Marcus Aurelius Thompson

1946 -

Marcus Thompson, a performer on violin, viola, and viola d’amore, has been described as the leading African-American faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Thompson, an internationally acclaimed violist, is the first person to hold the Robert P. Taylor Professorship at MIT, a chair established in 1995 to honor the first African-American graduate from the school. Taylor, who graduated from MIT in 1892, became a distinguished American architect.

Marcus was born in the South Bronx, New York, the son of Wilmore and Hattie Thompson.  He started violin study at age six and at age fourteen was accepted at The Juilliard School of Music Pre-College division as a scholarship student, where he studied with Louise Behrend. He then studied viola and viola d’amore with Walter Trampler for seven years, completing a B.M. in1967, an M.S. in 1968, and in 1973 the first D.M.A. in viola performance to be awarded by Juilliard.

Thompson joined the faculty at MIT in 1973, after having directed the Aeolians at Oakwood College, now University, from 1970-1971, and taught at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. He has served as a visiting professor at Eastman School of Music and since 1983 teaches viola at the New England Conservatory of Music.

He debuted in a recital at Carnegie Hall in 1968 as winner of the Young Concert Artists International Auditions. Since that performance, he has performed acclaimed recitals at distinguished venues in major cities and at colleges and universities in the U.S. He has also been featured internationally as a guest with leading chamber ensembles in numerous concerts and festivals.

Thompson has soloed with the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia, Cleveland, St. Louis, Atlanta, National Symphony, and Boston Pops orchestras.  The appearance with the Chicago Symphony, a joint appearance with violinist Yehudi Menuhin during which they played Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, was a particularly memorable one for him.

He is actively involved in chamber music, appearing as a guest with the leading string quartets of our time, including the Emerson, Vermeer, Orion, Shanhai, Audubon, and numerous others and participated in chamber music festivals in the U.S. and internationally.  He has performed at Lincoln Center with its Chamber Music Society, participating in a “Live from Lincoln Center” broadcast, and at a presidential Inaugural Concert.

In 1998 The Aurelius Ensemble was formed at MIT to honor Thompson's 25 years of mentoring and educating musicians at the school and for his work with the MIT Chamber Music Society, an organization he founded in his first year at the institute and continues to oversee. The AE since its founding has been a popular ensemble that has given several standing-room-only concerts.

Thompson has recorded the major solo works for viola and viola d’more with well-known ensembles and orchestras on the Centaur and Vox Turnabout labels. Additionally, he has recorded less familiar works, playing as a member of and soloist with several chamber music ensembles as well as with the Slovenian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, both conducted by Paul Freeman.


Sources: Multiple online resources, including a biographies at the MIT and New England conservatory of Music websites; The Aeolians, Directors Recall Precious Memories, Roy E. Malcolm, Editor, “Ye Shall Have a Song,” Marcus Aurelius Thompson, 45-55; Biography at Wikipedia.