After the announcement of former School of Music Dean Karen Wolff’s retirement last year, the University began its search for a replacement. Enter Christopher Kendall, a conductor with a commitment to chamber music and community outreach, and former director of the University of Maryland School of Music. Kendall begins his tenure as dean this semester.
As an undergraduate at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Kendall found his calling when the director of the school’s orchestra asked him to conduct during a sabbatical.
“The combination of dealing with the wonderful musical repertoire and the organizational work, putting the orchestra together, was pretty engaging,” Kendall said.
He earned his masters in conducting at the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and has since served as an associate conductor of the Seattle Symphony and as the director of the Tanglewood Institute and the Music Division of the Boston University School for the Arts. Kendall also founded two Washington, D.C.-area chamber ensembles. The 21st Century Consort, originally the 20th Century Consort, began in 1975; Kendall won an Emmy Award for conducting the group in a public television program of the music of composer Aaron Copland. The Folger Consort, the early music ensemble in which he plays the lute, is the ensemble-in-residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
At Maryland, Kendall oversaw the construction of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. He will be involved in a similar project, the long-awaited Walgreen Drama Center which will be home to the Arthur Miller Theater — on the University’s North Campus.
Kendall moved his family from the Beltway community of College Park, Md. to Ann Arbor. “My family is at an age where we felt that it would be great for (my children) to grow up in a smaller community,” he said.
“Washington has been a particularly tense and rather difficult place to live in recent years, so I was open to the suggestion.”
Kendall’s family is truly musical — his wife, Susan, is an ordained Presbyterian minister who sings and plays piano; his daughters Annika and Sophie play cello and violin; his son Oliver plays violin as well. His violinist father, John Kendall, who moved to Ann Arbor with the family, pioneered the use of the Suzuki method of musical instruction since the 1950s; he will be giving monthly seminars for the many Suzuki teachers in the Ann Arbor area.
“Of course,” Kendall said, “Michigan really has such a fantastic reputation as an institution, specifically the performing arts programs here.”
While the University of Michigan and the University of Maryland are both large state schools, Kendall has noticed a few differences since moving to Ann Arbor.
“While it was a struggle at (Maryland) to convince the institution that the performing arts were an essential part of the profile of a great university, I think that’s so well established (here). … An integral part of our educational process is presenting our art to people,” Kendall said.
“College Park is inside the Beltway in Washington. It’s part of a very large urban area that has a lot of presenting activity going on, so our offering of performances had to take on a very distinctive profile in order to be noticed and valued,” he said. “I think there’s also an enormous amount of art-making going on in Ann Arbor … but certainly the School of Music, along with the University Musical Society, provide a really big part of arts activity in the community, so our relationship to the Ann Arbor community is quite different from the one in College Park.”
At the same time, Kendall said he feels that his experiences at Maryland have prepared him well for his position as the School of Music’s new dean. “It’s a
little bit of deja vu. I moved to Maryland the fall of the groundbreaking (of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center), and (now) the structure (of the Walgreen Performing Arts Center) is beginning to rise out of the ground,” he said. “So it’s really familiar, and I’m sure that over the next period, when construction is going on, there are lots of issues and decisions that have to be made, and I’m certainly going to be very involved.”
While administrative tasks and duties such as fundraising make up the bulk of a dean’s duties, Kendall wants to be a part of the School of Music’s daily life. “I hope to have time for at least a little involvement in the actual music-making activities that go on around here. (Professor) Ken Kiesler has been very generous, giving me time to work with the orchestra right away, just as a way of saying hello,” he explained. “I think my role is to try to translate this distinctive and sometimes arcane language of the performing arts to the rest of the institution in a way that’s meaningful. I think at this institution, the deans have an obligation to intersect with the deans of the other disciplines to find ways to create opportunities that cross disciplinary boundaries. I’m really looking forward to that part of the job.”