Dr. James Gandre is an educator and musician with a deep commitment to students and the development of American conservatory learning. He returned to Manhattan School of Music (MSM) to assume the presidency in 2013, having served the School previously for 15 years (1985–2000), concluding that first phase of his time at MSM as Dean of Enrollment and Alumni. In 2000, Dr. Gandre became Dean of Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, where he went on to serve concurrently as the Interim Dean of the College of Education, and ultimately as Provost and Executive Vice President.
Working with his colleagues on the MSM Board of Trustees, faculty, and staff, President Gandre has led the School to several far-reaching accomplishments since returning to MSM as president in 2013. Among them is an extensive reimagining of the campus itself that has seen the completion of $30 million in improvements. The most significant of these was a sweeping $16.5-million renovation of Neidorff-Karpati Hall, the School’s primary performance hall, and a related campus transformation that included the School’s grand new entrance, patron lounge, and three new entry lounges. Other campus improvements have included the upgrade and 30- percent expansion of practice rooms; the creation of two dance studios and several new teaching studios and offices; and the creation of a new Student Union and Lounge.
Additionally, President Gandre has overseen the launch of several innovative new programs, including:
In 2018–19, President Gandre led MSM through a successful year-long celebration of its Centennial built around three anchor performances (an opening-day, multi-venue music festival, including Beethoven’s 9th Symphony; a fall gala reopening of Neidorff-Karpati Hall; a spring gala at Carnegie Hall) and hundreds of other performances throughout a season that celebrated MSM history.
When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged the following year, under Dr. Gandre’s leadership, MSM effectively pivoted to online learning (in March 2020), following with a successful hybrid year of on-campus and online learning in 2020–21 and a full return to campus in fall 2021. And despite the ongoing pandemic, in 2020–21, President Gandre presided over the strongest year of fundraising in the institution’s history, an expansion of the School’s Board of Trustees, significant growth in its endowment, and, in fall 2021, its highest-ever enrollment (while sustaining its selectivity).
Throughout the School’s response to the global public health crisis, President Gandre has overseen the creation and evolution of MSM’s Cultural Inclusion Initiative, which was launched in 2019. Among the many programs that have resulted from that launch and MSM’s full embrace of the urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement was the Black Creators Initiative. The initiative mandated that all MSM performances during the 2020–21 academic year feature work by African American creators or those from the African diaspora. Going forward, building from the Black Creators commitment, MSM has instituted a policy requiring that every department incorporate the work of discipline-specific, under-represented creators and ensure that cultural inclusion permeates every facet of the curriculum and every performance.
President Gandre has broad knowledge of the history and discourse of the American conservatory, the subject of his doctoral dissertation, And Then There Were Seven: An Historical Case Study of the Seven Independent Conservatories of Music that Survived the 20th Century. He has also written about conservatories and music schools in Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories that Shaped Our Culture (ABC-CLIO, 2013) and in the 2014 Musical America Directory. In addition to music schools, he has also written about higher education administration as a contributor in two books by The Johns Hopkins University: The Provost’s Handbook (2015) and LGBTQ Leadership in Higher Education (2022).
As a performer, James Gandre has appeared as a tenor soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra, London Classical Players, Philharmonia Baroque, and members of the San Francisco Symphony. His professional choral engagements include more than 175 performances with the New York Philharmonic, Aix-en-Provence Festival, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw, Israel Philharmonic, Warsaw Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Voices of Ascension, New York Chamber Symphony, American Symphony, and Opera Orchestra of New York. He appears on more than 20 commercial recordings on EMI/Angel, EMI/Capital, Teldec, Delos, MusicMaster, and Warner Records, and has made appearances on NBC’s The Today Show, PBS’s Live from Lincoln Center, ABC, and CBS. In these performances, he has worked under such conductors as Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Sir Colin Davis, James Levine, Mstislav Rostropovich, Riccardo Chailly, Robert Shaw, Edo de Waart, Christopher Hogwood, Roger Norrington, Dennis Russell Davies, John Nelson, Carlos Kalmar, Giuseppe Patane, Dennis Keene, and Eduardo Mata.
President Gandre was a voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (GRAMMYS) and is a member of the Recommendation Board of the Avery Fisher Artist Program. He has been a judge for the Region Finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. He was a panelist for the William Randolph Hearst Foundation/New World Symphony’s symposium on future multicultural recruitment for the orchestra and for the joint Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/Aspen Music Festival panel about bridging the worlds of musical training and future music performance. More than two decades ago, he led the effort to create the National Performing and Visual Arts College Fairs presented by the National Association for College Admission Counseling and served as the first and third Chairperson of the Advisory Committee.
President Gandre has lectured at institutions including the Curtis Institute of Music, New England Conservatory, Oberlin College, University of Michigan, Peabody Institute, Mannes School of Music, Stanford University, University of Michigan, Royal Danish Academy of Music, National Orchestral Institute at the University of Maryland, China Conservatory of Music, University of the Arts, University of New Mexico, and Interlochen Arts Academy. For four years he served as the external adjudicator for graduation performance examinations at Australia’s University of Melbourne School of Music. He has also presented numerous panels on issues affecting LGBTQ youth and college/high school professionals at educational conferences.
He has served on the Board of Directors of Chicago’s Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago High School for the Arts, and the Auditorium Theatre. He has also served on the Board of Visitors of the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, the Board of Advisors for Music in the Loft (Chicago), and on the Diversity Working Group sponsored by the Elizabeth Morse and Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trusts.
President Gandre has been a consultant to institutions as diverse as Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music, Chicago’s Institute for Clinical Social Work, and the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and has served as a site team member for the American Bar Association’s accreditation division at City University of New York, University of Pittsburgh, University of North Dakota, and Indiana University–Purdue University.
A Wisconsin native, President Gandre earned a Bachelor of Music degree with honors from Lawrence University, a Master of Music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and a Doctor of Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also attended the Harvard University Institute for Management and Leadership in Education and pursued postgraduate music studies at the Blossom Festival School of Music/Kent State University and Manhattan School of Music.
He is married to Dr. Boris Thomas, JD, PhD, a psychotherapist and executive coach in private practice.
About President James Gandre
Board of Trustees
International Advisory Board
Artistic Advisory Council
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