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Peter Simon and Alexander Brose at the Royal Conservatory of Music.STUART LOWE/RCM

Royal Conservatory of Music president and CEO Peter Simon, who has been leading the institution for more than three decades, will step down next year.

Dr. Simon’s leadership has been transformative. During his tenure, the Toronto-based conservatory has undergone massive development and become one the world’s largest music education institutions.

But Dr. Simon, 73, says the institution’s next phase of growth requires a younger person in the leadership role.

“When I leave, I’ll have been here for 33 years,” he says. “And the evolution of the organization from the time I started to what it is now – I’m more than satisfied with it.”

The conservatory announced Dr. Simon’s retirement on Thursday – and also revealed his successor, Alexander Brose. The former executive director and chief executive officer of the Tianjin Juilliard School, Mr. Brose will become president designate on Sept. 1. of this year. Mr. Brose and Dr. Simon will work together in a year-long transition that will end with Dr. Simon’s retirement on Aug. 31, 2024.

“The next stage is not a stage that I feel I either have the time or the drive, the energy … to implement,” Dr. Simon said during an online interview from his Toronto office. “Because the next stage is very much a bigger global stage for the Royal Conservatory to be a very important international arts and education organization. And that’s a major, major amount of work to be done that’s going to take a decade or more.”

Emphasis on international. That next stage will involve an ambitious expansion of the conservatory’s program targeting global markets – the U.S. in particular, to begin with.

“We certainly think our system’s the best one in the world, and we’ve digitized it; it’s portable, compact, can go anywhere,” Dr. Simon says.

Mr. Brose, who is American but spent much of his childhood in East Asia, was hired after what the conservatory describes as an extensive global search.

“The foundation that Peter has created over the past 33 years is so strong,” Brose says on the Zoom call along with Dr. Simon. “It feels like a really strong, supportive family here. And I just can’t wait to be a member of it.”

Mr. Brose, 47, was born in New York. His family moved to South Korea when he was 7 and Hong Kong after that. He was introduced to classical music professionally in Seoul. As a Grade 4 student playing the lead role in a school play, Alex was discovered by a TV executive who happened to be in the audience. He was then cast in an educational television series aimed at teaching English to young Korean viewers, through music. He performed on the show for about two years. The family returned to the U.S. when he was 12.

Mr. Brose has a degree in Asian Studies from Cornell, is an award-winning vocalist and is conversational in Mandarin. His wife and their two children are Canadian.

He held various positions with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and was vice-president for development at the Aspen Music Festival and School in Colorado.

Most recently, in 2017 Mr. Brose was named the inaugural executive director and CEO of Juilliard’s first branch campus, which began operating off-site in Tianjin, China, in 2019, with the building opening in 2020. It was a massive undertaking, building the school from the ground up, under the Juilliard brand. He left the position last year to be in North America with his family. He remains a member of its advisory council.

“I think from the beginning it was quite clear that Alex was the person,” Dr. Simon says. “I certainly felt that.”

Dr. Simon was born in 1949 in the northeastern Hungarian village of Sajoszentpeter; his father – an engineer responsible for the postwar development of mines – was opening a mine in the area. The family moved to Budapest two years later. They fled Hungary in November, 1956; Dr. Simon’s father was about to be arrested for inciting strikes to protest the Soviet invasion, Dr. Simon explains. The family crossed the border into Austria, were housed in a refugee camp and made it to Canada in early 1957.

Last year in Ottawa, Dr. Simon was awarded the prestigious Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Hungary by the Hungarian ambassador.

He began his relationship with the conservatory as a student, before studying at New York’s Juilliard School, in London, and receiving a doctor of musical arts degree from the University of Michigan.

An accomplished concert pianist, Dr. Simon first joined the Royal Conservatory in 1986 as director of academic studies. In 1989, he became president of the Manhattan School of Music in New York. He returned to the conservatory in 1991, taking over as president and CEO as it became a separate entity from the University of Toronto.

Under Dr. Simon’s leadership, the conservatory has launched a long list of programs and initiatives. They include the Grammy-nominated ARC Ensemble; the Glenn Gould School, which offers performance training for gifted musicians; the Taylor Academy for young artists; and Toronto’s community school, the Oscar Peterson School of Music.

Teacher training has also developed under his leadership, with a certification program and, in 2016, the launch of an online portal for teachers. When the pandemic hit, the conservatory offered free training forums for teachers who suddenly needed to conduct their lessons virtually, and then made its new piano series available to all teachers for free. The conservatory’s practical exams were moved online rather than eliminating or postponing them. More than 170,000 virtual exams have been administered since.

And notably, under Dr. Simon’s leadership, the conservatory launched its performing arts division and built the Telus Centre for Performance and Learning, including Koerner Hall. The world-class recital hall has held more than 2,500 events.

In Toronto to sign his contract at the beginning of February, Mr. Brose attended two concerts by the Riccardo Muti-led Chicago Symphony Orchestra that showed off Koerner Hall’s potential – extraordinary performances by all accounts.

“It was a literal triumph, to not only see that orchestra performance in that hall, but to know where the organization had to come to get to that point,” says Mr. Brose, who sat next to Dr. Simon as the CSO played. “I certainly felt that from Peter; that this was a real arrival, and that it was a real celebratory moment – not only for the organization, but for Dr. Simon himself.”

Mr. Brose says after hearing that symphony play, he believes the Koerner is the best hall in North America.

Dr. Simon, sitting beside his successor, says he was “in heaven” listening to one of the greatest conductors and orchestras in the world in the hall his organization had built.

“The concert was stupendous, the sound was stupendous, the music-making, and everybody felt it,” he says.

“Okay,” he says, “that’s sort of mission accomplished.”

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