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UGA’s Martha Thomas named Despy Karlas Professor in Piano

Martha Thomas (Credit: Jay Thomas)

Athens, Ga. – Martha Thomas, a Hugh Hodgson School of Music professor at the University of Georgia, has been named the second recipient of the Despy Karlas Professorship in Piano, which was established by friends and admirers of the late UGA music professor.

Karlas joined the UGA faculty in 1946 after Hugh Hodgson, the director of the newly established school of music, overheard her practicing on a visit to Juilliard and hired her on the spot. Her career spanned decades at UGA, but her legacy has lived on through the countless students, colleagues and musicians who were inspired by her tenacity for teaching and passion for performing.

“Despy Karlas helped to lay the foundation at UGA for one of the finest piano programs in the country,” said Dale Monson, director of the Hodgson School. “Dr. Thomas is among the leading national figures in her field, a brilliant performer and teacher.”

As a solo and collaborative performer, teacher and recording artist, Thomas has traveled the world over to play at universities, conferences and festivals. She has been included on eight commercially available albums and mentored hundreds of students along the way.

Most recently, Thomas has performed and presented at conferences and festivals including the American Liszt Society, the College Music Society and the Music Teachers National Association. Recent performances have included the World Piano Conference in Serbia, the Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference in Australia and the Interharmony Music Festival in Italy.

Her busy recording career has included recordings on ACA Digital, Centaur and Albany labels, with her CD of solo piano music from George Rochberg garnering positive reviews and a citation in the New York Times. Her newest recording, “Max Reger: The Forgotten Romantic,” features music from five of the composer’s solo piano collections.

Beyond recording and performing, Thomas’ guidance and mentoring as a professor has led her former students to professional positions in colleges and universities in Georgia, Texas, South and North Carolina, Arizona, Rhode Island, California and South Korea. They are also teaching in public school music programs in Georgia, starting piano studios and serving in local and state professional music organizations.

“I truly love teaching and consider it a privilege to have worked with so many gifted students over the years at UGA,” Thomas said.

As a professor of music at UGA since 1986, Thomas is among those who were inspired and influenced by Karlas. The two met when Thomas first moved to Athens and quickly became friends who spent time together attending concerts, talking about music and listening to recordings.

“I still remember when Despy received a new recording of the Liszt B Minor Piano Sonata,” Thomas said. “Her excitement could not be contained. Even though she had heard the piece many times and performed it herself, she couldn’t resist hearing a new interpretation. That kind of intensity and enthusiasm was very inspiring for me.

“Despy was a dynamic musician and teacher whose former students still sing her praises. She left a great legacy to the region, state, and nation, and I am extremely honored to carry on that tradition as the next Karlas Professor.”