Bryce Dessner

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Bryce Dessner
Background information
Born (1976-04-23) April 23, 1976 (age 37)
United States
Occupations Composer, guitarist
Instruments Guitar
Associated acts Clogs, The National

Bryce Dessner (born April 23, 1976) is a Brooklyn based composer,[1] guitarist, and curator primarily known as a member of the Grammy Award-nominated band The National.[2] In addition to his work with The National, Dessner has made a name for himself as an acclaimed composer, working with some of the world’s most creative and respected musicians. Dessner is also the founder of the MusicNOW Festival, a founding member of improvisatory the instrumental group Clogs and co-founder of Brassland Records. He has a master's degree in music from Yale University,[3] and is currently a composer-in-residence at Muziekgebouw Eindhoven.[4]


Dessner grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio with his twin brother, Aaron Dessner. He graduated from Cincinnati Country Day School in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1994.[5] Dessner earned his Master of Music from Yale University in 1999.


Dessner is praised for his ability to seamlessly blend aspects of the classical and the popular in his concert works, which has earned him a number of high-profile commissions. Dessner’s recent commissions include 40 Canons for the Grammy Award winning Kronos Quartet, which will premiere at the Barbican Concert Hall in London this spring; Reponse Lutoslawski for the National Audiovisual Institute of Poland, which will be premiered by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Warsaw next fall; Black Mountain Songs for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, which will premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in November; Music For Wood and Strings for So Percussion, which premiered at Carnegie Hall in November 2013; and Murder Ballades a work inspired by American folk music and written for the multiple Grammy-winning new-music ensemble eighth blackbird. The group premiered the piece in Eindhoven in 2013 and has recorded it for release in 2015.

Important past compositions by Dessner include three string quartets for Kronos Quartet (Aheym, Tenebre and Little Blue Something); Tour Eiffel for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus; O Shut Your Eyes Against the Wind for Bang on a Can All Stars; The Lincoln Shuffle, a cycle of pieces for brass ensemble and electric guitar premiered at Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Library for Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial; and Propolis for bass clarinet and electronics, co-composed with David Sheppard and Evan Ziporyn for a sound pavilion by Matthew Ritchie.

The first recordings of Bryce's compositions, performed by the Kronos Quartet, were released in 2013 by Anti- Records. The album, "Aheym," features four of Dessner’s compositions: Tenebre, Little Blue Something, Tour Eiffel, and Aheym.[6]

On March 4, 2014 Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Classics released "St Carolyn By the Sea; Suite from There Will Be Blood." Performed by the Copenhagen Philharmonic and conducted by Andre de Ridder, the album features three of Bryce's orchestral works (St. Carolyn by the Sea, Lachrimae and Raphael) as well as the suite from There Will Be Blood by Jonny Greenwood.

In January 2012, Bryce signed to Chester Novello Publishing for his concert music.[7]



"Planetarium" is a song cycle celebrating the solar system created by Dessner, Nico Muhly and Sufjan Stevens. The piece was co-commissioned by Muziekegebouw Eindhoven, the Barbican Centre and the Sydney Opera House and had its first run of European shows in March 2012. Planetarium has been performed at the Barbican Centre in London, Muziektheater in Amsterdam, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, Salle Pleyel in Paris and the Brooklyn Academy of Music in April 2013, where it had a four-night run.[8]

The Long Count[edit]

"The Long Count" was a large commission for the BAM Next Wave Festival created by Bryce, Aaron Dessner and visual artist Matthew Ritchie.[9] Together they created a work loosely based on the Mayan creation story ‘Popol Vuh’ that includes a 12 piece orchestra and four guest singers: Kim Deal, Kelley Deal, Matt Berninger, and Shara Worden. The work had its world premiere on September 11, 2009 at The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, as part of the Ellnora Festival,[10] and its New York premiere in October 2009 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.[11] It has since been performed at the Holland Festival[12] and the Barbican. Tunde Adebimpe, a member of the band TV on the Radio joined Dessner, Aaron, and Ritchie for the Barbican Centre performance.[13]

Kronos Quartet[edit]

Bryce first crossed paths with Kronos Quartet in 2009 when the ensemble’s founder David Harrington approached him about composing a piece for their performance at the Celebrate Brooklyn! festival in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.[14] The piece that Bryce wrote, Aheym, (meaning “homeward” in Yiddish), was inspired by the stories of his Jewish immigrant grandparents who settled near the park when they arrived in Brooklyn. In 2011, Bryce was commissioned by Kronos Quartet to compose a piece for the Barbican Centre's “Reverberations: The Influence of Steve Reich” festival in London. That piece, Tenebre, is based on the traditional Holy Week service in which 15 candles are gradually extinguished. Bryce, in his own words, “inverts the service” drawing the listener from darkness into light. Tenebre premiered May 7, 2011 at LSO St. Luke’s and featured the pre-recorded vocals of Sufjan Stevens. Bryce continues to work with Kronos, recently writing and dedicating Little Blue Something (2013) to them. The piece was inspired by the music of Irena and Vojtech Havel, who blend early music with Czech folk music. It was premiered by Kronos on May 31, 2012 at the Ensems Festival in Valencia, Spain.[15]

Other Collaborations and Commissions[edit]

Bryce is a frequent collaborator with many of the most creative and renowned musicians working today, such as Philip Glass, Bang on a Can All-Stars, and Glenn Kotche. Dessner served as the musical director for Matthew Ritchie's 'The Morning Line' installation, collaborating with Ritchie and a number of contemporary composers, including Lee Ranaldo and Evan Ziporyn.[16] In 2011, Bryce collaborated with Ritchie again, composing a song entitled "To The Sea," which was used for Matthew Ritchie's performance art piece 'Monstrance.' ‘Monstrance’ was performed in November 2011 on Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California. The performance was accompanied by a multi-media exhibition at L&M Arts, LA.[17]

On July 2, 2009, Bryce performed Steve Reich's "2x5" premiere alongside Reich at the Manchester International Festival. On Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at Stanford University and Friday, January 27, 2012 at Carnegie Hall, Bryce performed the world premiere of David Lang's new composition "Death Speaks" with Nico Muhly, Shara Worden, and Owen Pallett.

