Michael Harrison

Composer/pianist Michael Harrison (called "an American maverick" by Philip Glass) forges a new approach to composition through just intonation (the system of tuning based on pure harmonic proportions). His works blend classical music traditions of Europe and North India. He is a Guggenheim Fellowship and NYFA Artist Fellowship recipient.

Harrison creates dedicated tuning systems for many of his works. He pioneered a structural approach to composition in which the proportions of harmonic relationships organically determine other musical elements such as pitch, duration, and dynamics. He also invented the "harmonic piano," a grand piano that plays 24 notes per octave, documented in the Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. Harrison seeks expressions of universality via the physics of sound – music that brings one into a state of concentrated listening as a meditative and even mind-altering experience.

His work, Revelation (Cantaloupe 2007), achieved international recognition and inclusion in the Best Classical Recordings of 2007 selections of The New York Times and Boston Globe and was called "… the most brilliant and original extended composition for solo piano since the early works of Frederic Rzewski three decades ago" by Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Tim Page. Just Constellations commissioned and recorded by Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth (New Amsterdam, 2020), was called "glacially beautiful" and "luminous" by Alex Ross in The New Yorker and selected for NPR's Best 100 Songs of 2020 and Bandcamp's Best of Contemporary Classical 2020. Other acclaimed works include his Time Loops album (chosen for NPR's Top 10 Classical Albums of 2012). Seven Sacred Names (Cantaloupe, 2021) features performances by Roomful of Teeth, violinist Tim Fain, cellist Ashley Bathgate, and others, with Harrison on piano. Harrison’s music has also been recorded on Innova, New Albion, New World, and Important Records.

His music has been performed at BAM Next Wave Festival, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Park Avenue Armory, the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, MASS MoCA, Big Ears Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, the United Nations, Klavier Festival Ruhr, and the Sundance Film Festival. His recent engagements include the Minimal Music Festival at the Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam, the Italian Virtual Pavilion of the Venice Biennale 2021, the Mattatoio Museum in Rome, and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.

Harrison collaborates with performers including Alarm Will Sound, Cello Octet Amsterdam, Maya Beiser, Clarice Jensen, Del Sol String Quartet, and Contemporaneous, who have commissioned his works using just intonation. He has collaborated with visual and media artists, choreographers, and filmmaker Bill Morrison.

While still an undergraduate student, Harrison met composer La Monte Young. Soon Young brought him to New York as his protégé to study composition, performance, and Indian classical music. Harrison was the exclusive tuner for Young's custom Bösendorfer concert grand and became the only person other than the composer to perform Young's 6-hour The Well-Tuned Piano.

Living in Young's Tribeca loft during this formative decade, Harrison was immersed in the world of minimal music and art. Terry Riley became a close friend and mentor within a broader circle that included John Cage, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Marian Zazeela, and the Dia Art Foundation's founders (the patrons of Harrison's work with Young). Most importantly, he became a disciple of Young and Riley's music guru, Pandit Pran Nath, traveling to India with Pran Nath and Riley for extensive study and practice periods.

Harrison’s residencies include MacDowell, Yaddo, Camargo, McColl Center, Ucross, Djerassi, Millay, Bogliasco, La Napoule, I-Park, MASS MoCA, and the Visiting Artists program of the American Academy in Rome. In addition to the Guggenheim, his awards include an Aaron Copland Recording Grant, Classical Recording Foundation Award, IBLA Foundation Prize, American Composers Forum residency and performance in the Havana Contemporary Music Festival, and a New Music USA Grant. Harrison received his Masters in Composition, studying with Reiko Fueting, at Manhattan School of Music.


Just Ancient Loops - excerpt

Maya Beiser - Just Ancient Loops @BOAC Marathon 2012