Esmail was born in Chicago, Illinois. She graduated with a bachelor's degree from The Juilliard School, studying composition with Susan Botti, Christopher Rouse and Samuel Adler. Esmail continued her education in composition at the Yale School of Music with Aaron Jay Kernis and Christopher Theofanidis, and also studied violin under Ella Rutkovsky-Heifets. In 2006 Esmail took a teaching position at Manhattan School of Music Precollege where she taught music theory, ear training and composition.
Esmail has performed as a pianist in chamber ensembles and also as a singer. Her compositions have been performed in the United States, Canada and Europe. She has also collaborated with East Indian classical musicians, including Carnatic singer Shobana Raghavan, and Hindustani singers Priya Kanungo and Mosami Shah.
Choral conductor Lindsay Pope has written a DMA dissertation on Esmail's work, entitled Beyond the Binary: The Intersection of Gender and Cross-Cultural Identity in Reena Esmail's Life and Choral Works.
Honors and awards
- Two ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards
- Inaugural recipient of the Milton and Sylvia Babbitt Scholarship for Women Composers at Juilliard
- Winner in the MTAC-WLA Chamber Music Competition for piano performance
- Fulbright-Nehru Student Research Scholar 2011-2012
- INK Fellow 2012
Esmail composes for orchestra, solo instrument, chamber ensemble, and voice. Selected works include:
- The Blue Room (2007) Concerto for violin and orchestra
- Ritual (2006) for SATB Chorus, clarinet and piano
- Ave Maria (2006) for SSAA Chorus
- White Key (2009) for SSAATTBB Chorus
- Unfortunate Coincidence (2005) eight songs for soprano and chamber ensemble (string quartet, 2 flutes (picc) 2 clarinets in b-flat (bass clarinet) and harp
- Three Haikus for a Bench(2005) for soprano and piano
- Two Tones (2007) for soprano, violin and piano
- Enigma, I (2001) for three violins, bass, piano, trombone, drum set, narrator and dancer
- Feritas (2010) for trumpet sextet
- Piano Quintet (2010)
- Fantasia (2000) for flute, viola and harp
- Spirals on Light (2001) for flute, viola and harp
- A Canticle for Dawn (2006) for flute, viola and harp
- Two Rasas (2002) for unaccompanied viola
- Elegism (2001) for unaccompanied cello
- Perhaps (2005) for unaccompanied cello
- Sunrise Toccata (1999) for solo piano
- il giuoco del "giuoco delle coppie" (2004) variations on a theme of Béla Bartók for solo piano
- Chardonnay (2001) for unaccompanied flute
- The Whole Story (2005) sonata for oboe and piano
- Desire (2000) for clarinet and piano
- The Primordial Basement (2002) for solo bass trombone
- Social Interaction (2010) video installation
- Answering (2010) for two dancers, nine contact mics and live electronic processing
- The Love Between Us: Prayers for Unity (2017) for chorus, orchestra, sitar, and tabla
- Barso Re (2010) for Yale Sur et Veritaal, Yale's premier Hindi a cappella organization
- "Bio". Retrieved 23 October 2010.
- Pope, Lindsay (2019). Beyond the Binary: The Intersection of Gender and Cross-Cultural Identity in Reena Esmail's Life and Choral Works (DMA dissertation). Denton TX: University of North Texas.
- The Instrumentalist, Volume 57, Issues 1-6. Association for the Advancement of Instrumental Music. 2002. Retrieved 11 November 2010.
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- "Music". Retrieved 23 October 2010.