Bryce Dessner teamed up with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto to score Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s most recent film The Revenant. The film was released by 20th Century Fox in New York and Los Angeles on December 25, 2015 with a wide release on January 8, 2016. The soundtrack was released December 25, 2015 on Milan Records. The music received a nomination for Best Original Score in the 2016 Golden Globes. Alejandro G. Iñárritu won for Best Director for The Revenant at the 2016 Academy Awards.
Produced by Bryce Dessner, Filament features world-premiere recording of works by Bryce, Nico Muhly and Son Lux, plus a Philip Glass classic performed by the American new-music sextet eighth blackbird. The album was released September 11, 2015 on Cedille Records and includes Dessner’s piece “Murder Ballades.” A set of seven instrumental ballads, the piece was inspired by the tunes, stories and playing styles from the great American folk music tradition. The ballads include pieces loosely based on classic tunes, plus Dessner’s original compositions which were informed by the many months he spent inhabiting the seductive music and violent stories of these murder ballads. Dessner is also featured elsewhere on the record as the guitar player on the live-in-concert recording of Glass’s “Two Pieces” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Theatersaal, Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele, DE
With Katia and Marielle Labèque
My Concerto for Two Pianos will see its world premiere in London on April 13th, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, written for and performed by Katia and Marielle Labèque.
The new work will be performed across Europe, including in Paris on October 17 with Orchestre de Paris.
You can also hear my string quartet, Aheym, in concert in London on April 10, where I will also perform Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint.
On Sunday, Bryce Dessner won a Grammy for Best Alternative Album (The National – Sleep Well Beast).
Music Hall, Cincinnati, OH, US
US Premiere. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with Katia and Marielle Labèque; Louis Langrée, conductor
David Geffen Hall, NY, US
New York Philharmonic and Santtu Matias-Rouvali; New York premiere
This shimmering 36-minute piece is performed by So Percussion on amplified, dulcimer-like “Chord Sticks” created by instrument builder Aron Sanchez of Buke and Gase. The sound is kaleidoscopic. Using sticks or violin bows, the players can sound either of two harmonies, or play individual strings, melodies, and drone tremolos. Music for Wood and Strings was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and premiered by So Percussion at Zankel Hall in 2013. The album was released May 19, 2015 on the Brassland label (May 18 in the UK).
“Bryce Dessner is a man who slips in and out of musical guises with disarming ease… this is gorgeous and full-hearted music.” – NPR
Bryce Dessner in Grammophone: read
Bryce Dessner interviews Philip Glass for Interview Magazine: read
Bryce Dessner and Steve Reich on BBC Radio 4 Minimal Impact: Listen
“Music for Wood and Strings” is proof that Dessner’s taste for experimentation outside indie rock is steadily becoming the more interesting side of his genre-blind personality.”
– The Washington Post
“The result is startlingly enjoyable. Dessner continuously indulges the listener, stacking his instruments’ unique timbre into appealing, consonant harmonies, and hocketing them into a elaborate rhythmic dialogues with each other.” – Q2
“The music has a folksy freshness and laid-back sparkle. But it also dissolves the division between drums and electric guitar, and slyly promotes the bassist.” – New York Times
“The most impressive feature of Music for Wood and Strings is the diverse array of emotional impulses it cohesively presents. The piece feels unified and whole, like a rug woven together from a million particolored strands of yarn.” – Consequence of Sound
“It is glacial, patiently ecstatic… Dessner’s ear for string writing is particularly rich.” – Pitchfork
“[Dessner] has spread his wings as a classical composer.” – New York Times
“With this work, Dessner has proven himself a master of orchestral colour… its breadth and depth were palpable as full brass and percussion brought the work to its apex.” – Classical Voice America
“It is glacial, patiently ecstatic… Dessner’s ear for string writing is particularly rich.” – Pitchfork
“A gorgeous and compulsively listenable four-track album.” – Rolling Stone
“A series of captivating and compelling compositions… an excellent debut disc.” – Grammophone
“Mr. Dessner’s work begins in near-darkness and progresses to light…Kronos gave a taut performance, deeply felt.”
– New York Times
New York Times Interactive feature on “Aheym”: view
“The score has vivid instrumentation with marvelous upward string slides.”
– New York Times
“The result is “Black Mountain Songs,” an exhilarating 90-minute staged choral work…The sheer beauty of [Brooklyn Youth Chorus’] singing was captivating.”
– New York Times
String trio. 17 min.
Commissioned by Steve Reich and Carnegie Hall for the Three Generations Series. Premiered by Pekka Kuusisto, Nadia Sirota and Nicolas Alstaedt on April 27, 2017 at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY.
