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Vijay Iyer


“Like Ravel’s, Iyer’s music possesses the rare quality of seeking not only a new message, but also a new musical language to express it… [He brings] from jazz a deep sense of questing, questioning, and social consciousness, all filtered through a highly advanced harmonic and rhythmic toolkit… It’s rare to hear a contemporary work that doesn’t pander to the audience, but challenges it in genuinely new ways, embraced so fervently by that same audience.”  

- Jason McCool, Boston Musical Intelligencer

Described by The New York Times as a “social conscience, multimedia collaborator, system builder, rhapsodist, historical thinker and multicultural gateway,” VIJAY IYER has carved out a unique path as an influential, prolific, shape-shifting presence in twenty-first-century music. A composer and pianist active and revered across multiple musical communities, Iyer has created a consistently innovative, emotionally resonant body of work over the last twenty-five years, earning him a place as one of the leading music-makers of his generation. His honors include a MacArthur Fellowship, a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, a United States Artist Fellowship, three Grammy nominations, the Alpert Award in the Arts, the Greenfield Prize, a Dutch “Edison” Prize, two German “Echo” awards, and the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; he was also voted DownBeat Magazine’s Jazz Artist of the Year four times. He has been praised by Pitchfork as "one of the best in the world at what he does," by the Los Angeles Weekly as “a boundless and deeply important young star,” and by Minnesota Public Radio as “an American treasure.”

Iyer has released twenty-six albums covering remarkably diverse terrain. The New York Times observed, “There’s probably no frame wide enough to encompass the creative output of the pianist Vijay Iyer.” In February 2024 Iyer released Compassion (ECM Records), the second recording by his much-admired trio with drummer Tyshawn Sorey and bassist Linda May Han Oh. Other recent releases include Love In Exile(Verve, 2023), a globally praised, twice-Grammy-nominated collaboration with vocalist Arooj Aftab and bassist Shahzad Ismaily; Uneasy (ECM Records, 2021), the acclaimed first trio session with Sorey and Oh; Far From Over(ECM, 2017) with the award-winning Vijay Iyer Sextet; and A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke (ECM, 2016), a suite of duets with visionary composer-trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith.

Though he is best known for his international career in the jazz world, Iyer has maintained a significant parallel life as a composer of concert works for ensembles and soloists. His compositions have been premiered and/or recorded by Brentano Quartet, Imani Winds, Parker Quartet, PUBLIQuartet, Bang on a Can All-Stars, The Silk Road Ensemble, Sō Percussion, International Contemporary Ensemble, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, East Coast Chamber Orchestra, LA Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Oregon Symphony, American Composers Orchestra, and virtuosi Matt Haimowitz, Mishka Rushdie Momen, Claire Chase, Inbal Segev, Sarah Rothenberg, Min Kwon, Shai Wosner, Curtis Stewart, and Jennifer Koh. 

In addition to the various Iyer compositions included on these artists’ recorded compilations, there are three existing albums devoted to Iyer’s concert works. In 2014 ECM Records released a recording of his 2005 piano quintet Mutations I-X, hailed as “startlingly fresh and ear-opening” by The Irish Times. That year ECM also released Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi(2014), Iyer’s live score to a film by Prashant Bhargava, performed by International Contemporary Ensemble, and commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts for the centennial of Le Sacre du Printemps. And most recently, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project produced a portrait album, Trouble (BMOP/sound 2024), comprising three of Iyer’s orchestral works: Trouble (2017) for violin and orchestra, written for Jennifer Koh and premiered at Ojai and Tanglewood Music Festivals; Crisis Modes (2019) for strings and percussion, commissioned for the LA Philharmonic’s Green Umbrellas Series;and Asunder(2017) written for Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. 

In 2019, Miller Theatre presented a Portrait Concert of Vijay Iyer featuring the New York premieres of The Law of Returns, Trouble, and Crisis Modes, as well as the world premiere of Song for Flint for solo viola. A host of pandemic-era premieres followed, including For Violin Alone(2020), composed as part of Jennifer Koh’s Grammy Award-winning online collection, Alone Together; Crown Thy Good(2021), a haunted variation on “America the Beautiful,” written for pianist Min Kwon; Equal Night(2021) for Matt Haimovitz’s Primavera project; Spasm (2021), premiered in outdoor concerts by the Del Sol Quartet; My Boy (Song of Remembrance (2021), an episode for the online Desert In series commissioned and produced by Boston Lyric Opera;Plinth (for Kwame Ture) (2021) for pianist Shai Wosner’s Variations on a Theme by FDR; and The Window (2021) for cellist Inbal Segev’s 20 for 2020 series. 