Bryce and Jonny Greenwood performed "The Music Of Jonny Greenwood And Bryce Dessner" as part of the 2012 Holland Festival. For the performance, Bryce composed a piece entitled "Lachrimae" as well as performed two other pieces with his brother Aaron Dessner and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta. The program was performed at the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ in Amsterdam and the Muziekgebouw Frits Philips in Eindhoven.

On the horizon is a collaboration with LA Dance Project, a new ballet company founded by Benjamin Millepied. For the piece, Justin Peck will choreograph a dance to Bryce's composition "Murder Ballades."


Dessner is the founder and curator of the annual Cincinnati-based MusicNOW Festival. He is also the co-founder and co-curator of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. In March 2010, Dessner co-curated the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville Tennessee.

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry[edit]

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry is a music festival curated by Aaron and Bryce Dessner.[18] The festival showcases bands, composers, singer-songwriters and filmmakers from all corners of the New York music scene. The inaugural festival took place May 3–5, 2012 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and included performances by the WalkmenSt. VincentBeirutThe Antlers, yMusic and Jherek Bischoff, as well as newly commissioned films by Jonas MekasJoseph Gordon-Levitt and Tunde Adebimpe, among others. Last year's event took place April 25–27, 2013 at BAM and included performances by The RootsSolangeTV on the Radio, Phosphorescent and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The event also featured a curated program of film shorts and a visual art installation by Andrew Ondrejcak.

MusicNOW Festival[edit]

The MusicNOW Festival was founded by Bryce in April 2006. The festival is an annual showcase of the best in contemporary music held in Cincinnati, Ohio, featuring a variety of contemporary musicians from around the world.[19] The festival is held at the 100-year old Hamilton County Memorial Hall where artist Karl Jensen has created an art installation for the event. Each year's festival has included world premieres of new works commissioned by the festival, including a collaboration between David Cossin and Glenn Kotche, new arrangements for a string quartet from Sufjan Stevens, new work from Clogs and new music by Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire).


Bryce has produced and orchestrated tracks on The National's two most recent albums, High Violet (2010)[20] and Trouble Will Find Me (2013).[21] Outside of his work with The National, Bryce produced Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's album Death Speaks (2013),[22] and Pedro Soler and Gaspar Claus' album Barlande (2011).[23] Additionally, Bryce orchestrated tracks on Local Natives' Hummingbird (2013) and Sharon van Etten's Tramp (2012), both of which were produced by his brother Aaron Dessner.[24][25][26]

Dark Was the Night[edit]

In 2009, Bryce and Aaron produced an extensive AIDS charity compilation, Dark Was the Night, for the Red Hot Organization. The record features exclusive recordings and collaborations from a long list of artists including David Byrne, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Feist, Sharon Jones, Cat Power, Grizzly Bear, Antony Hegarty, My Morning Jacket, and Spoon. Dark Was the Night has raised over 1.6 million dollars for AIDS charities.[27]

On May 3, 2009 4AD and Red Hot produced Dark Was the Night - Live, a concert celebrating the newest Red Hot album. The show took place at Radio City Music Hall and featured several of the artists that contributed to the compilation.


Clogs is a mostly-instrumental improvising quartet led by Bryce and Padma Newsome. Since 2001, they have released five widely acclaimed albums on Brassland Records, and have toured with The Books in the UK and played at the Sydney Festival. Clogs' music served as the soundtrack to the Chris Eigeman film Turn the River.

Clogs' musical style and approach is hard to categorize. Although the band members all play classical instruments (they met at the Yale School of Music), their writing process is more akin to that of a rock band or a jazz quartet. Drawing upon a vast variety of styles and influences, the group members bring basic ideas and riffs into rehearsals, which, through group improvisations they then develop into complex, larger-scale pieces. Their music is often influenced by minimalism, folk and rock music, Americana, modernism and Indian classical music.


Alongside Alec Hanley Bemis and Aaron Dessner, Bryce founded Brassland Records, a label that has released early albums from The National, Clogs, Doveman and Nico Muhly.[28][29]






  • "Abel" (Beggars Banquet Records, March 14, 2005)
  • "Secret Meeting" (Beggars Banquet Records, August 29, 2005)
  • "Lit Up" (Beggars Banquet Records, November 14, 2005)
  • "Mistaken for Strangers" (Beggars Banquet Records, April 30, 2007)
  • "Apartment Story" (Beggars Banquet Records, November 5, 2007)
  • "Fake Empire" (Beggars Banquet Records, June 23, 2008)
  • "Bloodbuzz Ohio" (4AD, May 3, 2010)
  • "Anyone's Ghost" (4AD, June 28, 2010)
  • "Terrible Love" (4AD, November 22, 2010)
  • "Think You Can Wait" (March 22, 2011)
  • "Conversation 16" (4AD, March 29, 2011)
  • "Exile Vilify" (April 19, 2011)

Film and home video[edit]

  • A Skin, a Night (May 20, 2008) by Vincent Moon
  • Big Sur (soundtrack)

As sideman[edit]

With Erik Friedlander

Further information[edit]


External links[edit]