Institute Professor John Harbison, who has been on the music faculty since 1969, will make his debut as a guest conductor with the MIT Symphony Orchestra (MITSO) on Thursday, March 20.
"I've always harbored a secret desire to conduct MITSO," he said. "Every time I work with MIT students I realize what an interesting, exhilarating group of people they are to work with. They have a sort of hurdle-jumping mentality."
The orchestra will perform Brahms' Violin Concerto, with Harbison's wife, Rose Mary, as the soloist. The concert also will feature a piece by Assistant Professor Brian Robison called "Imagined Corners."
"Brian's piece is very colorful and fascinating to hear," Harbison said. "It's based on real-world sources, from the sounds of chimps in a jungle to an Irish folk song. It's also a very difficult piece. I tried to make a few suggestions to make things easier for the orchestra, but the students wanted no part of it. They wanted to play it as it was meant to be played."
That's the MIT scientific mentality, he said--"not doing things the easy way, and doing it thoroughly in the way that it has to be done."
The March 20 concert will also include Brahms' "Violin Concerto" with John's wife, Rose Mary Harbison as soloist.
Later this spring, on May 9, MITSO will perform Harbison's "Piano Concerto" with soloist Judith Gordon and guest conductor David Alan Miller.
"That they'll engage with a piece of mine is giving me a huge kick," Harbison said. "I hope they'll like my concerto, but what's important is that they engage with it." The concerto won the Kennedy Center Friedheim First Prize in 1980.
"During my time at MIT, since I haven't had any big pieces played by MITSO; it's been hard for people to figure out what I do," he said. "It seems like this semester what I do is finally connected to the community. It's the most enjoyable term I ever spent at MIT--a very gratifying, exciting term."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 19, 2003.