The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Neuroscientist and pianist Fredrik Ullén performs at Voxman

Pianist and neuroscientist Fredrik Ullén performed the first two books of Ligeti’s Etudes on Sept. 6, organized by the Iowa Neuroscience Institute and the UI School of Music.
Matt Sindt
Photo illustration by Matt Sindt.

Swedish pianist and neuroscientist Fredrik Ullén took the stage in a guest recital and lecture at Voxman Music Building on Sept. 6, titled “A man with many muses: Science, art, and Ligeti’s études for the piano.

Ullén performed the first two of Hungarian-Austrian György Ligeti’s études, composed from 1985 to 2001, both of which are known to be incredibly difficult pieces to perform. Before the performance, Ullén spoke to the audience about the different complexities and styles of Ligeti’s music.

The Iowa Neuroscience Institute and the School of Music sponsored the performance, a seminar, and a lunch with music and neuroscience students with Ullén. Bringing together art and science students and faculty is of special interest, shared Associate Director of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute Joshua Weiner.

“We think that our understanding of how the brain works will actually say something about art and also will be influenced by what we learn from art,” Weiner said.

For piano students, having Ullén on campus was a great opportunity to learn from an incredibly skilled pianist. For undergraduate senior Jason Lee, hosting experienced musicians on campus is particularly exciting.

“I think that’s something I’ve seen the university put more and more effort into each year. Getting good pianists for the piano students to listen to,” Lee said.

Lee also shared that Ullén’s profession as a neuroscientist was interesting to learn about. As someone studying piano performance, Lee shared that it is not common to see someone doing both music and science.

“This is a really cool opportunity to learn from someone who does both,” Lee said.

Following the performance, Ullén met with students outside of the concert hall to discuss Ligeti’s music and other aspects of piano.

Ullén has been a professor of cognitive neuropsychology since 2010 and became director of the department at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in 2021. Additionally, Ullén is a fellow of the Swedish Royal Academy of Music and Academia Europaea.

Though becoming the director has taken up much of his time, he insists on continuing both music and science.

“I try to practice early in the mornings, and then I practice in the evenings,” Ullén said. He also shared that he tends to play what he is passionate about.

For Ullén, there was not just one moment when he realized that he wanted to be both a neuroscientist and a musician. He always knew that he loved music, and he discovered neuroscience when he was in school.

“Music was kind of always there, as far back as I can remember,” Ullén said. “My parents had a large black upright piano. It seems large in my memory.”

RELATED: Yi-Hsun ‘Irene’ Tang premieres curated horn compositions two-part recital at UI

Ullén said support is something incredibly important in teaching music. Helping students to find their own voices is something he believes to be a key component of teaching music.

He also emphasized the importance of finding one’s own path in music, especially for students. While not a professor of music, Ullén shared that he feels it is important to guide students to find where their personal interests lie within music.

“I do think that to find your own individuality is very important,” Ullén said.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Emma Gaughan
Emma Gaughan, Arts Reporter
Emma Gaughan is a second-year student at the University of Iowa, studying psychology and criminology, as well as completing a writing certificate. She is from West Des Moines, where she developed her love of both writing and the arts.