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New Gift Endows Meadows Symphony Director

The Peak family gift permanently ensures the University’s ability to recruit future generations of outstanding music faculty

Music aficionados know the ritual. As student musicians in SMU’s Meadows Symphony Orchestra take their seats on stage, the audience quiets and the lights dim. Maestro Paul Phillips strides onto the stage, and as the spotlight finds him, he lifts his baton and the orchestra begins to play.

Future Meadows Symphony audiences and students will continue to enjoy artistic and teaching excellence thanks to a $2 million gift from the Preston Peak family to establish the Martha Raley Peak Endowed Centennial Chair and Director of the Meadows Symphony Orchestra. Phillips will be the first holder of the chair.

The Peak family gift permanently ensures the University’s ability to recruit future generations of outstanding music faculty.

“As we thank the Peak family for this generous Centennial gift, it is important to note that the School of Music was one of SMU’s first four schools at its opening in 1915,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Since then, generations of gifted musicians have sharpened their talents here, then shared their musical gifts with audiences all over the world. This gift ensures that this important legacy will continue.”

A musician, arts leader and patron, Martha Raley Peak began in childhood to make music part of her life. As an SMU choral singer, violinist and pianist, she was a member of the symphony and chorus as well as a member of Alpha Lambda Delta honorary fraternity and Mu Phi Epsilon professional music fraternity. She was selected to be a charter member of Pi Kappa Lambda music honor society and graduated in 1950 with a Bachelor of Music degree.

A member of the Highland Park Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir since 1948, she also performed with the Dallas Civic Chorus from 1962 to 1973. Mrs. Peak has performed with the Highland Park Chamber Choir, the Westminster Chamber Chorale in Wilmington, Pa., and at the Primavera Festival in Atlanta, Ga.

Mrs. Peak is a leader in Dallas’ arts community, serving as a member of the Dallas Opera Board of Directors, the Dallas Symphony Association Advisory Governors, the Dallas Chamber Music Board of Governors and the Meadows School of the Arts Executive Board. In addition, she is a member of Pro Musica, an organization dedicated to re-creation of vocal music from the Medieval, Renaissance and early Baroque periods.

Mrs. Peak is a faithful supporter of SMU’s performing arts programs, regularly attending symphony, chamber music, dance and choral performances. Martha and Preston Peak have contributed to scholarships for Meadows School of the Arts students as well as to the Meadows Symphony Orchestra.

“Music teaches discernment, dedication and attention to detail,” said Martha Peak. “It impacts the ways our brains develop and function and is a universal language.  I am thrilled and honored to support the training of young student musicians by endowing this position.”

A 1974 SMU music graduate, Maestro Phillips joined the Meadows School of the Arts faculty in 1996, after earning his Master of Arts and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He served for 12 years as music director of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra and, while in this position, was professor of music at the University of Connecticut, where he was chair of the music department and director of the Symphony Orchestra. He also served as assistant conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

As conductor he has recorded new works for compact disc release, taught master conducting classes around the world and received critical acclaim as guest conductor of internationally renowned symphonies, including the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

A university setting, however, gives Phillips the opportunity to share his talent and wisdom with students. 

“Paul Phillips is justifiably held in the highest regard not only in Dallas but across the country,” said Meadows School of the Arts Dean José Bowen.  “I know of no other conductor who works better with students and gets more musical playing from every orchestra he conducts."

Phillips directs the Master’s degree program in conducting in Meadows’ music division and, as a teacher, closely works with 125 student musicians from all over the world in the Meadows Symphony Orchestra.

“The artistic community at Meadows is one of the most amazing things in this country,” Phillips says.  “There is a sense of extremely high artistic standards along with true caring about the students. This is the type of school where students don’t get lost. We challenge and nurture students at the same time.”

During the last 17 years, concerts of the Meadows Symphony Orchestra under Phillips’ direction have consistently received critical and public acclaim. Dallas Morning News music critic Scott Cantrell regularly includes Meadows Symphony Orchestra performances in his annual "Top Ten" outstanding classical concerts in Dallas-Fort Worth.

The orchestra performs an annual series of concerts in Caruth Auditorium on the SMU campus and in downtown Dallas at the Meyerson Symphony Center. New this year is a performance at the Dallas City Performance Hall as part of the "Meadows in the Community" series.  In addition to its regular concerts, which often feature members of the distinguished Meadows performance faculty as soloists, the orchestra annually collaborates with the Meadows Opera Theatre in main stage opera productions. It also performs with the Meadows Dance Ensemble. In addition, the orchestra has performed several world premiere performances, including Thomas Sleeper's Symphony No. 1, and works by SMU composers Simon Sargon and Rob Frank. Meadows Symphony Orchestra alumni are members of orchestras throughout the world, including Dallas, Fort Worth, Chicago, San Francisco, Paris, London and Tokyo.

The Martha Raley Peak Endowed Centennial Chair and Director of the Meadows Symphony Orchestra is one of three endowed centennial faculty positions in the Meadows School of the Arts. Special centennial faculty positions include annual funding to support the faculty position while the endowment matures, providing an immediate impact on the University.

The $2 million gift for the Martha Raley Peak Endowed Centennial Chair and Director of the Meadows Symphony Orchestra counts toward the $1 billion goal of SMU Unbridled: The Second Century Campaign, which to date has raised more than $780 million to support student quality, faculty and academic excellence and the campus experience. The campaign coincides with SMU’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the University’s founding in 1911 and its opening in 1915.

Read More: Music lover Martha Peak endows orchestra conducting chair at SMU

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