Esfahani received his first guidance on the piano from his Iranian father before exploring an interest in the harpsichord as a teenager.
He studied musicology and history at Stanford University, where he was mentored by George Houle, and studied harpsichord in Boston with Peter Watchorn, before completing his formation under Czech harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková.
A leading harpsichordist, Esfahani's programming and work in commissioning new compositions has drawn the attention of critics and audiences across Europe, Asia, and North America. He was the first harpsichordist to be a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist (2008–2010), and to be honoured by an award from the Borletti-Buitoni Trust (2009). He has also been a nominee for Gramophone Classical Music Awards Artist of the Year (2014, 2015, and 2017).
His work for the harpsichord has resulted in recitals in major concert halls and events including the Wigmore Hall, London; the Konzerthaus Berlin; the Edinburgh International Festival; Oji Hall, Tokyo; the Forbidden City Concert Hall, Beijing; Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival, New York; the Al Bustan Festival, Beirut; and the Jerusalem Arts Festival.
He has had concerto appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Melbourne Symphony, Auckland Philharmonia, Symfonicky Orchestr Česky Rozhlas, Orquesta de Navarra, Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Hamburg Symphony, Munich Chamber Orchestra, and Britten Sinfonia. He is an artistic partner for 2016–2019 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
Upcoming performances include his Carnegie Hall debut in spring of 2018, recitals at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and Thuringer Bachwochen with violinist Liza Ferschtman, concertos with the Kammerakademie Potsdam, and the continuation of a multi-year project of the complete keyboard works of J.S. Bach for Wigmore Hall, with whom he has enjoyed an association since he made his debut there in 2009.[needs update]
Following three years as artist-in-residence at New College, Oxford, he continues his academic associations as an honorary member at Keble College, Oxford, where he serves as patron of the Keble Early Music Festival. Esfahani also became professor of harpsichord at The Guildhall School of Music & Drama in the spring of 2015. He can be frequently heard as a commentator on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4 and as a host for such programs as Record Review, Building a Library, and Sunday Feature. For the latter programme he is currently at work on his third radio documentary following two programmes on such subjects as the history of African-American composers in the classical sphere.
Detailed awards and performances
Esfahani made his Wigmore Hall debut in 2009 as a concerto soloist with The English Concert. Later in 2009, he made his debut at The Proms in 3 concerts that featured New Generation Artists. In July 2011, Esfahani gave the first solo harpsichord recital in the history of The Proms, at Cadogan Hall. He returned to The Proms in July 2012, leading the Academy of Ancient Music in his own arrangement of JS Bach's The Art of Fugue. Outside of the UK, his New York debut was at the Frick Collection in March 2012.
Esfahani recorded Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Wurttemberg Sonatas for Hyperion Records, and the recording won a 2014 Gramophone Award in the Baroque Instrumental category. The same recording won him the BBC Music Magazine Award's 'Best Newcomer' award the following year. 2014 also saw Hyperion release his two-disc set of the complete harpsichord works of Jean-Philippe Rameau. In 2014, Esfahani signed a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon (DG), and his first DG recording, 'Time Present and Time Past', was released in 2015.
During a 2016 performance of Piano Phase at the Kölner Philharmonie, parts of the crowd started booing, clapping and whistling a few minutes after the concert began. In response to the pandemonium when different factions in the audience yelled each other down, Esfahani stopped his performance and started playing with the ensemble Concerto Köln a concerto by C. P. E. Bach instead. Several members of the remaining audience apologised for the incident after the concert.
Born in Tehran in 1984 and raised in the United States, he lived in Milan and then London for several years before taking up residence in Prague.
- "Mahan Esfahani: Byrd, Bach, Ligeti" (2014), Wigmore Hall Live
- "C.P.E. Bach: Wurttemberg Sonatas" (2014), Hyperion
- "Rameau: Pièces de clavecin" (2014), Hyperion
- "Time Present and Time Past" (2015), Deutsche Grammophon
- "Bach: Goldberg Variations" (2016), Deutsche Grammophon
- "The Passinge Mesures: Music of the English Virginalists" (2018), Hyperion
- "Bull: Complete Keyboard Music, Vol. 1" (2009), Musica Omnia - Peter Watchorn and Mahan Esfahani
- "Sacred And Secular Music From Renaissance Germany" (2006), Naxos - with Ciaramella Ensemble
- "Arcangelo Corelli. La Follia, Six Sonatas opus 5" (2014), OUR Recordings - with Michala Petri
- "Ukdk:Contemporary Recorder" (2015), OUR Recordings - with Michala Petri
- Mahan Esfahani (2017-10-31). "Devoting One's Life to the Harpsichord". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
- "Mahan Esfahani harpsichord". www.bbtrust.com. Retrieved 2018-03-15.
- David Kettle (2017-08-17). "Music review: Mahan Esfahani". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
- Andrew Clements (2016-12-22). "Mahan Esfahani review – putting the harpsichord first in Bach". The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
- "Mahan Esfahani appointed as Professor of Harpsichord" (Press release). Guildhall School of Music & Drama. 8 December 2014. Retrieved 2015-07-21.
- Mahan Esfahani (2012-07-20). "Mahan Esfahani: Why I'm proud to take part in the Proms". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- Fiona Maddocks (2012-07-28). "Proms 9, 10, 12 ,13: West-Eastern Divan Orchestra; Cadogan Hall Proms; Falstaff – review". The Observer. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- Vivien Schweitzer (2012-04-02). "At Some Recitals, It's All About the Encore". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-06-25.
- Andrew Clements (2014-01-23). "CPE Bach: Württemberg Sonatas – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- Imogen Tilden (2014-09-17). "James Galway and Riccardo Chailly win at Gramophone classical awards". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- Julie Anne Sadie (December 2014). "Rameau: Pièces de Clavecin". Gramophone. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- Martin Cullingford (2014-08-01). "Mahan Esfahani signs recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon". Gramophone. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- Erica Jeal (2015-05-14). "Mahan Esfahani: Time Present and Time Past CD review – sparky minimalist-baroque comparisons". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- Lizzie Dearden (2016-03-03). "Iranian musician forced to stop Cologne concert after audience members jeer and shout 'speak German'". The Independent. Retrieved 2018-10-28.
- Official Mahan Esfahani website
- Management biography - Rayfield Allied
- Colbert Artists Management Inc.
- Interview with Monorail Magazine
- Creativity Foundation page on Esfahani
- BBC Radio 3 biography of Mahan Esfahani
- Martin Cullingford, 'A Proms first: a solo harpsichord recital'. Gramophone (blog entry), 19 July 2011
- Borletti-Buitoni Trust page on Esfahani
- 2014 Gramophone Award, Baroque Instrumental