Active as a composer, concert curator, and writer on music, Dan Visconti (b.1982) is updating the role of the classical musician for the 21st century as he creates new projects in collaboration with the community. For his ongoing initiatives to address social issues through music by reimagining the arts as a form of cultural and civic service, Visconti was awarded a 2014 TED Fellowship and delivered a TED talk at the conference’s thirtieth anniversary.
Visconti’s musical compositions are rooted in the improvisational energy and maverick spirit of rock, folk music, and other vernacular performance traditions—elements that tend to collide in unexpected ways with Visconti’s classical training, resulting in a growing body of work the Plain Dealer describes as “both mature and youthful, bristling with exhilarating musical ideas and a powerfully crafted lyricism.”
Upcoming projects include the interactive video game opera Permadeath, commissioned by acclaimed indie producer Beth Morrison Projects; Amplified Soul, a new showpiece for Venezuelan piano virtuoso Gabriela Martinez; Living Language, a genre-bending concerto for guitar and orchestra featuring Grammy-winning soloist Jason Vieaux and a consortium of US orchestras; a new work for legendary saxophonist Branford Marsalis; and Psychedelia, a mind-bending encore commissioned by new music supergroup Alarm Will Sound.
Recent works include ANDY: A Popera, an opera/cabaret hybrid commissioned by Opera Philadelphia with the Bearded Ladies Cabaret; inspired by the life, work, and philosophy of pop artist Andy Warhol, the show’s score “formed gorgeous new land where the tectonic plates of rock and classical normally only grind,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer; “It’s easy to accept Andy as an enormous success.” Regarding Visconti’s concerto for crossover string quintet Sybarite5, the Columbia Free Times advises: “be prepared for the shockwave of Beatbox to hit the ears full throttle, but in a pleasantly entertaining way.” Strings Magazine (which profiled Visconti in 2011 as a composer “helping to push string music to new heights”) describes his electronics-laced work for the Kronos Quartet Love Bleeds Radiant as “a heartfelt tribute to the past that bumps flush, and sometimes violently, with the present”; and of Roots to Branches, a concerto for Grammy-winning percussionist Shane Shanahan of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project that weaves together the real stories of living refugees, the Cleveland Plain Dealer cited “an evocative and important new piece…a scintillating fusion of global techniques.” These projects typify Visconti’s approach of balancing daring experimentation with artistic collaborators of the highest order and interactive concert presentations that engage extremely diverse musical communities.
Visconti continues to receive commissions and performances by some of the top interpreters of contemporary music, including eighth blackbird (who toured internationally with his Fractured Jams), the Berlin Philharmonic Scharoun Ensemble, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, acclaimed soprano Lucy Shelton, the Da Capo Chamber Players, the 21st Century Consort at the Smithsonian, Sound Impact, Music from Copland House, and the JACK, Aeolus, Cassatt, Momenta, Jupiter, Eclipse, Kontras, Jasper, Friction, Verona, and Carpe Diem string quartets, at venues including Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Library of Congress, London’s Barbican Theatre, Berlin’s Philharmonie, the Sydney Opera House, Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, and Brooklyn’s National Sawdust. In recent seasons orchestras including the Seattle Symphony, Las Vegas Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Albany Symphony, Melbourne Symphony, Richmond Symphony, Grand Rapids Symphony, South Carolina Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, and New York Youth Symphony have also given his works repeated hearings.
Recordings of Visconti’s music have debuted in the Billboard Top Ten and are available from Bridge Records, Cedille Records, Delos, Naxos, Sono Luminus, Azica Records, and Fleur de Son Classics. In 2012 Visconti’s first solo release “Lonesome Roads” received rave reviews including a selection as New York City’s Q2 Radio “Album of the Week” in a feature that praised the disc as “a deeply enjoyable album…‘Lonesome Roads gives the oft-separated styles of modernism and folk-form a reason to hang together – as though they’re on something of a cross-country road-trip.” Gramophone writes: “As Lonesome Roads, the collection’s title-piece suggests, Visconti’s music evokes the physical landscape of America, a range of contrasts in an integrated whole”; and the Washington Post described the album as “propulsive, cinematic, charging into the horizon with the top down and the wind howling by, it’s a work so full of life that all you want to do is climb in for the ride.”
