Marcus Aurelius Thompson, the internationally acclaimed violist and chamber music player, has been named the first holder of the Robert P. Taylor Professorship at MIT.
The chair was created by MIT to honor its first African-American graduate, Robert R. Taylor, class of 1892, a distinguished architect who designed most of the buildings at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
MIT President Charles M. Vest announced the establishment of the chair last February at the Institute's 20th annual celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. President Vest said the chair "will stand both as a reminder and an instrument of MIT's commitment to diversity."
Professor Thompson's appointment will be formally announced Saturday, Jan. 14, by Provost Mark S. Wrighton at a book-publishing reception for Professor Henry C. McBay, MIT's first Martin Luther King Visiting Scholar.
Professor Wrighton said that in appointing Professor Thompson to the new professorship, "we have the opportunity to recognize the extraordinary educational contributions and creative excellence of one of the most distinguished members of the faculty. Professor Thompson has balanced the performing artist/professorial life extremely well, and undergraduates, especially, have been well served by his presence on our faculty."
In 1973 Professor Thompson founded the MIT Chamber Music Society-a way for students to learn through performing-and the critically acclaimed MIT Chamber Music Players, made up of students, faculty and staff from MIT and their professional guests from Greater Boston.
Dean Philip S. Khoury of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor Alan Brody, head of the Music and Theater Arts Section, hailed Professor Thompson's selection.
Said Dean Khoury: "No faculty member has been more successful in encouraging the artistic expression of MIT students than Marcus. He is a huge asset to the MIT community and to the wider world of musical performance."
Professor Brody said, "I can't imagine a more fitting recipient of the Taylor Chair than Marcus. Over the years he has set a standard of excellence in both his teaching and performance that has served as an inspiration for countless students over the more than 20 years he's been at MIT."
PERFORMING IN ATLANTA
Professor Thompson will not be able to attend the January 14 event where the announcement of his appointment will be made because he is in Atlanta preparing to appear as a soloist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in a new work, "Bridge of Light," composed by Keith Jarrett to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Atlanta concerts are January 12-14 and National Public Radio will broadcast the work on Performance Today on January 15. Professor Thompson regularly appears in recitals and as a soloist with major symphonic organizations, string quartets and other chamber ensembles throughout the world.
A native of New York City, Professor Thompson holds three degrees from the Juilliard School of Music, the BM (1967), the MS (1968) and the DMA (1970). He made his New York solo recital debut in 1968 at Carnegie Recital Hall.
In addition to his active performance schedule, Professor Thompson has made important teaching and administration contributions to MIT's Music Section. He has taught introductory, history and theory courses and has served as head of the section. In 1992 he was a member of the MIT presidential search committee.
Before joining MIT in 1973, Professor Thompson taught at Oakwood College in Huntsville, AL; Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, and Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA. He has been a visiting professor of viola at the Eastman School of Music and since 1983 has also been a member of the viola faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 11, 1995.