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Karen Tanaka


Karen Tanaka is an exceptionally versatile composer and pianist. Her works have been performed by distinguished orchestras and ensembles worldwide, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Brodsky Quartet, Gothic Voices, Anúna, among many others. Various choreographers and dance companies, including Wayne McGregor and Nederlands Dans Theater, have often featured her music.

She has received numerous commissions, notably from the Royal Academy of Music in London, the Juilliard School, Gaudeamus Foundation, Muziekgebouw Amsterdam, Radio France, the Michael Vyner Trust, the Canada Council, the Arts Council of England, BBC, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

She has scored numerous short films, animations and documentaries. In 2012, she was selected as a fellow of the Sundance Institute’s Composers Lab for feature film and mentored by Hollywood’s leading composers. In 2016, she served as an orchestrator for the BBC's TV series Planet Earth II. She scored the animated film Sister, which was selected for prestigious film festivals including Sundance, Annecy, Ottawa, and nominated for the 92nd Academy Awards for Best Animated Short Film.

Born in Tokyo, Karen Tanaka started formal piano and composition lessons as a child. After studying composition with Akira Miyoshi at Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo, she moved to Paris in 1986 with a French Government Scholarship to study with Tristan Murail and work at IRCAM. In 1987, she was awarded the Gaudeamus Prize in the Netherlands for her piano concerto Anamorphose. She studied with Luciano Berio in Florence in 1990-91 with funds from the Nadia Boulanger Foundation and a Japanese Government Scholarship. In 1996, she received the Margaret Lee Crofts Fellowship at the Tanglewood Music Center. In 1998, she was appointed as Co-Artistic Director of the Yatsugatake Kogen Music Festival, previously directed by Toru Takemitsu. Her music has been selected for performance nine times at the ISCM World Music Days Festivals.

Her music is published by Chester Music in London (Wise Music Group), Schott Music in New York (PSNY), ABRSM in London and Editions BIM in Switzerland. Karen Tanaka lives in Los Angeles and teaches composition at California Institute of the Arts.