To those who attend performances at the Brevard Music Center, he's the guy in the white shirt fraternizing on the lawn of Whittington Pfohl Auditorium at intermission, or standing reflectively in the back at concerts (seemingly all of them), or the guy at the piano in front of an orchestra or a small group of chamber players. Those are his program notes you've read, uniquely both erudite and funny, or his pre-concert lecture you've attended. Love the music, the varied and innovative programming, and the high quality of resident student and faculty performers and even more well-known guest artists? That's his doing, too.
To those who love their classical music stations, his is the programming streamed live from the Brevard Music Center to hundreds of radio stations or archived for later broadcast. Perhaps you've heard one of his live performances from one of their studios. And if you live in Brevard as I do, you appreciate the free-admission "First Mondays" concert series he instigated to fill a cultural void when the Porter Center Series evaporated at Brevard College. In short, Bruce Murray has done more than any person I know to promote not only the educational mission of the Brevard Music Center but to galvanize the cultural life of the entire region. He's simply phenomenal, and now he's left the institution he served so well.
The leave-taking is a bitter pill for those of us who have enjoyed the fruits of his prodigious labors over the past ten years when he, his wife Janice, and their three children came in 2003 from the University of Alabama. We've come to rely on his considerable energy (80-hour work weeks), his passion for education and for performance, and on his ability to do just about anything. And while his tenure as Brevard Music Center's Dean and Artistic Administrator has been a happy and fulfilling one for him, he says it's time to return to an academic setting where he can teach and perform nine months of the year, surrounded by the artistic stimulus of like minds. He assumed the position of Chair of the Miami University of Ohio Department of Music immediately after the last chords of the last concert at Brevard Music Center sounded.
His work for the Center has strengthened the institution's curricular offerings, artistic standards, and quality of both the student and faculty "Brevard experience" by always linking these interrelated elements to the institution's mission statement, a critical item he himself wrote in 2004. Central to this is a careful eye to maintaining the culture of the Center — one which seeks to nurture the growth of its students through encouragement rather than bruising competition, one which celebrates the superior natural beauty of its setting, one which promotes a sense of community where students and faculty eat together, suffer through the heat together, where faculty live with their families (and dogs and cats) on campus within reach of the budding and bright young talents in their charge. The fact that the artistic standards are ever higher, as is the faculty retention rate, and that the institution is operating in the black, even through the recent recession, means that the formula is working.
One of the boldest ideas Bruce had was to move the Center's Janiec Opera Company productions to Brevard College's Porter Center's Scott Concert Hall and Morrison Black Box Theater. The problems had become simply too great of producing opera in the open-air Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium where the singers were amplified against the large orchestra and where the 1,800-seat venue was too large to provide a quality experience. The results of this move are more intimate settings, superior acoustics, hot new set designers, and sold-out houses.
Putting his considerable administrative and self-assigned tech-related chores aside, Bruce manages to maintain an active performance schedule. He loves to play Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, and everything in between. It astounded me to learn he had flown to Prague to lecture on and perform the Bach Goldberg Variations at the Prague International Piano Institute during the Brevard Music Center season, one in which he was performing on five concerts, two of them concerti and three full chamber music recitals. His quiet and droll response to my question as to how all that was humanly possible was to say that he was a "quick study, knew all the songs, and loved challenges." Oh, would that it were that simple…
He's proud to have affected the lives of young musicians around the country and the world. "I guess we've done that. I've just wanted to make it possible for artists to do the work. We live in one of the most arts-hostile places in the world, and that's one of the things I hope to address in my new career. I want to get more public and more vocal and more visible and become a better evangelist."
I couldn't think of a better arts ambassador.