John Miller, MIT alumnus and principal bassoon for the Minnesota Orchestra, will perform a suite of works by American composers with the MIT Symphony Orchestra (MITSO) at 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7, in Kresge Auditorium.
The first MIT graduate to be awarded a Fulbright grant for music performance and to hold a principal chair in a major American symphony orchestra, Miller (S.B. 1964) is returning to a campus he recalls as intellectually inspiring and stimulating.
"My most cherished memory of MIT was the palpable feeling of brain power at work. This unseen vibration stimulated me, gave me confidence and made me feel smarter and more capable. It was what I loved most about being at the Institute," he said.
Miller majored in humanities and engineering, which gave him the flexibility to pursue courses in acoustics and the chance to study with such renowned faculty as Amar Bose, who was then professor of electrical engineering and computer science.
As an MIT student, Miller played bassoon professionally with groups including the New England Conservatory. His academic and performance commitments left him little free time: He squeezed in his individual practice after midnight, he said.
He assumed his present position as principal bassoon of the Minnesota Orchestra in 1971, when he also joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota.
On Friday, Miller will perform works for solo bassoon and string orchestra by Alec Wider, Bernard Rogers and Burrill Phillips. MITSO Music Director Adam Boyles will conduct.
Miller describes the pieces he will play as representative of the American Neo-Romantic style of the mid-20th century.
"All three composers were trained at the Eastman School of Music and have somewhat similar voices. Wilder uses the bassoon in a gently nostalgic way, Rogers is seriously oratorical and Phillips is jaunty and bold. They all chose to set the bassoon with string instruments so that its soft-spoken tone could be more effectively showcased," Miller said.
The MITSO program will also include works by Samuel Barber, Ottorino Respighi and Jean Sibelius.
Miller received his early musical training at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and the New England Conservatory in Boston. While in Boston he founded the Bubonic Bassoon Quartet and made the premier recording of the Hummel Bassoon Concerto, released with the Weber Concerto on Cambridge Records.
For more than 20 years he was a member of the American Reed Trio. Among his solo recordings are four concertos by Vivaldi and the Mozart and Vanhal concertos, all conducted by Sir Neville Marriner on two Pro Arte CDs.
One of Miller's educational activities, the Nordic Bassoon Symposium, begun in 1984 as the John Miller Bassoon Symposium, has attracted an international mix of hundreds of professional, student and amateur bassoonists.
Kresge Auditorium, 84 Massachusetts Ave., is handicapped accessible. This event is open to the public, and admission is $5 at the door.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 5, 2007 (download PDF).