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Student flutist winds up 10 years of MIT recitals

Ole Mattis Nielsen
Ole Mattis Nielsen

For the past decade, Ole Mattis Nielsen (S.B. 2001, S.M. 2002), a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering, has made his flute recitals an annual event at MIT.

Wednesday evening, he will perform his 10th and final student solo recital at MIT, with a program that includes Walter Piston's Sonata for Flute and Piano (with Yukiko Ueno, piano), Astor Piazzolla's "��tudes tanguistiques," and Beethoven's Serenade for Flute, Violin and Viola, opus 25 (with Professor Marcus Thompson, viola, and Sherman Jia '06, violin). The free concert is at 5 p.m. in Killian Hall.

Professor Marcus Thompson, who directs the Emerson Music Performance Program, estimates that Nielsen has performed in nearly 50 concerts at MIT. "It's fair to say that in the last decade Ole has performed impressively in more concerts at MIT than any other artist," said Thompson, who recalled Nielsen's "brilliant" fall 1998 performance of Carl Nielsen's (no relation) flute concerto with the MIT Symphony Orchestra as "the one that still leaves me and my colleagues speechless."

Although Nielsen says he never seriously considered becoming a professional musician, flute performance has been his most important hobby. "As a student at MIT, I have found it particularly important to have a nonacademic activity to relax with, which at the same time feels purposeful and not a waste of time," Nielsen said.

A flutist since the age of 8, Nielsen acknowledges that he has taken advantage of all of MIT's performance opportunities, including those with the Emerson Music Performance Program, the MIT Chamber Music Society, the MIT Symphony Orchestra and the Ptolemy Players, a chamber music group created by his late friend and accompanist Jaemin Rhee.

"I have seldom said no to various small performance opportunities around the Institute," he said. "And I always feel honored to get the call."

After 10 years of recitals, has he run out of repertoire?

Nielsen's policy is not to repeat himself, and he says he's found that the flute repertoire is only limited if restricted to music from the romantic era. He credits his teacher, Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin, one of Boston's most active and prominent flutists, with exposing him to music that postdates Mahler.

Hershman-Tcherepnin, who has taught at MIT since 1991, praises Nielsen's talent as well as his bravery, calling him undaunted by any challenge. She cites his performance of a composition by Icelandic composer Thorkell Sigurbj̦rnsson, in which Nielsen shrieked, hit the keys on his flute, hummed and played simultaneously. "One of the more striking things he had to do was swing a wind hose over his head," Hershman-Tcherepnin said.

According to Nielsen, the many friends and fond memories he's formed while making music at MIT "feels like half of my MIT life."

He said he hopes to finish his Ph.D. by June and then plans to work at Bose Corp. in Framingham. "I'll be in the area," he said. "And I will definitely keep up the flute!"

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 8, 2006 (download PDF).

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