From Cap and Gown to Symphony Attire: A Busy Day for this MIT Student
by Kate Repantis on June 6, 2017
Graduate student Sylvain Carpentier has two big wardrobe changes on June 9. In the morning, he will process with thousands of other MIT graduates through Killian Court to receive his doctoral degree in mathematics. That evening, he will perform Frédéric Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante, Opus 22 on piano with the Boston Pops Orchestra at Symphony Hall. “I think I will need a quiet afternoon to focus,” he says.
“It’s an honor to play with Boston Pops,” said Carpentier. “I have a special relationship to Symphony Hall because I have really enjoyed going to performances there.”
While playing at Symphony Hall will be a first for him, this is not the first time he has performed these pieces. As the winner of a 2016 MIT concerto competition, Carpentier played the same Opus with the MIT Symphony Orchestra at Kresge Auditorium.
Carpentier chose Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante for both historical and technical reasons. Chopin composed the piece in the 1800s while moving from his native Poland to France and played it at his first concert in Paris. Carpentier also has ties to both countries—his mother’s family has roots in Poland, and he grew up in Lille, France.
Chopin has always been a household name for Carpentier, who started playing his family piano at the age of three. “The first piece I really sight read was Chopin’s Nocturnes, he said. “He’s just really special to any pianist.”
While the Spianato evokes a “nocturne, hypnotic, and dreamy” atmosphere, Carpentier describes the Grande Polonaise as “virtuous, bright, and technically demanding,” a skillset he hopes to demonstrate in his own performance.
In between piano practice, Carpentier has also been completing his dissertation on mathematical integrable systems. In both fields, he finds similarities in problem solving. “I really like to be given hard problems and at the end solve them,” said Carpentier. “It’s the same with working with a hard piece.”
MIT’s music and math department buildings are side by side, which has made it easy for Carpentier to get in his daily four-hour piano practice amidst dissertation work. “MIT music facilities are really one of the best,” he said of the 24/7 spaces with quality pianos. He also credits mentor and Senior Lecturer David Deveau with helping him progress as a performer.
In the end, Carpentier calls his upcoming performance a farewell to Boston. “I feel a sense of completion,” he said. But he doesn’t have much time to rest. He starts a post-doc in mathematics at Columbia University on July 1.