Musical Talent, Not His Physics Degrees, Makes Possible A Carnegie Hall Debut for Penn Graduate Student

PHILADELPHIA  - An inquisitive nature about the workings of the world around him brought New York City native Jonathan Fisher to the University of Pennsylvania nine years ago to study physics.  An exceptional musical talent will soon take him home again.

A pianist since the age of 8, Fisher will make his Carnegie Hall debut at 5:30 p.m., Saturday, March 10, in the facility's Weill Recital Hall, 154 W. 57th St., New York, about two months before he expects to receive his doctorate in physics and astronomy from Penn.  

Fisher, a graduate student in Penn's School of Arts and Sciences, says these two somewhat divergent interests are both necessary in his life.

"These two things satisfy two different aspects of how I want to be," he said.  "Music represents my human side, allowing me to delve into expression, while physics enages my physical and sensory side, stimulating my intellectual interest."

Fisher said he has always liked building things, engineering projects, investigating why things work, but he has always found music satisfying.  He took piano lessons, studying both jazz and classical until age 13, when his training turned to primarily classical.  In high school, Fisher did orchestration for musicals, but it was in college that he retrained to a new technique and became "much better than I would have been."

His areas of scientific interest also expanded to include biophysics, psychophysics - studying the interaction of the external world and brain perception, and sensory neuroscience.  He earned both a bachelor's and a master's degree in physics at Penn before beginning his doctoral studies.

This opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall, one of the world's most prestigious musical venues, is a result of his winning the competition "Artists International: New York Debut Award."  It was his second attempt.  Each year about a dozen winners are chosen in a variety of instrumental and voice categories.  Fisher was the only American pianist selected this year.

At the recital, Fisher will perform classical selections by Franz Liszt, Frederic Chopin and Robert Schumann as well as more contemporary pieces.

He has few illusions that this performance will be the start of a new career.

"Science will pay the rent," he said.  "Few can sustain a living by concertizing."

Already accepted as a post-doctoral researcher at Rockefeller University, Fisher will make his New York homecoming permanent after graduation from Penn.    There, he will combine both life interests, studying the relationship between sound and the ear and the mechanisms by which that creates neural signals.