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In memoriam: musicologist Philip F. Nelson
Musicologist and a former Dean of the Yale School of Music Philip F. Nelson died yesterday, June 10, 2016 at the age of 88. A native of Waseca, Minnesota, Nelson graduated with a B.A. degree in music composition from Grinnell College in Iowa in 1950, and an A.M. (1956) and Ph.D. (1958) in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also received the Diplôme of the Université de Paris in 1957, and studied conducting with M. Louis Forestier at the Conservatorie National de Paris at the time as a Fulbright Scholar.
Nelson was Chair of the music department at SUNY Binghamton from 1963, until his appointment as the Dean of Yale School of Music in 1970. Under Philip Nelson’s visionary leadership, the Yale School of Music began its transformation as a major professional music school. Among his distinguished faculty appointments were, Krzysztof Penderecki, Otto-Werner Mueller, Phyllis Curtin, and Claude Frank. The Tokyo String Quartet was named the artists-in-residence in 1976, and the quartet remained an integral part of the life and development of the School until its retirement from the international concert stage in 2013.
Nelson is also credited for pioneering the overarching concept of “Music at Yale,” which advances the intersection of the School of Music, Department of Music, and Yale College. He supported the activities and growth of the Yale Glee Club, Yale Symphony, Yale Band, and other undergraduate music ensembles. Furthermore, it was during his tenure that the Yale Institute of Sacred Music was established with a major gift from the Irwin Sweeney Miller Foundation.
In addition to enhancing the faculty of the School and administrative infrastructure of the University, Philip Nelson expanded the School’s resources and reach by establishing programs like the Duke Ellington Fellowship and the Sanford Visiting Artist Fellowship. He also established strategic alliances with most prominent music schools in the nation through the organization of Seven Springs Group.
“Phil remained passionately devoted to the Yale School of Music throughout his life. His infectious warmth and enthusiasm for the work of our students only intensified with the passing years,” said Robert Blocker, Dean of the Yale School of Music. “Among his accomplishments is a roster of “his” students who became cultural leaders and artists across the globe. His work as a mentor to students was inspiring, and he opened new musical horizons for those who were not inclined to pursue appointments in the traditional pathways of professorships, orchestra musicians, and administrators. The Philip Nelson Prize for Musical Entrepreneurship [at the School] exemplifies his broad view of the profession, and it is awarded annually to a graduating student who has demonstrated his values.”