Solo Harp. 11 min.
Commissioned by Lavinia Meijer. Premiered by Lavinia Meijer on November 12, 2016 at W2 Poppodium, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands.
2nd movement developed in collaboration with Yuki Numata Resnick. Premiered by Lavinia Meijer on October 19, 2016 at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, New York.
Electric Guitar and Chamber Orchestra. 15 min.
Commissioned by Ensemble Intercontemporain and NTR ZaterdagMatinee. Premiered by Ensemble Intercontemporain, conducted by Matthias Pintscher, on September 24, 2016 at Philharmonie de Paris, France.
Solo Violin. 2 min.
Commissioned by Jennifer Koh with the generous support of Justus Schlichting to whom this music is dedicated. Premiered by Jennifer Koh on May 24, 2016 at National Sawdust in New York, NY, USA as part of her ‘Shared Madness’ project for the New York Philharmonic.
Two pianos. 16 min.
Commissioned by Britten Sinfonia and Wigmore Hall. Premiered by Katia and Marielle Labeque on September 25, 2016 at the Philharmonie de Paris in Paris, France.
Piano Quartet (Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello). 16 min.
Commissioned by Britten Sinfonia and Wigmore Hall. Premiered by the Birtten Sinfonia on April 12, 2016 at the West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge, England.
Orchestra. 40 min.
Commissioned by the New York City Ballet. Premiered by the New York City Ballet on February 2, 2016 at Lincoln Center in New York, NY, USA.
Cello Solo. 10 min.
Commissioned by Meidän Festivaali, Sounds from a Safe Harbor, and National Sawdust.
Organ Solo. 4 min.
Commissioned by The Southbank Centre. Premiered by James McVinnie on September 24, 2015 at Royal Festival Hall in London, England.
Solo Electric Guitar And Tape. 8 min.
Commissioned by Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam for Cross-Linx 2015. Supported by the AMMODO Foundation. Inspired by Steve Reich and Jerry Garcia.
Solo Viola. 15 min.
Commissioned by Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam for Cross-Linx 2015. Supported by the AMMODO Foundation. Written for Nadia Sirota.
Solo Violin. 15 min.
Commissioned by Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam for Cross-Linx 2015. Supported by the AMMODO Foundation. Written for Pekka Kuusisto.
Strings, Timp, Percussion and solo voice, performed live to a film by Hiroshi Sugimoto. c. 60 min.
Co-composed with Richard Reed Parry. Commissioned by Barbican Centre, Edinburgh International Festival, Cork Opera House, Sydney Festival and St. Denis Festival in collaboration with MET Museum Presents for the NY Philharmonic Contact Ensemble.
Marimba and Crotales. 5 min.
Commissioned by International Tromp Percussion Competition 2014.
Bass Clarinet, Vibraphone, Piano, Electric Guitar, Cello and Double Bass. 5 min.
Commissioned by Bang on a Can, Muziekgebouw Frits Philips Eindhoven, and Sacrum Profanum Festival. Premiered September 17, 2013 at Sacrum Profanum Festival in Krakow, Poland.
Orchestra. 17 min.
Commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, to be premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel at the Walt Disney Performance Hall on May 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, CA, USA
String Quartet and Guitar. 25 min.
Commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, premiered by Kronos and Bryce Dessner at the Barbican Concert Hall in London, England on May 14, 2014.
String Orchestra. 23 min.
Co-commissioned by the National Audiovisual Institute of Poland and the Mexico National Orchestra, premiered by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra at Teatr Wielki-Polish National Opera in Warsaw, Poland on November 29, 2014.
Percussion Quartet. 40 min.
Commissioned by Carnegie Hall, premiered by So Percussion at Carnegie Hall on November 23, 2013.
Chorus A Capella / Chorus Plus Instruments. 70 min.
Co-curated with Richard Reed Parry. Music by Jherek Bischoff, Bryce Dessner, Tim Hecker, John King, Nico Muhly, Richard Reed Parry, Caroline Shaw, and Aleksandra Vrebalov. Commissioned by The Brooklyn Youth Chorus and Brooklyn Academy of Music, premiered April 13, 2013 at the MusicNOW Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Flute, Clarinet, Percussion, Piano, Violin, Cello. 16 min.
Commissioned by eighth blackbird and Lunapark and funded by The Doelen Concert Hall Rotterdam, Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ Amsterdam, and Muziekgebouw Frits Philips Eindhoven, with the financial support of The Van Beinum Foundation, premiered April 5, 2013 at Muziekgebouw Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
String Quartet. 7 min.
Written for Kronos Quartet, premiered May 31, 2012 at Ensems Festival in Valencia, Spain.
