Joseph William Polisi became the sixth president of The Juilliard School in September 1984, bringing to that position his previous experience as a college administrator, a writer in the fields of music, public policy and the arts, and an accomplished bassoonist.
Before coming to Juilliard, Dr. Polisi was Dean of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (1983–84), Dean of Faculty at the Manhattan School of Music (1980–83), and Executive Officer of the Yale University School of Music (1976–80). He holds three graduate degrees in music from Yale, having completed his Doctor of Musical Arts in 1980, a Master of Musical Arts in 1975, and a Master of Music in 1973. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of Connecticut and a Master of Arts degree in international relations from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
As a bassoonist, Dr. Polisi has performed extensively in the United States as both soloist and chamber musician. In addition to performing with faculty and students in concerts at The Juilliard School, he has participated in a benefit concert at the Vivian Beaumont Theater for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and in chamber performances in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. He first studied with his father, the late William Polisi, a distinguished musician who was principal bassoonist of the New York Philharmonic and a Juilliard faculty member for thirty years. Joseph Polisi continued his performance studies throughout his college years. He has written many scholarly and educational articles for professional journals, is a frequent speaker on arts and education issues, has produced several sound recordings, primarily focusing on contemporary American music, and has recorded a solo album of twentieth-century bassoon music for Crystal Records. His first book, The Artist as Citizen, was published by Amadeus Press in January 2005. His most recent book, American Muse: The Life and Times of William Schuman—the first complete biography of the distinguished composer and arts administrator—was published by Amadeus Press in October 2008.
Joseph Polisi’s thirty-one years at Juilliard have been a time of vitality for the school, with the establishment of new student services and alumni programs, a revised curriculum, and an emphasis on the humanities and liberal arts. Under his tenure, the Juilliard Orchestra has toured China and Hong Kong in 1987, Japan in 1987 and 1995, Japan and Korea in 1997, and several European cities in 2005. The ensemble also performed in France and Bermuda in 1993 and 1994, and participated as resident ensemble at the Evian Festival in 1992 and at Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy, in 2003 and 2004. During Juilliard’s Centennial year in 2005–06, the Juilliard Orchestra performed at the Lucerne Festival, gave concerts in Berlin and Helsinki, and gave a special performance at the BBC Proms in a joint concert with the Royal Academy of Music Orchestra that was televised live on the BBC; Dr. Polisi also produced Juilliard’s first tour of the United States involving all three divisions of the school, with performances in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange County. In May/June 2008 he led the Juilliard Orchestra to China for pre-Olympic performances in Beijing and Shanghai.
This period of growth at Juilliard also has seen the construction of a 375-bed residence for students, the Meredith Willson Residence Hall in the Samuel B. and David Rose Building; the creation of an exchange program with Columbia University and Barnard College; a new emphasis on community outreach with particular attention to under-represented students; creation of a CD-ROM product to teach music to children; a school-wide initiative to develop interdisciplinary programs involving actors, dancers, and musicians; the creation of the Institute for Jazz Studies, a collaborative program with Jazz at Lincoln Center; and the development of a mentoring program to broaden Juilliard students’ educational and artistic opportunities. Dr. Polisi led Juilliard’s celebration of its Centennial, including the realization of forty-seven commissions in dance, drama, and music; in April 2006 he was the Executive Producer of a Live from Lincoln Center telecast on the Centennial. In addition, he has led the process of developing a comprehensive long-range plan for the school that initially resulted in The Campaign for Juilliard, a $150 million capital campaign dedicated to further increasing student financial aid and faculty compensation, as well as developing school-wide programs to prepare Juilliard students for the changing demands of the twenty-first century. Subsequently, the Campaign was expanded to a $300 million goal and renamed The Juilliard Second Century Fund.
In coordination with Carnegie Hall, Dr. Polisi helped found the Carnegie Hall/Juilliard Academy launched in September 2006, a program that prepares post-graduate musicians for their roles as artistic and educational leaders. In March 2008 a new partnership between the Metropolitan Opera and Juilliard was created to prepare some of the finest young opera singers to enter the profession. At the same time, an early music program was introduced through master classes taught by William Christie and artists of Les Arts Florissants; this resulted in the September 2009 inauguration of a master’s program in historical performance. Dr. Polisi oversaw the planning and construction process for a $199 million renovation of the Juilliard building, completed in September 2009. In 2010 he founded Juilliard Global, a program to bring Juilliard expertise to selected sites around the world. Following several years of development, in 2014 he founded Juilliard Global Ventures, a major initiative to provide access to Juilliard education in new geographies and for a wide array of learners, through site-based and digital education.