from 1943 to 1958). Joseph Polisi holds two master’s degrees and a doctorate from the Yale School of Music, and has continued to perform as a soloist and chamber musician throughout his career. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Connecticut and a Master of Arts in international relations from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He has been awarded honorary doctorates from Yale University and eight other institutions, as well as Musical America’s “Educator of the Year” award for 2005.


  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    I met Joseph Polisi when he began at Juilliard. Hard to believe he was so young when he joined the administration. As a musician, he had been extremely respected, and added to this his gifts and legacy in his role as the President of The Juilliard School. He has been extremely creative in cultivating the financial gains for the school, through the generosity and charitable contributions from many, and, he has been instrumental in escorting the school through the ranks with the growing technology since the 1990s. As a alum, I wish him well in the next chapters of his life journey.

  • DrummerMan says:

    This reminds me that my alma mater, New England Conservatory of Music, has been searching for a new president for 1 1/2 years. There’s been absolutely no communication to we alumni about the status of things. I can’t understand why it is taking so long!

    • Milka says:

      It is taking so long because they must find the best incompetent and at the same time one who can bring in the $$$$$$$$$$.
      Whether Juilliard or New England it has to do with $$$$$$$$$$$$.the art
      is a by product no matter how dressed up to prove otherwise.

  • Save the MET says:

    Would seem that they can look within and choose Ara Guzelimian.

  • DrummerMan says:

    Milka, NEC has had several outstanding presidents. Thank you very much.

  • DrummerMan says:

    Milka, I’m the world’s greatest authority on my own opinion. 🙂 🙂

  • Rafael says:

    Two quotes. Which Joseph said it?

    “There should be no dividing line between artistic excellence and social consciousness.”

    “There is no art for art’s sake. There are no, and cannot be free artists, writers, poets, dramatists, directors or journalists, standing above the society.”

    As a graduate of Juilliard, I question the real legacy of the last 34 years. Personally, I look forward to a time when not the Artist as Citizen, but the art form itself, and the Artist as Artist is once again the main focus for the leader of my alma mater.