Eric Thompson ’82 Champions “International Goodwill and Creative Heights”

  • One World
Eric Thompson ’82 Champions “International Goodwill and Creative Heights”
Stacy Calfo

Through his work with the Kyrgyz American Foundation, the composer envisions one world in music.

Eric Thompson ’82 isn’t typical of those who make an impact in the world of classical music. A chemist by vocation, he didn’t begin serious music studies until he enrolled in piano lessons and music theory courses during his college years at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.


Sydykov and Rallis perform at a March 2017 KAF event in New York City’s Merkin Hall.

“My particular interest at the time was rock keyboard styles. But I soon gravitated toward classical, especially the eastern European Romantics,” Thompson said. “After graduation, I continued studies on my own and began trying my hand at arranging and composition in several different styles as I pursued a career in chemistry. Along the way I received a small grant for composing and attended a film-scoring workshop at New York University.”  

Thompson with Clayton Music Festival founder and creative director Jonathan Levin and Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin, featured vocalist at the festival, in October 2019.

A few years ago, he did a web search for classical concert series in the Triangle and discovered the Clayton Piano Festival, which was founded by pianist (and fellow North Carolina native) Jonathan Levin. CPF events, held in Johnston County and throughout the Triangle area, feature performers from around the world.

When Thompson attended his first CPF concert in 2015, he immediately felt a special kinship with Levin and his community of supporters, laying the groundwork for their fruitful work together on behalf of the New York City-based Kyrgyz American Foundation.


About Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan gained its independence from the former Soviet Union on Aug. 31, 1991. The country’s official languages are Kyrgyz and Russian. Kyrgyzstan was the ninth-poorest country in the USSR and today is the second-poorest country in Central Asia.

Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China and has been at the crossroads of several great civilizations as part of the Silk Road and other commercial routes. Only about one-third of the population lives in urban areas. Historically, the Kyrgyz have been seminomadic herders, living in round tents called yurts and tending sheep, horses and yaks. The mountainous region of the Tian Shan covers more than 80% of the country, leading to its moniker “the Switzerland of Central Asia.”

Photo courtesy of KAF

Elvira Abdilova and Perizat Kopobaeva, accompanied by Levin, share traditional music in New York City’s Merkin Hall in March 2017.

“A wonderfully warm international family”

The mission of KAF is to strengthen civil, humanitarian, cultural and business ties between Kyrgyzstan and the United States by advancing intercultural awareness and cooperation. While preserving the multicultural heritage of Kyrgyzstan, KAF strives to cultivate a strong sense of identity for Kyrgyz Americans living in the U.S. through cultural and educational initiatives. Proceeds from concerts go toward funding children’s music and language education courses.

A KAF board member, Levin introduced Thompson to KAF president and Kyrgyz American Aza Sydykov and his wife, soprano Nikoleta Rallis, a Wrightsville Beach native.

Thompson’s Nocturne in C# Minor is performed by Sydykov. Enjoy more performances on the KAF’s YouTube channel.

“During our first meeting in 2016, I found myself immediately welcome among their wonderfully warm international family of friends and colleagues,” Thompson said. An invitation to join the boards of both CPF and KAF followed.

It was a time of tremendous progress for the organization. The inaugural KAF concert took place in October 2016 in Chicago, the U.S. city with the largest Kyrgyz American population. The organization’s New York City debut followed in March 2017 at Merkin Hall in Manhattan, during which Sydykov premiered Thompson’s composition, Nocturne in C Sharp Minor, and Levin introduced Thompson’s arrangement of “Scène d’Amour” from Bernard Herrmann’s score for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic motion picture “Vertigo.” 

In addition to providing a forum for showcasing his compositions, KAF has welcomed Thompson into what he calls “a wonderfully warm international family” — as seen here backstage at the March 2017 Merkin Hall performance.

A “populist approach”

From its very first concerts, KAF has worked to introduce U.S. audiences to the rich classical and folk music heritage of Kyrgyzstan while also featuring standard classical repertoire, show tunes and new works by its board and advisory council members, including Thompson.

“I’ve been struck by Jonathan’s populist approach to the music and his audience. He seldom wears a tuxedo when performing, even at some of the more celebrated venues in major cities,” Thompson said. “His programming is very eclectic, offering jazz, ragtime, progressive rock and even completely improvised events in addition to the time-honored classics and new works by friends and associates.”

Thompson poses with performers from the KAF Emerging Artists series at a June 2019 event at Merkin Hall in New York City.

In 2018, KAF launched its Emerging Artist program which, under various sponsorships, brings three of Kyrgyzstan’s most promising young artists to the United States in the summer to showcase their talent. The organization opened the Eurasia Cultural Center in Manhattan in January 2020, bringing together community members from throughout the New York metropolitan area for educational and cultural activities including concerts, music, dance and language classes, master classes, film screenings, art exhibits and lectures.

 “We’ve seen our vision broaden to encompass the Eurasia Festival, which has afforded many gifted artists from countries such as Ukraine, China, Russia, Korea and Uzbekistan opportunities to perform on the leading stages in New York City and Washington, D.C.,” Thompson said. “We’ve fostered international goodwill and inspired each other on to even greater creative heights. It’s been a great pleasure, an honor and a blessing to be a part of it all — and to have made so many wonderful friends along the way!”

KAF leaders are joined by performers and composer Joel Martin, at left, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in August 2017.  


More stories about alumni making an international impact

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“Rising Above”

Ravenscroft Magazine, Summer 2015
“Clarity of Vision”

Ravenscroft Magazine, Spring 2019
“Think Globally, Live Globally”