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Tribute to Marcus Thompson


BMInt. Staff Photo
BMInt Staff Photo

The timing could hardly be better for a plug: Marcus Thompson is named one of but 13 MIT Institute Professors just as his Boston Chamber Music Society begins its season. We could not be happier for him; we’ve known Thompson and BCMS forever, it seems. He has written for BMInt and, more important, played essential roles in local musical life.

BCMS plays Sanders Theater Sunday at 7:30, Haydn Piano Trio in C Major Hob. XV:21, Beethoven String Trio in G Major, Op. 9 no. 1, and the Strauss Piano Quartet in C Minor. Thompson will be onstage with his viola and his smile. We plan to strew rose petals.

Then to substance. We asked Marcus to reflect a bit.

“Since the first announcement of my appointment, last June, the nicest thing after hearing from so many friends and supporters is for once not to hear from anyone, ‘oh, is there music at MIT?’ The music faculty I joined in 1973 was augmented by theater arts in the mid-1980s at the suggestion of Dean Nan Friedlaender while I was serving as department head. The addition of several splendid appointments in theater and dance made us into what we are now: music and theater arts. Our classes, ensembles and programs are routinely overenrolled, especially now since they can be counted in our ‘learning by doing’ MIT culture toward fulfilling the arts and humanities requirement. I remained truly surprised and humbled at being honored for advocating for excellence! How hard can that be?”

According to Marcus’s former boss, past BCMS board chairman Steve Friedlaender, the person most responsible for the founding of the humanities department at MIT was its first dean, John Ely Burchard. His work was carried on by successors Harry Hanham, Ann Friedlaender, Philip Khoury, and Deborah Fitzgerald. “Nan Friedlaender, my wife of many years, felt her mission was to raise the status of the humanities and social sciences above being merely ‘service departments’ to the engineers and scientists. She and Marcus Thompson worked enthusiastically together, and she would have been very pleased to have lived to see him receive this honor.”

Thompson is the second member of the music department at MIT to be named an Institute Professor, the first being composer John Harbison. Thompson’s tenure case was successfully presented to MIT’s academic council back in 1985 by Dean Friedlaender, who was instrumental in raising the visibility of the arts and humanities within the MIT community. “In this regard, MIT stands alone among its fellow institutes of technology, making Thompson’s recent promotion to Institute Professor particularly significant.”

More on Marcus here.

Marcus addresses BCMS subscribers

Dear Friends,

In our thirty-third season we are thrilled as always to offer passionate and committed performances of the world’s great chamber music played by our members, colleagues and friends. Inspiring guests have always refreshed us, and will do so in the coming season.

Like last season, our Season of Change, we will locate the first three and last three concerts at Sanders Theater. The January and February winter afternoon concerts will be back at the Fitzgerald Theatre by popular demand. Much of our programming this season includes music that refers to and reveres earlier music that made possible futures past, and assures works yet to be.

As a young man Richard Strauss references the great music of Brahms to create his early piano quartet. As an old man he reveres the process of change in his Metamorphosen by quoting the theme of Beethoven’s Eroica Variations in conclusion. Brahms cites two of his songs as sources for the rhythmic motive of his first violin sonata. Both Brahms and Schubert evoke the great outdoors, by the river and at the hunt, in their indoor use of the French horn.

In the season of darkness we are lit at the Fitz by works of Ravel, Enescu, and Franck first heard in the “City of Light,” and warmed by the affectionate melodies of Dvořák that made even Brahms envious.

Back at Sanders in the spring, our three concerts will include the premiere of Harold Meltzer’s first Piano Quartet, a gift from our BCMS Commissioning Club, and the Boston premiere of John Harbison’s String Trio (2013), through which he fulfills a lifelong dream to come to terms with “the once and future king” of the string trio repertoire: Mozart’s Divertimento K.563.


Marcus A. Thompson
Artistic Director

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