Pianist, professor, and conductor Awadagin Pratt (PC ’89, Piano; PC ’89, Violin; GPD ’92, Conducting) was the featured speaker at Peabody’s commencement ceremony on May 18. Mr. Pratt has been honored with both the 2008 Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association Distinguished Alumnus Award and the 1995 Peabody Conservatory Young Maestro Award, and remains actively involved at Peabody as a member of the recently formed Peabody Diversity Pathway Task Force.
In his speech, he touched on many of the tenets guiding Peabody today — navigating a changing musical world, being an innovator, and giving back to the community. He said, “I ask you, the Peabody class of 2016, to be your absolute best, however it is that you define it; to have all the conviction in your ideas; and to execute, full of passionate intensity.” He ended his remarks by telling the graduates to love their family and friends, stay in touch with their teachers, be a great colleague to their peers, and to consistently reach out “to those who do not have the opportunities that you have had.”
This year, the Four Pillar Awards were introduced and presented during commencement as a way to celebrate those who have exemplified Peabody’s vision and served as leaders in the areas of excellence, interdisciplinary experiences, innovation, and community connectivity. Dean Fred Bronstein presented the first of the new Four Pillars Awards for Community Connectivity to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and it was accepted by Paul Meecham, the outgoing president of the BSO. The BSO was recognized for its OrchKids program, which has touched thousands of young lives since its founding in 2008.
The George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America — now also honoring the pillar of Excellence — was given in absentia to cellist Yo-Yo Ma, a member of the Peabody Distinguished Artist Council. Mr. Ma later received the medal when he was in town to perform as part of the BSO’s centennial celebration. In his remarks read at commencement, Mr. Ma wrote: “I believe a great education — and great artistry — goes beyond the development of skills. It balances knowledge with empathy and imagination, it helps us to connect with each other, and it prepares us to engage with the most important challenges in our 21st-century world. At Peabody, your renewed commitments to performance, to cultural understanding, and to community engagement are enabling the institute, its faculty, and its students to chart a path to a future where art is at the center of society.”
Music theory faculty member and faculty adviser to Peabody’s newest contemporary ensemble, Now Hear This, David Smooke (MM ’95, Composition) was presented with the Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award. Co-presenting the award with Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association President Jay L. Lenrow (KSAS BA ’73, International Studies), Abra Bush, senior associate dean of institute studies, said of Dr. Smooke: “Today we honor you for inspiring, challenging, and developing your students through your creative and engaging teaching and your tireless example of generosity, enthusiasm, and love of music. Described as a natural teacher — charismatic and compassionate — you create an open and inviting education environment that nourishes students intellectually, helps them grow musically, and connects them to the wider world of current events and contemporary society.”
In an acceptance speech that mentioned Schubert, Dungeons and Dragons, and Venn diagrams, Dr. Smooke, wearing his signature Converse shoes, said: “The more that you seek to know the world around you, the better you will understand yourself and your unique place within this world. As the musical landscape shifts, your curiosity will allow you to navigate across unfamiliar terrain. Where others only see obstacles, curiosity will illuminate new and unique paths.”
Performances at graduation included Sunyoung Lee (GPD ’16, Viola) and Hui Chuan Chen (MM ’06, DMA ’14, Piano) playing Henri Vieuxtemps’ Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 36; Dominic Leo Brancazio (MM ’16, Horn) and Kelsey Ross (BM ’16, Horn) playing Michel Pignolet de Montéclair’s Two Duets; and baritone Thomas Hochla (MM ’16, Voice) and master’s students Elizabeth Sarian, mezzo-soprano, and Aaron Thacker, piano, presenting “Moon-Faced, Starry-Eyed” from Kurt Weill’s Street Scene.
— Margaret Bell