String orchestra. 15 min.
Commissioned by Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Scottish Ensemble, and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, premiered June 16, 2012 at the Holland Festival. Performed by Amsterdam Sinfonietta, conducted by Andre de Ridder.
Electric Guitars and Orchestra. 15 min.
Commissioned by American Composers Orchestra and Muziekcentrum Eindhoven.
Vocal. Variable Duration.
Premiered November 2, 2011 during the “Monstrance” installation collaboration with Matthew Ritchie at L&M Arts Los Angeles.
Solo Cello. 7 min.
Commissioned by Naive Records (FR) for cellist Zachary Miskin.
String Quartet and Pre-Recorded Track. 15 min.
Commissioned by Kronos Quartet and the Barbican (London).
Chorus and Mixed Chamber Ensemble. 15 min.
Co-commissioned by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus with St. Ann’s Warehouse, Kaufman Center, Manhattan New Music Project and the Ectstatic Music Festival for performances at St. Ann’s on February 10-12, 2011 and at Merkin Concert Hall on March 12, 2011.
Piano, Percussion, Electric Guitar, Cello, Double Bass and Clarinet. 15 min.
Commissioned by the People’s Commissioning Fund and Bang on a Can for the Ecstatic Music Festival, Merkin Concert Hall, NYC on February 10, 2011.
Orchestra and 4 singers. 70 min.
Co-composed with Aaron Dessner. Commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival, premiered October 28-31, 2009.
String Quartet. 12 min.
Commissioned by Kronos Quartet for the Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival. Soft Premiere March 12, 2009 at the Music Now Festival. NY premiere July 18, 2009 in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.
Brass Ensemble and Electric Guitars. 30 min.
Series of short pieces commissioned by the Rosenbach Library for Abraham Lincoln’s Bi-Centennial, premiered April 2, 2009 at the Rosenbach Library.
Large Ensemble. 22 min.
Commissioned by Kitchen and the American Composer’s Forum. Premiered March 13th and 14th, 2008 at the Kitchen in New York, NY, USA.
Bass Clarinet and Electronics. 40 min.
Co-composed with David Sheppard and Evan Ziporyn. Commissioned by Thyssen Bornemisza Art Contemporary (Vienna) for the Morning Line, a large outdoor sound pavilion by Matthew Ritchie, premiered in October 2008 at the 3rd International Biennial of Contemporary Art of Seville.
Electric Guitar and String Quartet. 20 min.
Commissioned by the Kitchen and American Composers Forum, premiered March 13-14, 2007 at the Kitchen (NYC).
Score for feature independent film Turn the River. Co-composed with Padma Newsome. Commissioned by Mr. Nice Film Productions.
Classical Guitar, Viola, Percussion. 8 min.
Commissioned by the New York Guitar Festival and 92nd Street Y, premiered December 1, 2006 at NY Guitar Festival at the 92nd Street Y.
“Dessner is exactly the kind of composer who personifies what might be next for classical music.”
Mark Swed, LA Times
Bryce Dessner is one of the most sought-after composers of his generation, with a rapidly expanding catalogue of works commissioned by leading ensembles across the world. 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.
Dessner’s orchestral, chamber, and vocal compositions have been commissioned by the likes of 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, Carnegie Hall, Sydney Festival, eighth blackbird, Sō Percussion, New York City Ballet, and many others. He collaborates across art forms with some of the world’s most creative and respected artists, including Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Alejandro Iñarritú, Katia and Marielle Labèque, Paul Simon, Sufjan Stevens, Caroline Shaw, Johnny Greenwood, Bon Iver, Justin Peck, Ragnar Kjartansson, Jennifer Koh, Kelley O’Connor and Nico Muhly.
In 2018 Steve Reich named Bryce “an important composer with a developed technique and an intense emotional voice. He continues today as a major voice of his generation.”
Dessner’s 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. He also co-wrote the score, along with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto – and was Grammy and Golden Globe nominated – for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Oscar Award-winning film, The Revenant.
Dessner’s music – called “gorgeous, full-hearted” by NPR and “vibrant” by The New York Times – is marked by a keen sensitivity to instrumental color and texture. Propulsive rhythms often alternate with passages in which time is deftly suspended. His harmonies are expressive and flexible, ranging from the dense block chords of Aheym to the spacious modality of Music for Wood and Strings.
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. “I was playing classical guitar recitals, and people said, ‘You know, you can’t really do both things,’” recalls Dessner. “My intuition told me they were wrong… Someday that diversity of experience would be more enriching or rewarding than just going down one path.”
He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University.
