Bryce Dessner

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Bryce Dessner
Bryce Dessner 2015.jpg
Bryce Dessner at the Cincinnati Music Hall in 2015
Background information
Born (1976-04-23) April 23, 1976 (age 39)
United States
Occupation(s) Composer, guitarist
Instruments Guitar
Associated acts Clogs, The National, Jonny Greenwood

Bryce David 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 and visual artists, including Alejandro González Iñárritu, Justin Peck, Ragnar Kjartansson, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Marcel Dzama and Matthew Ritchie, among others. Dessner is also the founder of the MusicNOW Festival, a founding member of the improvisatory 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's compositions draw on elements from Baroque and folk music, late Romanticism and modernism, as well as minimalism. His unique and individual voice as a composer has earned him a number of high-profile commissions. Recent commissions include Quilting for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which premiered in May 2015 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and was performed by the LA Phil, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel; Wave Movements, an orchestral work co-composed with Richard Reed Parry and featuring visuals by the photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, which premiered at the Barbican Concert Hall in London in the spring of 2015; 40 Canons for the Grammy Award winning Kronos Quartet, which premiered at the Barbican Concert Hall in London in the spring of 2014; Reponse Lutoslawski for the National Audiovisual Institute of Poland, which was premiered by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Warsaw fall 2014; Black Mountain Songs for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, which premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in November; Music For Wood and Strings with 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 April 2013 and featured it on their 2015 album "Filament." Murder Ballades is also used as the score for a ballet of the same name, choreographed by Justin Peck for the LA Dance Project.[5] The ballet premiered in Lyon, France in September 2013. In October 2014 the piece was performed by eighth blackbird as a live music accompaniment for a performance by the L.A. Dance Project at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Current projects include a score entitled The Most Incredible Thing written for the New York City Ballet, choreographed by Justin Peck. The score had its premiere with the New York City Ballet on February 2, 2016.

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; Lachrimae for the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Scottish Ensemble, and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra; St. Carolyn by the Sea for the American Composers Orchestra and Muziekcentrum Eindhoven; 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.

May 19, 2015 marked the release on Brassland of Music for Wood and Strings, an album-length work composed by Bryce and performed by Sō Percussion on custom-built “Chord Sticks” invented by Bryce and built by Aron Sanchez from Buke and Gase

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

Film Scores[edit]

In October 2015, Dessner was tapped along with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto, to compose the score for the Alejandro González Iñárritu film The Revenant (2015).[8] They received a nomination for Best Original Score in the 2016 Golden Globes.[9]

Dessner's piece Tour Eiffel was featured in the 2015 Palme d’Or winner Dheepan, directed by Jacques Audiard. Tour Eiffel is performed by the Kronos Quartet and Brooklyn Youth Chorus.

Bryce and his brother Aaron Dessner co-composed the score the for 2013 film Big Sur, an adaptation of the 1962 novel of the same name by Jack Kerouac. The film debuted on January 23, 2013 at the Sundance Film Festival, where it received positive reviews.

In 2007, Dessner and Padma Newsome's quartet, Clogs, had their music serve as the soundtrack to the film Turn the River.



"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.[10]

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.[11] 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,[12] and its New York premiere in October 2009 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.[13] It has since been performed at the Holland Festival[14] and the Barbican. Tunde Adebimpe, a member of the band TV on the Radio joined Dessner, Aaron, and Ritchie for the Barbican Centre performance.[15]

Kronos Quartet[edit]

Main article: Kronos Quartet

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.[16] 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.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19]

On July 2, 2009, Bryce performed Steve Reich's "2×5" 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 is also featured on the "death speaks" record, which he produced.

Bryce and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead 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.

Bryce recently collaborated with LA Dance Project, a new ballet company founded by Benjamin Millepied. For the piece, Justin Peck choreographed a dance to Bryce's composition "Murder Ballades." The dance piece premiered in Lyon, France on September 17, 2013. Bryce also recently collaborated with Richard Reed Parry of The Arcade Fire on Parry's album "Music for Heart and Breath."


