Playing music and changing lives are Bruce Levingston’s passions. So when the renowned concert pianist was offered an opportunity to combine artistry and altruism at University of Mississippi, he immediately obliged.
Levingston has been named the Chancellor’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Artist-in-Residence. Through the leadership of Chancellor Dan Jones, Provost Morris Stocks and Honors College Dean Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, the new position is made possible thanks to a generous endowment from Lester “Ruff” Fant of Washington, D.C., through the Lester G. Fant III Charitable Lead Annuity Trust. Fant’s father taught at Ole Miss for 30 years.
“Dr. Sullivan-Gonzalez kindly invited me to join the staff of this wonderful school,” Levingston said. “I accepted the position this summer, after previously serving as a senior fellow in the Honors College and the adviser on the arts to the chancellor.”
Levingston will work with students to develop their interests and opportunities, both in the arts and in general.
“So much about life is learning to take a series of variables or situations and making something really positive and productive out of them, which often requires spontaneous and creative thinking,” he said. “My hope is that whether or not students pursue a career in the arts, they will learn to be thoughtful, innovative and resourceful, so that they may build fulfilling and meaningful lives for themselves and for the communities in which they live and work.”
UM administrators and faculty expressed appreciation and enthusiasm for Levingston’s contributions.
“We are fortunate to have him in this key role in the university,” Jones said. “His knowledge of the arts broadly and his national stature and connections in the arts, political and donor communities are great assets he shares with us. Just being around him makes me and others better people.”
“Bruce Levingston has already demonstrated his ability to create learning opportunities for our students, to open doors for our faculty and staff and to bring wonderful talent to our campus,” Stocks said. “We are very pleased that he is joining the University of Mississippi.”
Sullivan-Gonzalez anticipates that Levingston will continue to have a significant impact upon students.
“Bruce Levingston has already touched our students’ lives with his extraordinary work, introducing them to the world’s best at the Boston Ballet and at Carnegie Hall,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. “Bruce brings a vision of what the arts can be in Mississippi and in the nation with his dedication to the highest expression of arts. We look forward to great opportunities to engage the fundamental questions through Bruce’s leadership and vision.”
The artist-in-residence is optimistic about discovering talented yet unknown future musicians and artists while at UM.
“While I’ve had wonderful opportunities to commission and work with many gifted and established artists, perhaps the most exciting time for me has been when I’ve commissioned something from a really talented but unknown artist and then that person goes on to achieve great praise and acclaim for their work,” he said.
“Sometimes doing this requires taking a risk, but when it turns out you’re right, that your belief is validated and has even proved inspiring, it just feels wonderful. Sometimes just the act of believing in someone’s potential can bring out the very best in them, their own special magic. That is what I try to do with every student I meet.”
A childhood interest in playing the piano set the Cleveland native on the path to winning competitions, studying with the masters and his own stellar career success.
“After I played a very difficult piece of Bach, both the general audience and other musicians told me they had been touched in their hearts by what I did,” Levingston said. “I found that very powerful and moving personally. I realized that it’s an incredible thing to be able to touch hearts and souls with music. That’s when I felt maybe I had something to give as a musician and an artist.”
Appearances Levingston has scheduled during his first year at Ole Miss include: an Oct. 26 performance at the Lyric Theater in Oxford in a world premiere of a new oratorio based on the life of the civil rights figure Booker Wright; Dec. 5-6 concerts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House with famed composer Philip Glass; a March 27 concert at the university’s Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts; and a spring tour of opera houses throughout Italy.
Noted for his creative programming, Levingston has collaborated with such artists as composers Philip Glass and Lisa Bielawa; painter Chuck Close; actor Ethan Hawke; authors Michael Cunningham, Nick McDonell and George Plimpton; violinist and cellist Colin Jacobsen and Eric Jacobsen; the Brooklyn Rider Quartet; virtuoso dancers Tyler Angle, Herman Cornejo and Alessandra Ferri; and choreographer Jorma Elo.
Levingston is founder and artistic director of Premiere Commission Inc., a nonprofit foundation that has commissioned and premiered more than 50 new works. He maintains residency in both Oxford and in New York City.
His upcoming professional activities include the fall release of “Heavy Sleep” (Levingston’s fifth solo CD) and the 2015 publication of “Bright Fields: The Mastery of Marie Hull” (a book published by the University Press of Mississippi in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the famed Mississippi artist’s birth).
Levingston earned degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, the Aaron Copland School of Music and also studied in Sion, Switzerland, at the Royal Conservatory of Toronto and the Aspen School of Music. He has performed regularly at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York, the Boston Opera House, the Library of Congress, the Aspen Music Festival and Aspen Institute, and many other international venues.
Many of the world’s leading composers have written works for Levingston, and his world premiere performances and recordings of their works have received critical acclaim in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The New Yorker and Gramophone, among other publications.
Individuals and organizations interested in providing additional support to the Chancellor’s Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Artist-in-Residence program can send a check with the program noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi, 406 University Ave., Oxford, Miss. 38655; call Debbie Vaughn, senior executive director of development; or visit online at www.umfoundation.com/makeagift.