Aheym, commissioned in 2009 by Kronos Quartet, was a breakthrough score. It made its debut before an audience of thousands in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Since then, the ensemble has played the intense, anguished piece hundreds of times; it served as the centerpiece of a 2013 Kronos disc devoted to Dessner’s music on the Anti- label. St. Carolyn by the Sea followed in 2014 on Deutsche Grammophon, featuring the lyrical title work and two other Dessner compositions performed by the Copenhagen Philharmonic under Andre de Ridder. May 2015 marked the release on Brassland of Music for Wood and Strings, an album-length work performed by Sō Percussion on custom-built ‘Chord Sticks’ that lend a shimmering, hammer dulcimer-like quality.
As Dessner’s career has expanded his activities as a curator have grown as well allowing him to bring diverse artists and communities together in an organic way. In May 2015, he curated Mountains and Waves, a weekend-long celebration of his music at the Barbican in London, with guests including Steve Reich, eighth blackbird, Sō Percussion, Caroline Shaw, and the Britten Sinfonia.
In 2015, MusicNOW, the Cincinnati-based contemporary music festival he founded celebrated its tenth anniversary. It has featured Tinariwen, Justin Vernon, Joanna Newsom, David Lang, Grizzly Bear and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, among many others. As of September 2015, Dessner curates – alongside Cillian Murphy, Enda Walsh, Mary Hickson and Aaron Dessner – Sounds From a Safe Harbour, the biannual festival of music, art and conversation in Cork, Ireland. He is also co-curator of HAVEN, Copenhagen’s annual festival ‘for the senses, merging experiments in art, music, beer and food’ which launched in 2017 and PEOPLE, which launched officially in Berlin in 2018.
Dessner resides in Paris and has been increasingly active composing for major European ensembles and soloists. In 2016 he premiered a 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. Dessner’s Concerto for Two Pianos, written for Katia and Marielle Labèque, premiered with London Philharmonic Orchestra in April 2018 and has subsequently been performed by co-commissioners Orchestre de Paris, Borusan Philharmonic, Dresden Philharmonie and Orquesta Nacional de Espanã, with several other European and US performances confirmed.
Other recent commissions include: Voy a Dormir (2018) written for mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor and St. Luke’s Orchestra, and commissioned by Carnegie Hall; Skrik Trio, commissioned by Steve Reich and Carnegie Hall for the Three Generations Series and premiered by Pekka Kuusisto, Nadia Sirota and Nicolas Alstaedt in April 2017 at Carnegie Hall; No Tomorrow (a ballet by Ragnar Kjartansson, Margrét Bjarnadóttir and Bryce Dessner) which premiered as part of the Sacrifice Festival, April 2017 and winner of Iceland’s Griman Award; and the soundtrack for Death of Marsha P. Johnson, the Netflix documentary about the LGBT rights activist (2017). Previous projects include Quilting, a 17-minute score co-commissioned with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, premiered in May 2015 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, and The Most Incredible Thing, a ballet created by Dessner, Justin Peck and Marcel Dzama, premiered in February 2016 by the New York City Ballet.
In Los Angeles in March 2019, Roomful of Teeth presented a major new theatre piece by Dessner integrating the work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, named Triptych (Eyes for One on Another). Dessner also wrote the score for the major Netflix film The Pope directed by Fernando Meirelles out in late 2019, recorded with London Contemporary Orchestra at London’s Abbey Road Studios. The Metropolitan Museum in New York, for one of its first ever contemporary installations, is featuring the song Death is Elsewhere written by Dessner alongside Aaron Dessner, Ragnar Kjartansson, Gyda Valtýsdóttir and Kristín Anna.
In April 2019 Deutsche Grammophon (Universal Music) released the album El Chan featuring an all-Dessner programme of Concerto for Two Pianos, written for and performed by Katia and Marielle Labèque with Orchestre de Paris under Matthias Pintscher, El Chan for Katia and Marielle Labèque, and Haven, featuring Dessner on electric guitar.
Future projects include a major orchestral commission, a stage work with Enda Walsh and a concerto for Pekka Kuusisto, a second collaboration with Sydney Dance Company, a commission for YMusic facilitated by a Baryshnikov scholarship, plus a commission from Fondation Louis Vuitton for Gautier Capuçon and seven-cello ensemble.
In spring 2019 The National released their latest studio recording, I am Easy to Find, collaborating with film director Mike Mills.
The music of Bryce Dessner is exclusively published by Chester Music Ltd, part of the Music Sales Group.
Photo by Shervin Lainez
Photo by Charlotte de Mezamat
Photo by Shervin Lainez
Photo by Anne Mie Dreves
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