Visconti’s compositions have been honored with the Rome Prize and Berlin Prize, the Bearns Prize from Columbia University, the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Performing Arts, the Barlow Prize, and the Cleveland Arts Prize; awards from BMI and ASCAP, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Society of Composers, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and the Naumburg Foundation; and grants from the Koussevitzky Foundation at the Library of Congress, the Fromm Foundation at Harvard, Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Chamber Music America. He has also been the recipient of artist fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Copland House, the Lucas Artists Program at Villa Montalvo, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
Visconti has also been recognized with important residency positions including his three-year appointment as Young American Composer-in-Residence for the California Symphony from 2014-2017; he also serves as the 2016 Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with the Arkansas Symphony. Visconti recently completed a multi-year residency with opera companies including the Metropolitan Opera, Seattle Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, New York City Opera, and the Glimmerglass Festival as recipient of the Douglas Moore Fellowship in American Opera. He has likewise served as composer-in-residence at the soundSCAPE festival in the Italian Alps, Chicago’s Music in the Loft series, Atlantic Music Festival, Portland Chamber Music Festival, Atlantic Music Festival, Seal Bay Festival, Bennington Chamber Music Conference, and Mizzou International Composers Festival as well as had music featured at festivals including Tanglewood, Aspen, Caramoor, Marlboro, Ravinia, and the Grand Teton Music Festival along with HUH Argentina’s New Docta Festival, Australia’s Brisbane Festival, Newfoundland’s Tuckamore Festival, Panama’s Asociacion Nacional de Conciertos, Rome’s Nuova Consonanza Festival, and many others. Visconti’s music was recently performed in Pakistan at concerts presented by Cultures in Harmony, an outreach organization promoting cross-cultural communication through music.
In addition to his speaking engagements through TED, Visconti is a sought-after speaker on music and social topics including recent appearances at the Clinton School for Public Service, the National Archive, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He currently writes for the Huffington Post, and since 2008 he has written a weekly column for NewMusicBox, the web magazine of the American Music Center; his articles have also appeared in ArtsJournal, Medium, The Twenty-first Century Musician, and Symphony Magazine. Visconti’s online journal (hosted by Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center for the Arts) opened up the compositional process in a multimedia experience, sharing images and streaming audio of works-in- progress including a new work commissioned through the Kronos Quartet’s Under 30 Project. He continues to be active as a curator and concert presenter including his position as Artistic Director of Washington DC’s Contemporary Music Forum (the nation’s longest-standing organization for contemporary music) as well as Artistic Advisor at Astral Artists, a nonprofit intensive mentoring program that specializes in developing the early careers of extraordinary classical musicians
Visconti currently serves as Director of Artistic Programming at Chicago’s Fifth House Ensemble, a concert organization that presents innovative programs including collaborations with pop musicians from other cultures (Nedudim), educational partnerships with the incarcerated and at-risk youth (Broken Text), and the world’s first audience-interactive video game concert in which musicians react to the audience’s live gameplay for an immersive sonic experience as different as each potential audience (Journey LIVE). The New York Times cites Fifth House Ensemble’s “conviction, authority and finesse” while the San Francisco Chronicle writes of the ensemble’s most recent CD release: “The whole undertaking is marked by spirited music-making of the finest kind”; and the Chicago Tribune noted that the group “demonstrated how far talent and imagination can go to create something bracingly different.” Visconti is also composer-in-residence at the ensemble’s annual Fresh Inc Festival, where he works with young musicians on cultivating musical careers in line with their own unique vision and values.
Articles by Dan Visconti:
My recent experiences with audience Q&A in pre-concert talks have again confirmed that there are at least three questions (and accompanying misconceptions) that absolutely will not die.
Chamber rehearsals offer a chance to talk with the musicians, and actual time to do so, which is a hell of a better deal than what most orchestras will be...
I'm not a fan of people bothering each other during concerts, but compared to, say, slowly unwrapping a Ricola, clapping between movements seems pretty benign.
A good teacher's ability to share a vision is particularly powerful in shaping a composer's development.
I've agreed to look over some entries for a student composition prize, and scores are spilling all over the desk and onto the floor.
After nearly three years of writing back-to-back commissions the truth is that I'm pretty fed up with the whole way of doing things.
It is our own choices that define "home" and not arbitrary factors of geography and heredity.
Classical music's limited success in mass gatherings owes much to its finest qualities; big ideas are more often than not also vague ideas and their size does not necessarily denote...
Too much resistance can be frustrating and counterproductive, but too little can also be just as bad.