Cancer claims MIT computer pioneer, 58, also a world-class pianist

Cancer claims MIT computer pioneer, 58, also a world-class pianist


norman lebrecht

June 25, 2020

Michael Hawley came to our attention as joint winner of the third Van Cliburn competition for amateurs in 2002. He was no amateur. He played his own arrangement of Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Rachmaninov’s piano version of Kreisler’s Liebesfreud.

Hawley, who has died of cancer at 58, said at the time: ‘Music has made me a better person. It has helped me learn patience, perseverance, and how to reach people in ways beyond words. Music is a window to a better place, a sanctuary where there’s harmony, beauty, and where we do things simply because we love them.’

What we never knew was that he was regarded as something of a genius at MIT, working with the MIT Media Lab consortia on Things That Think, and Toys of Tomorrow. He had also been scientific director of the 1998 American expedition on Mount Everest.

May he rest in peace.



  • esfir ross says:


    • Esfir Ross says:

      Michael wrote in his blog listen to 2007 Cliburn amateur competition: “Esfir Ross’s a genius of inovating programming”. So honored to get such compliment from another genius of computor programming. I’ll mist him.

  • Robert Johnson says:

    What an incredible polymath.

  • Tiffany Phan says:

    A soul of a Pianist in the mind of a Computer Scientist! What a beautiful combination!!! Farewell Michael Hawley….❤️

  • John Dalkas says:

    There’s a long obit here about this man of many talents:

  • Accomplished at so many levels, the world will miss him.

  • Wendy says:

    Watching this is giving me deep joy hearing his music and his passion for music and even deeper sorrow for his passing.