Gift music to UCSD’s ears


Conrad Prebys came to San Diego in 1965 with $500 in his pocket, no car, no clothes and no job prospects.

“I came for a visit and never left,” quipped the philanthropist, who bootstrapped his way up from those humble beginnings to become a successful entrepreneur and owner of Progress Construction and Management, a property development company.

Forty-three years after arriving, Prebys is giving back to his community in a huge way, having just given a $3 million gift - on top of the $6 million gift he gave a year ago - to UCSD to build a music center with a world-class, 400-seat concert hall.

Now under construction, with the first move-ins expected in spring 2009 and completion by fall 2009, the Conrad Prebys Music Center will be a prototype venue for the arts with innovative performance spaces, studios, practice rooms and offices.

Facilities for all

It will include a $1.5 million recording studio, a $1 million black box theater (a changeable, separate side performance space), a $500,000 orchestral rehearsal room, a $100,000 choral rehearsal room and $1 million worth of interdisciplinary computing for its arts studios.

LMN Architects of Seattle and Cyril Harris, one of the world’s most respected acoustical engineers, designed the center.

“I can’t wait for it to be completed and experience the acoustics,” said Prebys, once an aspiring concert pianist who “retired” at age 13 after giving a less than sterling performance at a recital in the blue-collar, Midwest factory town he grew up in.

“It will be advanced, state-of-the-art with no microphones, lighting or cameras visible and a surround system for music amplification. You won’t be able to see any of this stuff anywhere else.”

Prebys’s endowment will be split evenly between maintaining and replacing world-class musical instruments and cutting-edge equipment, and funding graduate fellowships.

Aiding grad students

“One of our major goals is to admit more graduate students and offer them better financial support,” said Rand Steiger, chairman of the university’s music department.

“Our graduate students make a vital contribution to the musical life of San Diego. Then many go on to extraordinary careers after they leave UCSD. Fellowships like the ones created by Prebys’s gift will enable us to attract the best students.”

For most of its history, UCSD music department has been distinguished and recognized worldwide by its commitment to the new in composition and computer music. As the West Coast’s premier center for education and innovation, the department attracts international students who wish to study with distinguished faculty.

Enjoying it all

“I’ve been extremely blessed,” said Prebys about his opportunity to “improve life for my wonderful fellow citizens in this area. It’s a lot more fun to do this while I’m alive. I do it just because I get a hell of a kick out of it.”

He added: “I’m grateful I’ve got the ability to do this, fortunate to share it with other people that can enjoy it too.”

A classical music buff, Prebys said he is living vicariously through his philanthropy. “It’s my way of grabbing a little bit of immortality,” he said. “Hopefully, my charitable foundation can go on in perpetuity. I see great things being done with it.”