Following his acclaimed compositional release Aheym, Bryce Dessner released St. Carolyn by the Sea on March 4th. Released on Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music, St. Carolyn by the Sea features debut recordings of three of Dessner’s compositions – the title work, “Lachrimae” and “Raphael” – performed by the Copenhagen Philharmonic under conductor Andre de Ridder. The pieces draw from a number of different influences including Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur on the title piece, compositional work from renaissance composer John Dowland on “Lachrimae,” and experimentation with an old harmonium on “Raphael.” The recordings feature performances on guitar by Dessner and his twin brother, Aaron. St. Carolyn by the Sea presents Dessner’s works alongside a suite by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, one of Dessner’s peers as a rock guitarist and genre-bounding composer.

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April 15, 2014

Listen To “Music for Wood and Strings”

On March 26th Buke and Gase performed with So Percussion at the Merkin Concert Hall, as part of the 2014 Ecstatic Music Festival. I was thrilled that they chose to include my piece “Music for Wood and Strings” in the night’s program. The piece is performed on four amplified hammer dulcimer-like chord sticks alongside woodblocks, snares and bass drums. Q2 Music presented a live webcast of the performance and you can listen to “Music for Wood and Strings” here.

March 11, 2014

Performance at Carnegie Hall with Kronos Quartet

I am excited and honored to be part of the Kronos Quartet 40th Anniversary celebration performance at Carnegie Hall on March 28th. The evening will feature some fantastic music including my piece ‘Aheym (Homeward)’, along with performances by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Face The Music, Quartet This Side Up, Pulsar Quartet, Wu Man, Jherek Bischoff, and Pannonia Quartet. You can get tickets here.




April 29, 2014 MURDER BALLADES

Waetjen Auditorium, Cleveland, OH, USA
Performed by eighth blackbird

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May 11, 2014 Aheym (Homeward)

Cork Opera House, Cork, Ireland
Performed by Kronos Quartet

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May 13, 2014New Work (Title TBA)

Barbican Concert Hall, London, England
World premiere of a new work commissioned and performed by the Kronos Quartet, with Bryce Dessner on guitar

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May 31, 2014 Aheym (Homeward)

Parc del Fòrum, Barcelona, Spain
Performed by Kronos Quartet at Primavera Sound Festival

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Bryce Dessner, guitarist from The National and Clogs who has also collaborated with Steve Reich, Philip Glass, David Lang, Sufjan Stevens and many others, released Aheym, an album of quartets, on November 5th on Anti- Records. The album finds Dessner collaborating with Grammy Award-winning Kronos Quartet, who are celebrating their 40th anniversary season. Aheym features four original compositions by Dessner performed by Kronos Quartet as well as an appearance by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. Dessner and the quartet first crossed paths when Kronos founder David Harrington approached Dessner about writing a piece for the quartet’s performance at the Celebrate Brooklyn! festival at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park in 2009. The ensuing piece, “Aheym” (meaning “homeward” in Yiddish), was informed by the stories of Dessner’s Jewish immigrant grandparents who settled near the park and, as the pair’s collaboration grew, became the album’s title track.

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40 Canons2014

String Quartet and Guitar. 25 mins.

Commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, to be premiered by Kronos and Bryce Dessner at the Barbican Concert Hall in London, England on May 14, 2014.

Reponse Lutoslawski2013


Commissioned by National Audiovisual Institute of Poland.

Music For Wood And Strings2013

Percussion Quartet. 40 min.

Commissioned by Carnegie Hall, premiered by So Percussion at Carnegie Hall on November 23, 2013.

Murder Ballades2013

Flute, Clarinet, Percussion, Piano, Violin, Cello. 16 mins.

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.

Little Blue Something2012

String Quartet. 7 mins.

Written for Kronos Quartet, premiered May 31, 2012 at Ensems Festival in Valencia, Spain.


String orchestra. 15 mins.

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.

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St. Carolyn by the Sea2011

Electric Guitars and Orchestra. 15 min.

Commissioned by American Composers Orchestra and Muziekcentrum Eindhoven.

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To The Sea 2011

Vocal. Variable Duration.

