When senior Alan Pierson sat in as substitute for the regular timpanist at a rehearsal for the MIT Symphony Orchestra two years ago, conductor David Epstein was "immediately struck by the musical sensitivity with which he played." Mr. Pierson's skills, accuracy and tonal awareness were "qualities [that] would be notable in a professional player," said Dr. Epstein, professor emeritus of music. "All the more my astonishment when after the rehearsal I learned from Alan that he had never played timpani and had that evening picked up timpani sticks for the first time."
Mr. Pierson went on not only to join the orchestra as timpanist, but to surprise Dr. Epstein again with what the conductor called a "brilliant" performance of a difficult xylophone solo--learned in one week, without prior experience or instruction.
"He has a hunger for music," Professor Epstein said of Mr. Pierson, who will graduate this spring with degrees in both music and physics. "Alan is among the most gifted music students I have had in a teaching career of almost 40 years."
A performer, conductor and composer who has been a formidable presence on the MIT music scene, Mr. Pierson capped his artistic enterprises this week when he received the Laya and Jerome B. Wiesner Award for outstanding achievement in and contributions to the arts at MIT. Before pursuing a master's degree in composition at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, he will conclude his MIT musical career with a senior recital on Friday, May 17, at 8pm in Killian Hall featuring his own compositions as well as works by composers who have influenced him.
As a freshman, Mr. Pierson organized and directed the MIT Premiere Orchestra, a group dedicated to presenting premiere performances of new compositions. Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer praised the "audacious new undertaking," announcing that Mr. Pierson "may have something really valuable to add to the musical scene hereabouts."
As a sophomore, Mr. Pierson produced and conducted an ambitious performance of Steve Reich's Tehillim, featuring MIT instrumentalists, vocalists and dancers. That summer, he was the youngest of nine conducting students chosen to study with renowned composer/conductor Gunther Schuller.
As president of the MIT Symphony (1995-96), Mr. Pierson founded the Symphony Student Board and with Professor Epstein, initiated efforts to perform student works and feature student soloists. When the MIT Symphony Orchestra premiered his own Music for Orchestra in October 1995, The Tech called the work "fun and accessible," while citing his "way of making majestic contour out of the simplest motives." Mr. Pierson has studied piano, clarinet, xylophone and percussion and plans to take up strings in order to learn first-hand the instrumental families of the orchestra.
Mr. Pierson said that his recital this week is in honor of "the wonderful members of the MIT music community, both teachers and students, who have made my artistic experience here so rewarding." He's enlisted the talents of past and present MIT student musicians for the concert, explaining that "since all of my musical work at MIT has been collaborative, I didn't want to perform any solo pieces."
Clarinetist Asher Davison, a graduate student in biology; soprano Deb Kreuze '91; sophomore physics major Steve Tistaert on trumpet; freshman Sandy Choi on violin; pianist Leonard Kim, a senior studying music; and chemistry sophomore Carisa Leise on percussion will join Mr. Pierson on piano in a program of Hindemith's Sonata for Trumpet and Piano, Stravinsky's Octet, Copland's Sextet, Lecturer Elena Ruehr's Of Water and Clouds for flute and piano and works by Mr. Pierson. For more information, call x3-2836.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 15, 1996.