Bienen’s Richard Van Kleeck reflects on time at Northwestern

Annie Bruce, Reporter

Richard Van Kleeck can instantly rattle off a number of memorable stories from his past 13 years at Northwestern.

There was the time he worked with the robotics lab at the McCormick School of Engineering to create a robot that could play the snare drum part to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, an orchestral piece. There was the time that he convinced members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon to send a cello up their flagpole for a documentary.

There was the time that he worked on a program featuring different percussion styles and members of Boomshaka drove onstage in a car and played the car with percussion instruments. But without a doubt, Van Kleeck’s favorite part about his time at NU has been the students.

“Getting to hear their stories and their hopes and dreams and see them mature over four years and go off and do amazing things, that’s just a refreshing thing that happens every year,” he said.

Van Kleeck has worked as the director of concert activities at the Bienen School of Music since 2001 but plans to leave at the end of the academic year and move back to Kentucky with his wife. The time off will give him the opportunity to work on some of his own projects that he didn’t have time for while at NU.

“I’m very interested in projects that bring artists and digital media together, and I’ll be developing some of those,” Van Kleeck said. “Leaving here was not an easy decision, but I’m following in the great concert hall tradition of leaving the stage while people still want more rather than less.”

During his time at NU, Van Kleeck coordinated concerts throughout the different concert halls on campus, worked with faculty on a number of projects, created the annual spring festival and worked as the director of the Davee Distance Learning Initiative,which has been going on for six years.

The Initiative has helped create a library, which, by the end of the year, will have more than 165 videos of different performances and master classes that can now be seen by people across the globe.

“It’s a combination of creating a video library and also doing live webcasts, and it’s a great outreach program and a residual resource of what we do for the school of music,” Van Kleeck said. “I’m very proud of how that’s turned out, and it couldn’t have been done, of course, without all the talent of our amazing students and faculty.”

Before arriving at NU, Van Kleeck worked on a special project with the Smithsonian Institute and the Library of Congress, at Dartmouth College and at the Kentucky Center for theArts.

His appreciation for a wide variety of musical styles dates back to his time as a french horn major at the New England Conservatory of Music,where he met Gunther Schuller, a french horn player and an American composer.

“He was one of the people, I sort of consider a mentor,” Van Kleeck said. “He took a very wide view of music … and that was a great influence on me, and you see that in the kind of programming that I do.”

When he worked as the director of programming at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, Van Kleeck tried to incorporate that variety of music styles, especially when creating an “all things considered” live concert series for PBS, which ended up winning awards and is now at the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of American History.

Creating programs that people will watch, Van Kleeck said, is still one of the universal challenges that everyone in the concert business faces.

“It’s still a minor miracle that people take the time and the money and the inconvenience to actually drive to a concert and sit and listen to people play live music,” he said. “We should never take that for granted.”

Van Kleeck hopes to stay connected with the NU community after he leaves and said he already signed up to get the Big Ten Network in Kentucky.

“With a little luck, some of these projects (in Kentucky) will involve some faculty and students from here,” he said. “I definitely will stay dedicated to creating opportunities for artists and audiences and trying to do some creative things. … I’m looking at it as a new opportunity and an adventure.”

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