The master performer as a 19-year-old grad student

Mimi Stillman

A two-time soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, flautist Mimi Stillman came here to study history.

Photo by Chrisan Steiner; courtesy Young Concert Artists

Mimi Stillman is all of 19 years old—the same age a Penn sophomore would be. But she’s pursuing an M.A. in history. And while she pursues her degree, she is continuing with her impressive career as a concert flutist.

She has performed twice as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the second time (in 2000) with music director Wolfgang Sawallisch. Her recital last November at the Kennedy Center garnered enthusiastic reviews in the Washington press. And this spring, she will be a published arranger when the Theodore Presser Company releases a book of her arrangements of Debussy songs.

Stillman, the youngest wind player ever admitted to the Curtis Institute of Music, began her studies in music at age 6, with classes at the New England Conservatory of Music. She moved to Philadelphia with her parents in 1994, when she was 12, so she could attend Curtis, where she received her bachelor of music degree in 1999.

All that experience tells in Stillman’s demeanor. One could easily confuse Stillman for someone much older than a typical Penn undergraduate. In fact, some Penn undergraduates have done just that.

“What’s most funny is when some undergraduates assume I’m a teaching assistant,” she said. “I told one, ‘No, but I am a history graduate student.’

He replied, ‘Okay, because you do look older.’”

But she doesn’t look quite old enough to account for all of her experience. She has performed all over the country as well as in Europe and Mexico, has taught numerous master classes and has her own studio in Philadelphia where she gives flute lessons.

So why the history degree?

“History has been part of my life,” she said. “My parents are foreign-language textbook authors and professors, and there has always been scholarship and history in my home. I decided that I wanted to study history formally and receive a degree.”

But her touring schedule would have interfered with the time needed to pursue a doctorate. “Part of the reason I didn’t apply to the Ph.D. program was that I wanted to balance music and studies,” she said.

A Ph.D. would also have eaten into the time she spends pursuing history and policy for her own enjoyment. Since 1999, Stillman has also been an intern at the Middle East Forum, the Philadelphia think tank headed by Daniel Pipes. An article she co-authored with Pipes, “The United States Government—Patron of Islam?” appeared in the Winter 2002 issue of the group’s Middle East Quarterly (it’s available on-line at the forum’s Web site, www.meforum.org/meq/article.php?id=110).

At Penn, her studies focus on early modern European history, in particular Britain during the Stuart period and the English Civil War. “I’ve taken courses this [past] semester with some fabulous professors—Alan Kors, Arthur Waldron, and my advisor, Tom Safley,” she said.

With all this activity, one is tempted to ask, Does she have a life on the side? Yes, she says. “I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, travel, cooking, and watching old movies,” especially such 1940s classics as “Mrs. Miniver,” “Now, Voyager,” “All About Eve” and early Hitchcock films such as “Rebecca.”

Originally published on February 7, 2002