Dessner is the founder and curator of the annual Cincinnati-based MusicNOW Festival. Most recently, he was tapped to curate 'Mountains and Waves,' a weekend celebration of his music at the Barbican in London, May 2015, with guests including Steve Reich, eighth blackbird, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Sō Percussion, Caroline Shaw, and the Britten Sinfonia. In September 2015, Dessner curated a weekend of performances at the Cork Opera House, Ireland. 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.

MusicNOW Festival[edit]

The MusicNOW Festival was founded by Dessner in April 2006. The festival is an annual showcase of the best in contemporary music, featuring musicians from around the world, and is held in Cincinnati, Ohio.[20] The first festival was held at the small downstairs room at the Cincinnati CAC and featured performances from Wilco's Glenn Kotche, The Books, Erik Freidlander, Bell Orchestre, Burmese drummer Kyaw Kyaw Naing, and the Clogs. The following year the festival was moved to the Cincinnati Memorial Hall, which would become its home for the next several years. As the festival grew and established itself as an important annual cultural event, Dessner continued to curate line-ups that featured risk-taking artists who do not fit neatly into genre-defined categories.

MusicNOW celebrated its ten-year anniversary of the festival in 2015. To mark this special occasion the festival expanded to include five nights of performances in three venues. The year's festival included performances from Lone Bellow, Mina Tindle, Perfume Genius, The National, Sō Percussion, Cloud Nothings, Will Butler, and many others. Continuing the tradition from last year, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was featured throughout the weekend. In honor of the ten-year anniversary the festival also released "MusicNOW – 10 Years," a compilation album collecting live recordings of some of the best performances the series has seen over the past decade.

Past festivals have featured festival-only collaborations, such as one between David Cossin and Glenn Kotche; new music from Sufjan Stevens, Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire); and performances by Tinariwen, Steve Reich, Owen Pallett, The National (band), Grizzly Bear (band), Joanna Newsom, Kronos Quartet and many, many more.

Sounds From a Safe Harbour[edit]

Dessner curated a brand new festival of music and art called Sounds From a Safe Harbour. The festival took place in Cork, Ireland from September 17–20, 2015 and featured new commissions, collaborations and performances in venues throughout the city. The inaugural weekend featured performances by Shara Worden's My Brightest Diamond, celebrated English organist James McVinnie, So Percussion, and Mina Tindle. It also featured a collaboration between Bryce, Aaron Dessner, Marcel Dzama, Lisa Hannigan, members of internationally renowned new music group Crash Ensemble and virtuosic Canadian violinist, Yuki Numata Resnick.

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry[edit]

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry is a music festival curated by Aaron and Bryce Dessner.[21] 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 Walkmen, St. Vincent, Beirut, The Antlers, yMusic and Jherek Bischoff, as well as newly commissioned films by Jonas Mekas, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tunde Adebimpe, among others. Last year's event took place April 25–27, 2013 at BAM and included performances by The Roots, Solange, TV 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.


Bryce has produced and orchestrated tracks on The National's two most recent albums, High Violet (2010)[22] and Trouble Will Find Me (2013).[23] Outside of his work with The National, Bryce produced Grammy Award-winning new-music ensemble eighth blackbird's "Filament" (2015), which is nominated for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance in the 2016 Grammy’s. He also produced Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's album Death Speaks (2013),[24] Pedro Soler and Gaspar Claus' album Barlande (2011)[25] and Richard Reed Parry's album Music for Heart and Breath, which was released on classical label Deutsche Grammophon. 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.[26][27][28]

Dark Was the Night[edit]

Main article: Dark Was the Night

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.[29]

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.


Main article: Clogs (band)

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.[30][31]






  • "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)

Featured on[edit]

With Richard Reed Parry

  • "VII Freeform Winds/String Drones" Music For Heart and Breath (Deutsche Grammophon, 2014)

With David Lang

  • death speaks (Cantaloupe, 2013)

With Steve Reich

With Erik Friedlander

Further information[edit]


External links[edit]