Composer 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, a collaboration with acclaimed Pulitzer-winning librettist Cerise Jacobs and director Michael Counts; 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 jazz legend Branford Marsalis; and Psychedelia, a hallucinagenic 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 collaborative experimentation driving interactive experiences that engage diverse 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, soprano Lucy Shelton, the Da Capo Chamber Players, the 21st Century Consort at the Smithsonian, Music from Copland House, pianist Lara Downes, and the JACK Quartet, 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, and the Sydney Opera House.
In recent seasons orchestras including the Seattle Symphony, American Composers Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Albany Symphony, and Melbourne Symphony have also given his works repeated hearings. He has also held composer residencies including those with the California Symphony, Arkansas Symphony, and Metropolitan Opera. Recordings of Visconti’s music have debuted on the Billboard Top Ten and are available from Bridge Records, Cedille Records, Naxos, Sono Luminus, Azica Records, Delos, and Fleur de Son Classics.
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, the Fromm Foundation, 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 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 is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post and his writing has also appeared in NewMusicBox, ArtsJournal, Medium, The Twenty-first Century Musician, and Symphony Magazine. Activities as tenure 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.
Photo: Bret Hartman