Bryce Dessner, a National Treasure of Contemporary Classical

By Philip Trapp on Mar 25, 2016 04:37 PM EDT

Known to most popular music fans as a rock musician, Bryce Dessner moonlights as a contemporary classical composer.

Dessner emerged as co-guitarist (with his twin brother, Aaron) of post-punk band The National. The New York band, by way of Cincinnati, rose to indie stardom with their 2005 album, Alligator. Having since released three more critically acclaimed records, their music has featured in everything from Apple iPhone commercials to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack.

However, Dessner's first love remains in classical composition. Holding a master's degree in music from Yale University, the musician has carved out a respected career as a composer in addition to his success with The National. Speaking to Drowned in Sound, Dessner recollected his musical upbringing and the dichotomy of being a classically trained guitarist in a rock band:

"[M]y first concerts as a professional musician were playing Bach on the guitar and that is technically very difficult! It's a different kind of practice and a different kind of energy that you need. You need a lot of focus, whereas there's a lot of adrenaline and improvisation in playing in a rock band. In classical music it requires a lot of attention and focus on the score."

Dessner has received rave reviews for his classical collaborations. Prior to releasing last year's Music for Wood and Strings with Sō Percussion, he featured on various works with a spate of composers including David Lang, Steve Reich and Erik Friedlander. The instrumentalist even participated with Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood on their split single release with the Copenhagen Philharmonic, St. Carolyn by the Sea / Suite from There Will Be Blood.

Mr. Dessner appears to have only just begun in classical music. In an interview with e-zine NBHAP, the guitarist spoke of his profound relationship with music, and his deep love of the classical genre:

"I think that people find their way into music in a personal, emotional way. Often it is like falling in love. The classical music tradition is really deep and rich. Once you start digging, it is kind of infinite."

The latest project in the pipeline for Dessner is Day of the Dead, a Grateful Dead tribute album curated with his brother. Artists slated to appear on the compilation include Bela Fleck, Wilco and Mumford & Sons.

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TagsBryce Dessner, The National, So Percussion, Kronos Quartet, Jonny Greenwood

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