Academic liberty: A PhD for Peter Gelb

The Metropolitan Opera manager, who dropped out of high school and never graduated college, is to be awarded an honorary doctorate in Musical Arts by the Manhattan School of Music on Friday.

If you send a child to MSM, you might pause to reflect on the value of its degrees.


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  • Well, as the great Thor Johnson once observed, in music the only degrees that matter are the honorary degrees.

  • Another snide sideswipe at Peter Gelb. These comments reflect more on you than they do on him and demean you. Put another way, why don’t you just give it a rest?

  • It’s “graduated from college,” not “graduated college.” How strange that a complaint that Mr Gelb isn’t a college graduate would be ungrammatical.

  • If honorary doctorates were a criterion to select a US institution of higher learning, we’d better send our kids to community colleges.

    • An honorary degree is not an affirmation that the recipient could or should have earned that degree, so I don’t see why Peter Gelb’s honorary doctorate from the Manhattan School of Music devalues their actual degrees. It usually means that the honoree is speaking at the school’s commencement ceremony and little more—Peter Gelb is certainly an appropriate commencement speaker. My own alma mater, MIT, does not grant any honorary degrees, which is a reasonable stance to take, but for schools that do, I don’t see why academic qualifications must be an issue in choosing the recipients.

  • Since when did a music degree from any school have any value? Either you can play your instrument or you can’t – and no “degree” from any school on earth can camouflage that. But of particular concern here is that Peter Gelb isn’t a musician, never played an instrument, and can’t read music. So, in light of this, MSM’s choice of an honorary degree recipient is questionable. What did Peter Gelb achieve in music? He started his career as a musician’s publicist, and then he executive-produced music videos for CAMI, and then he headed-up the Sony Classical label – essentially trimming down its operation and turning it into a tawdry crossover label, and then he took over the helm of the Metropolitan Opera – where he ruthlessly succeeded in ousting its 40-year music director and worked to erase his legacy, while bringing in stage directors who knew nothing about opera to make opera more appealing to folks who know even less about opera than he does. But, Peter was well born, and his family connections have served him splendidly.

    • If there was any “ruthlessly” involved, it was James Levine’s ego hanging desperately on, well past the time he had the capacity to do his job properly. Gelb was if anything, too indulgent in keeping him on.

      • I never like Levine or his ego. And, we now know for certain what kind of man he is.

    • It’s the MET. What do you expect from such a self-important organization? Not to mention the over-the-top budgets they carry. There are better opera companies in the Western World.

  • Peter Gelb did not oust James Levine as music director.
    Levine can only blame himself for getting fired, and he wasn’t music director when he was fired.
    Obviously decades of bad behaviour caught up to Levine, and the Met finally came to realize that they would be better of without him. Besides, his failing health has prevented him from being up to the job for many years.
    Gelb and the board was very wise to get Maestro Yannick NĂ©zet-SĂ©guin as music director.

  • He’s the head of the world’s largest opera company, based in New York. He’s a part of the New York music scene, whether you like him or not. The fact that he’s not a trained musician is irrelevant.

    As far as sending your kids there: I haven’t looked up MSM’s faculty but I’m sure it’s full of fine teachers. Some people teach at both Juilliard and MSM (or Mannes), and may direct students there because they might get a better financial-aid deal.

    In any case, awarding Gelb an honorary degree is hardly evidence of a poor training environment.

  • Imagine receiving and honorary doctorate for destroying lives and careers and running an artistic Ponzi Scheme? He was once fired from The Met. They should never have let back in the building. Bubbles got her revenge.

  • An honorary Doctor of Musical Arts isn’t same as a presumably earned PhD. There is no devaluation of the PhD.

  • An “honorary doctorate” is just that, “honorary.” The recipient’s academic achievement is irrelevant. It is not a Ph.D., which is earned by meeting academic requirements.

  • I feel bad for Norman. It must be hard being so miserable all the time. Music is supposed to make you happy. Writing about music shows that Norman is unhappy. Poor old man. Maybe when he gets to the home he can have an extra pudding.

  • I don’t like the Met, or Gelb, or both famous people he fired *and* hired, or those he engages to do dreadful, shallow, productions, either. So I share the antipathy.

    BUT, this comment is wholly uncalled for (not to mention ungrammatical, as someone else pointed out), and it reveals a woeful understanding of what a honorary degree is all about. Gelb’s accomplishments may be polarising and worthy of debate (my own, negative, headline views above, being an example), but it’s undeniable that he’s had a prodigious career and has made a mark in many spheres relating to classical music. That’s pretty much what it takes to get a honorary degree. Just like both George Bushes who were honorands at Yale, in spite of predictably broad and justified unhappiness, and yet everyone understood why they got these second degrees and nobody ever questioned the value of a Yale degree as a result.

    Rationally and logically, the conjecture set out in this article would be akin to questioning the intellectual and human worth of all people who read Slipped Disc purely on the basis that they’ve chosen to subscribe and read a site that, sadly, ever so often, too often, peddles terrible, trite, tripe. Such as this article.

  • Well, Rudolf Bing received SIX honorary degrees, didn’t graduate from the Hochschule (but did go to University) and ended up teaching at Brooklyn College – perhaps Travel Agency (if that isn’t an industry in-joke, I don’t know what is…)

    Joseph Volpe holds at least THREE honorary degrees, as well as teaching at Oxford, Columbia, NYU and the University of Pennsylvania.

    Universities give out honorary degrees. It brings them publicity, sometime donations, sometimes kudos.

    Not worth getting in a tiz over.

    • Honorary degrees are worthless and I wish people would stop listing them on their CVs and program notes. They are just a way for universities to make themselves look more attractive. It doesn’t usually work.

      • Actually, honorary degrees are a way of saying thanks to people who have some connection to the university or the person’s contribution to the local community.

  • One is ‘graduated from college,’ or high school – the institution confers the degree. Get the language correct.

  • How dare you use this to impugn the importance of this school, one of the very best in the world. They constantly have to struggle against the might of Juilliard, received only by its location in Lincoln Center. This is a wise move, as it likely ensures major donations. Honorary degree are not so significant, and even if no one likes this guy, he is accomplished. The hidden fact is, most organizations can only honor people willing to be honored, to provide their contacts and sell tables at the benefit in which they are honored. It’s a business deal. Honor me, and I help you raise a year’s worth of donations. They all do it. I wouldn’t care if they honored Trump, if it got them enough money to make it worthwhile. As long as his name doesn’t go on anything.

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