In 2022, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Inbal Segev, under the baton of Edward Gardner, performed the world premiere of Iyer’s Human Archipelago, a cello concerto co-commissioned by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Oregon Symphony, Fresno Philharmonic, Las Vegas Philharmonic, Boise Philharmonic, Illinois Philharmonic, and Ms. Segev. That same year, Sarah Rothenberg premiered Iyer’s solo piano work For My Father at Da Camera of Houston. 2023 saw the premieres of Handmade Universe for piano and orchestra by Shai Wosner and the East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO) and Dharma-Eye by Sō Percussion at Carnegie Hall. 2024 brings What Isn’t Hard to See, a Library of Congress commission premiered by Iyer and violinist Curtis Stewart; and new works premiering at Norfolk Chamber Festival, the Kennedy Center, and Cleveland Chamber Music Society.

Other recent composer commissions include Hallucination Party(2019) for pianist Mishka Rushdie Momen, based on a theme by Robert Schumann; Torque (2018) written for Sō Percussion; City of Sand (2017) for A Far Cry plus members of Silk Road Ensemble, recently recast as a new 2024 arrangement for piano quintet; Run (2016), a solo cello overture to Bach’s Suite in C Major, written for Matt Haimovitz and recorded on his Overtures to Bach; Bridgetower Fantasy (2015) for violin and piano, a companion piece to Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata, written for Ms. Koh and Shai Wosner; Playlist for an Extreme Occasion (2012) written for Silk Road Ensemble (and released on their 2013 album A Playlist without Borders); Dig The Say, written for Brooklyn Rider and released on their 2014 album Almanac and performed by PUBLIQuartet for New York City Ballet’s 2024 pas de deux performance by the same name, choreographed by Justin Peck; “Mozart Effects” (2011) and Time, Place, Action (2014) for Brentano String Quartet with Iyer on piano; Bruits(2014) for Imani Winds and pianist Cory Smythe, recorded on their Grammy-nominated 2021 album of the same name; Rimpa Transcriptions (2012) written for Bang on a Can All-Stars; UnEasy (2011) commissioned by NYC’s Summerstage in collaboration with choreographer Karole Armitage; Three Fragments (2011) for Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society. Iyer’s first orchestral work Interventions was commissioned and premiered by the American Composers Orchestra in 2007 under the baton of Dennis Russell Davies.  It was praised by The New York Times as “all spiky and sonorous,” and by the Philadelphia City Paper for its “heft and dramatic vision and a daring sense of soundscape.” 

Iyer recently served as composer-in-residence at London’s Wigmore Hall, music director of the Ojai Music Festival, and artist-in-residence at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. He served as Artistic Director of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music from 2013 to 2020. A tireless collaborator, he has written big-band music for Arturo O’Farrill and Darcy James Argue, remixed classic recordings of Talvin Singh and Meredith Monk, joined forces with legendary musicians Henry Threadgill, Reggie Workman, Zakir Hussain, and L. Subramanian, and developed interdisciplinary work with Teju Cole, Carrie Mae Weems, Mike Ladd, Julie Mehretu, and Prashant Bhargava.

A polymath whose career has spanned the sciences, the humanities, and the arts, Iyer received an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in the cognitive science of music from the University of California, Berkeley. He has published in Journal of Consciousness Studies, Wire, Music Perception, JazzTimes, Journal of the Society for American Music, Critical Studies in Improvisation, in the anthologies Black Art and Aesthetics, The Oxford Handbook of Critical Concepts in Music Theory, Arcana IV, Sound Unbound, Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies, The Best Writing on Mathematics: 2010, and The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies. Iyer is a tenured professor at Harvard University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Music and the Department of African and African American Studies. He is a Steinway artist. His concert works are published exclusively worldwide by Schott Music. He lives in New York City.