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Institute Professor John Harbison awarded György Kepes Fellowship Prize

Prize honors the distinguished career of a highly accomplished composer and professor of music at MIT.
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John Harbison
John Harbison
Photo: Jonathan Sachs
John and Rosie Harbison
John and Rosie Harbison
Photo: Jonathan Sachs

The Council for the Arts at MIT (CAMIT) has selected MIT Music Institute Professor John Harbison as recipient of the György Kepes Fellowship Prize and will present him with the award on Thursday, Oct. 29, at its 43rd annual meeting dinner at the Boston Museum of Science. In announcing the award, Susan Cohen, director of CAMIT, remarked: “John Harbison and his work represent the highest level of artistic and academic achievement that can be found in the rich community of artists who teach and work at MIT; CAMIT was well overdue in recognizing the brilliance of MIT’s esteemed composer and Institute Professor.”

Harbison, whose music is known for its inventiveness and expressive range, has written for every type of concert genre, from opera to intimate solo pieces; works that embrace jazz as well as classical forms. His music written for the voice encompasses a catalogue of over 70 works including opera, choral, a cappella, voice with orchestra and chamber/solo works.

“I am grateful to be recipient of the Kepes Prize,” Harbison said. “Teaching at MIT turns out to be a great situation for an artist, as many of us have discovered. Why? We are in a school where making things is valued. Experiment, both failed and successful, is expected. And we teach intense, follow-through students who thrive in our kind of thinking and doing — intuitive, collaborative, not-easily-described or explained."

Harbison has been composer-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome, the Marlboro Festival, the Pittsburgh Symphony, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and at festivals in  Aspen, Tanglewood, and Santa Fe. He has conducted the Boston Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the RAI chamber ensemble, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, serving as creative chair in 1992-94.

He is also player-coach-arranger for the MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble, which he founded in 2010, and pianist with the faculty jazz group Strength in Numbers. In these roles, he is adding to his large catalogue of popular songs and jazz arrangements.

Harbison has received many awards and honors, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1987, a MacArthur Fellowship, a Kennedy Center Friedheim Award, the Harvard Arts Medal, and the Hobilt Award from the Boston Symphony and Harvard University. He was President of the Copland Fund for 15 years and a trustee of the American Academy in Rome. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is a Trustee of the Bogliasco Foundation.

The György Kepes Fellowship Prize was established in 1982 by the Council for the Arts at MIT to encourage and celebrate individuals at the Institute whose creative work reflects the vision and values of György Kepes (1906-2002). Institute Professor and the founder of MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies, Kepes revealed fundamental relations between art and science and between art and the physical environment. The Kepes Fellowship Prize is presented to a member of the MIT community who has demonstrated excellence in the creative arts: architecture, visual and performing arts, and writing. Recent recipients include Joan Jonas and Jane Farver.

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