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Harbison winds MacArthur fellowship

By Irene C. Kuo

Professor of Music John H. Harbison, winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for musical composition, received a $305,000 fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation on July 17.

Harbison, who joined the faculty in 1969, is the eighth person affiliated with MIT to have won a fellowship in the nine years the program has existed.

Often called "genius grants," the fellowships were created to "allow extraordinarily talented individuals from all walks of life to work at their highest potential without interference and free of financial constraints," said Adele Simmons, foundation president. This year's 29 winners may use their five-year stipends -- which range between $130,000 and $350,000 -- however they wish.

Harbison said he plans to use his award to write pieces for which he does not have commissions. "There are works that I want to do, but no one wants me to do. The [fellowship] is a real luxury."

Harbison hopes to reduce his teaching load someday in order to pursue these interests. He could not do so this fall, when he will teach Schubert to Mahler (21.627) and Music Composition (21.681), because of special arrangements Boston University students had made to come to MIT.

He said he would like to keep his "connection" with the Institute. "I enjoy teaching at MIT or I would not be here." He added that, from encounters with recent students, he approved of Admissions Director Michael C. Behnke's skill at "breaking the mold."

A "composer, performer, conductor, writer, organizer, and promoter of contemporary music," in the words of the awards announcement, Harbison received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1977; has been a resident composer for the American Academy in Rome, the Santa Fe Chamber Festival, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic; performs as a jazz pianist; and has been co-artistic director of Collage, a new music ensemble in Boston.

Harbison plans to conduct cantatas at Emmanuel Church until January 1990 and to perform a concert with Collage next February. He said he hopes to work more closely with people in the MIT performance series when they perform the Bach Cantatas next spring than he has in the past.