Premiered November 2, 2011 during the “Monstrance” installation collaboration with Matthew Ritchie at L&M Arts Los Angeles.

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The Long Winter2010

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).

Tour Eiffel2010

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.

O Shut Your Eyes Against the Wind2010

Bass Clarinet, 3 Percussionists, Piano, Celesta, Cello, Double Bass. 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.

The Long Count2009

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.

The Lincoln Shuffle2009

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.

Propolis 2008

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.


Mixed Large Ensemble. 22 min.

Commissioned by the Kitchen and American Composers Forum, premiered March 13-14, 2007 at the Kitchen (NYC).


Electric Guitar and String Quartet. 20 min.

Commissioned by the Kitchen and American Composers Forum, premiered March 13-14, 2007 at the Kitchen (NYC).

Turn the River 2007

Score for feature independent film Turn the River. Co-composed with Padma Newsome. Commissioned by Mr. Nice Film Productions.

Memorial 2006

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.



Bryce Dessner – who composes “gorgeous, full-hearted music” according to National Public Radio – seamlessly blends aspects of the classical and the popular in his concert works, the compositions simultaneously alive to past and present and the potential of the future. Dessner’s scores, described as “deft” and “vibrant” by The New York Times, draw on elements from Baroque and folk music, late Romanticism and modernism, minimalism and the blues, as well as the inspiration of iconic figures from Béla Bartók, Benjamin Britten and Henryk Górecki to Morton Feldman, Terry Riley, Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Such disparate American iconoclasts as John Fahey, La Monte Young and Glenn Branca also figure into this young composer’s sonic world. All these influences – not to mention his globetrotting experiences as a keenly collaborative musician across genres – wind together to inform Dessner’s organic and individual voice as a composer.

The most impressive document to date of Dessner’s art is the Deutsche Grammophon album St. Carolyn by the Sea, which features his debut recordings for the storied Yellow Label. To be released March 3, 2014, St. Carolyn by the Sea includes three luminous Dessner compositions – the title work, Lachrimae and Raphael – performed by the Copenhagen Philharmonic under conductor André de Ridder. The recordings also feature performances on guitar by Dessner and his twin brother, Aaron. Born in 1976 in Ohio and now based in New York City, Dessner first earned wide renown as a co-founding guitarist (along with Aaron) of the Grammy Award-nominated rock band The National. Yet, as WQXR New York has pointed out: “ ‘… Of The National’ is a phrase that often follows Bryce Dessner’s name. It’s not too shabby a suffix, but… listeners may find that title to be inadequate for his talents, if they haven’t already.”

The stage was set for the release of Dessner’s DG debut by the enthusiastic reception for Aheym, a 2013 album by the ever-trailblazing Kronos Quartet devoted to his compositions. In the cross-cultural arts magazine Bomb, veteran avant-garde composer-guitarist Elliot Sharp wrote about Dessner’s compositional method in the title work: “a dramatic opening, dark and insistent, then a breath, then an emerging melodic seed… The seed ultimately grows… to a rousing climax.” The U.K’s Independent singled out the title work, describing it as “an elegant braiding of interlaced lines that pushes the music forward in waves.” WQXR’s contemporary music site Q2 made Aheym an Album of the Week, praising the music as “stunning, nostalgic and beautifully hypnotic.” Pitchfork declared Dessner’s compositions to be “fierce, vivid music.”

St. Carolyn by the Sea presents Dessner’s works alongside a suite by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, one of Dessner’s peers as a rock guitarist and genre-bounding composer. For all his rock success, Dessner was trained as a classical musician. He graduated with a master’s degree in music from Yale University, having studied classical guitar, flute and composition. Settling in New York City, he performed with such contemporary-music ensembles as the Bang on a Can All-Stars, along with co-founding the improvisatory instrumental group Clogs, which was influenced by contemporary takes on early music. He worked with the likes of Pulitzer Prize-winning composers Steve Reich and David Lang, as well as with Philip Glass, Michael Gordon and Nico Muhly. In 2006, Dessner founded the MusicNOW Festival, a celebration of contemporary music that he curates annually to acclaim in his native Cincinnati. He is currently composer-in-residence at Muziekgebouw Frits Philips in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

In a video about the making of the album St. Carolyn by the Sea, Dessner explains: “It’s not that as a rock musician you come into classical and then you go back to rock. You’re the same musician wherever you go.” But, he adds: “Part of what draws me to concert music is that there is a celebration of risk-taking. There’s a lot of talk about classical music and its audience aging, but I disagree with that. The reason that someone like me, who can perfectly well tour around in my rock band, is drawn to this culture is that there is a certain appetite and energy for performing adventurous music.”

