Bryce Dessner


photo by Shervin Lainez

Bryce Dessner is one of the most sought-after composers of his generation, with a rapidly expanding catalog of works commissioned by leading ensembles. Known to many as a guitarist with The National, he is also active as a curator – a vital force in the flourishing realm of new creative music.

His orchestral, chamber, and vocal compositions have been commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Metropolitan Museum of Art (for the New York Philharmonic), Kronos Quartet, BAM Next Wave Festival, Barbican Centre, Edinburgh International Festival, Sydney Festival, eighth blackbird, Sō Percussion, New York City Ballet, and many others. He has worked with some of the world’s most creative and respected musicians and visual artists, including Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Johnny Greenwood, Justin Peck, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Matthew Ritchie, among others. His work ‘ Murder Ballads,’ featured on eighth blackbird’s album Filament — an album he also produced and performs on — won the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. In the fall of 2015 Dessner was tapped, along with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto, to compose music for Oscar Award-winning director Alejandro Iñárritu’s film, The Revenant, which received a 2016 Golden Globes nomination for Best Original Score and a 2017 Grammy Awards nomination in the Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media category.

Bridging musical languages and communities comes naturally to Dessner, born 1976 in Cincinnati, Ohio. After early training on the flute, he switched to classical guitar in his teens. While in high school he started a band with his twin brother Aaron, also a guitarist. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University. While at Yale in the late 90’s, Dessner met the other members of the quartet that became Clogs, weaving compositions out of improvisations on classical instruments. Clogs has toured widely, releasing five albums since 2001.

Dessner now resides in Paris and has been increasingly active composing for major European ensembles and soloists. Last fall he premiered a new piece entitled ‘Wires’ commissioned for the legendary Ensemble Intercontemporain and Matthias Pintscher, as well as recent solo works for violinists Pekka Kuusisto and Jennifer Koh, and a concerto for renowned pianists Katia and Marielle Labeque. May 20, 2016 saw the release of Day of the Dead, the follow-up to 2009’s charity album Dark Was the Night. A tribute album to the Grateful Dead, Day of the Dead was created, curated and produced by Bryce and his brother Aaron. The compilation is a wide-ranging tribute to the songwriting and experimentalism of the Dead which took four years to record, features over 60 artists from varied musical backgrounds, 59 tracks and is almost 6 hours long. All profits will help fight for AIDS/ HIV and related health issues around the world through the Red Hot Organization.

Program Note:

Réponse Lutosławski was written as an homage to Witold Lutosławski’s amazing composition for string orchestra, Musique funèbre. I spent months studying the score and recordings of the work as well as many of his other pieces. This was an amazing process of discovering one of the 20th-centuries great musical minds and allowing his adventurous spirit to influence my own musical decisions. My Réponse Lutosławski is written in five movements, each of which is inspired either directly or indirectly by the Lutosławski score. I like to think that his music opened a window in a certain direction for me, or pushed open a door, through which I could then pass and take my journey with the music. – Bryce Dessner