5 Questions for Glenn Price

Glenn Price, director of performing and visual arts and band director, joined Caltech last fall with an international reputation as a conductor and music educator. His career has taken him to Japan, Europe, and Russia; he has conducted in more than 30 countries, with full-time positions in Canada and the United States. Most recently, he was director of winds and ensembles at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

What drew you to Caltech?

Fifteen years ago, I taught at Cal State Northridge where I met Bill Bing [former director of Caltech's concert band and jazz bands] who was the trumpet professor, so I got to know him there. He had me out to Caltech to do clinics and conduct concerts, so I was well aware of the tremendous program that he and his wife, Delores, had built here over more than 40 years.

The group here is unusual in that its membership comprises students, but also faculty, alumni, and some community people, which guarantees that the students' experience is always at a high level. We also have graduate students here for longer than most places, so overall player group turnover is very gradual compared to most organizations.

Also, the Institute was making a change. Part of my job is replacing Bill, but a whole other component is as director of performing and visual arts. That role hadn't existed for some time, but now it's an institutional priority to make that a higher-level focus.

What strikes you about Caltech students?

They're very smart. Obviously that's an oversimplification. Two types of students tend to come in to the music program. Maia Jasper White, our new chamber music coordinator and coach, typically receives pianists and string players with years of private lessons who are advanced instrumentalists. The people coming into my area typically represent a broader spectrum of students who often have been involved with high school bands.

Whether they have an advanced background or more basic skills, what connects them is that they're smart, retain information very well, and learn quickly. The other characteristic the students share is that they are only participating because they love it; nobody is doing this as a major or degree requirement. The fact that this occupies a deep place in their humanity and they have made it a priority is something very special.

Students talk about how music balances their lives, provides them with artistic fulfillment, and adds a social component. Those three elements have created an alchemy for many of them that has had a profound impact on their lives at Caltech. I remind myself of that every time I go to rehearsals.

What are some of your goals for the arts at Caltech as a whole?

I don’t believe in coming in with an a priori image of “this is how it should be.” Instead, I'm trying to move forward from the inside out as I get to know the culture. A couple of things rise to the surface, though. A lot of what Caltech offers in the arts has not been under one umbrella, which has made it a challenge for people to know what is available. We have a lot of arts activities on campus but in different pockets, and they could be brought together in a more unified way. Awareness, access, and communication are some of my key guiding principles.

Will you still travel and guest conduct?

Yes. It helps to keep me artistically sharp and up to date. Right now, I'm conducting a professional chamber group here in L.A., in the Valley, called TEMPO. I can do that without getting on a plane. This spring, I'll also be going to Japan and Austria, working with a professional group in Osaka and conducting at the Mozarteum in Salzburg.

How are you enjoying life in Pasadena?

I've been very taken with Pasadena and how beautiful it is. California arts groups are booming right now, so it's an interesting time to be here. The orchestra scenes in L.A. and San Francisco are thriving, whereas other places that have historically been leaders are struggling. Here, there is a huge appetite for the arts, which makes it an exciting and fulfilling place to live.