In a recent article on Dessner as a composer in Listen magazine, Kronos Quartet leader David Harrington recalled: “When we were performing Bryce’s music along with Steve Reich’s Different Trains and Triple Concerto at a Reich festival, Steve said to me: ‘I can’t believe one person can be such a good composer, a great guitarist, a wonderful curator – and a nice guy!’ But it’s true. That festival of his in Ohio is fantastic – it symbolizes all the varied communities he brings together in music.” Composer Nico Muhly shared his theory about what sets Dessner apart in the classical world: “In classical, virtuosity can sometimes be its own goal. Bryce has wonderful technical facility, but it’s always about musicality for him.”

Explaining the various merits of rock and classical, Dessner says: “When writing a rock song, economy is vital – a song’s emotional core should be apparent quickly. It’s a great discipline for learning the virtues of clear, compelling ideas. Extended composition is a more personal space, like poetry – less immediate but perhaps more profound. What I think is great about what’s happening now is that the culture is more permeable, with artists collaborating more freely and working in different areas. The fact that such a venerable label as Deutsche Grammophon is opening up to new composers like me is a sea change, and I think you can feel it in the culture at large.”

The music on the album St. Carolyn by the Sea artfully blends immediacy and resonance, color and emotion. Rhythmically energized and melodically haunting by turns, the album’s beautiful title work – based on an hallucinatory episode in Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur – features the chiming guitar tones of both Dessner brothers woven into the fabric of the orchestra. “When writing for guitar on St. Carolyn by the Sea, I wanted to do something where it comes out in places with subtle solo lines but that fits in with the overall texture rather than dominating it,” the composer says. “I have no interest in importing rock tropes.” His bell-like guitar also colors Raphael, which Dessner wrote while experimenting with an old harmonium. “It develops out of a warm drone sound, something that it has in common with some early minimalist pieces.” The album’s centerpiece, Lachrimae, references both the John Dowland tune of the same name, something that Dessner has long played on guitar, and Britten’s orchestral work based on the Dowland. But the actual string writing in Dessner’s piece was inspired by one of his desert-island works: “Bartók is my favorite composer, and I think his Divertimento is the pinnacle of string writing.”

To celebrate the release of Dessner’s DG debut, pieces from St. Carolyn by the Sea will be performed in March 2013 by the Wordless Music Orchestra under André de Ridder at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge, as well as by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with Dessner as part of the MusicNOW Festival.

New Dessner compositions include Murder Ballades, a work inspired by American folk music, 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. So Percussion premiered Dessner’s Music for Wood and Strings at Carnegie Hall in 2013, along with recording the piece for future release. The Kronos Quartet has commissioned a quintet from Dessner to perform with the group on guitar, to premiere in May 2014 at London’s Barbican. The Brooklyn Youth Chorus commissioned Dessner’s Black Mountain Songs to be premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in November 2014, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic has commissioned a work from Dessner to be premiered in 2015.

Key past compositions by Dessner include the string quartets for Kronos (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; The Long Count for orchestra and four singers, co-written with Aaron Dessner, for BAM’s Next Wave Festival; 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.

“Every time I compose for a new performer or combination of instruments, I’m inspired and invigorated,” Dessner says. “It’s a beautiful thing to have a job where you’re constantly learning and expanding the limits of what you can do. I’m always dreaming up new ideas.”

For information about obtaining performance materials please contact Meg Monteith or visit Music Sales Classical.

Photo by Anne Mie Dreves

Photo by Shervin Lainez

Photo by Shervin Lainez

Manager: Dawn Barger, Post Hoc Management
+1 (718) 369-4544

Publisher: Meg Monteith, Music Sales
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