Bryce Dessner is constantly expanding his musical horizons. Whether it's as guitarist for the National, curator of the MusicNOW festival, producer, film scorer, or composer-in-residence, he's always involved in creating new music, drawing on diverse elements and influences, whether it's music of other cultures or styles. Much of his creative energy is sparked by collaborations with other musicians.
Dessner and his twin brother Aaron have both played music since childhood. Bryce earned both his bachelor's and master's degree in music at Yale. The brothers joined with Bryan and Scott Devendorf and Matt Berninger to form the indie rock band the National in New York in 1999. In 2001, just as the National released their first album on the Brassland Records label -- co-founded by the Dessner brothers and Alec Hanley Bemis -- Bryce joined some of his Yale classmates, including Padma Newsome, to form Clogs, an ensemble collaboratively creating primarily acoustic instrumental music. Dessner founded the Cincinnati-based MusicNOW festival in 2006, which highlights contemporary music. Over the years it has featured an international roster of guests ranging from Glenn Kotche, Bell Orchestre, Kyaw Kyaw Naing, So Percussion, and Sufjan Stevens to the Kronos Quartet, the Cincinnati Symphony, and the Lone Bellow. He's also directed festivals in Brooklyn, London, and Cork, Ireland, some combining other arts with music.
Dessner began receiving commissions from organizations such as the American Composers Forum and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. A commission from the Kronos Quartet, Aheym (2009), was the first to bring him wider attention and was the centerpiece on a Kronos 2013 disc devoted to his music. St. Carolyn by the Sea (2011), a double concerto for electric guitars, commissioned in part by Muziekgebouw Eindhoven, along with two other Dessner works, was paired with film music by Jonny Greenwood for its premiere recording performed by the Copenhagen Philharmonic and Andre de Ridder, released in 2014 on Deutsche Grammophon. Other notable Dessner creations are Music for Wood and Strings, for So Percussion, performed on instruments designed by Dessner and Aron Sanchez; and Murder Ballades, featured on Eighth Blackbird's Grammy-nominated album Filament. Another Grammy-nominated album with Dessner's name on it was the National's 2013 Trouble Will Find Me, on which he worked as producer and orchestrator as well as performer.
Dessner became composer-in-residence at Muziekgebouw Eindhoven for a three-year period. During the residency, his band released the nine-LP box set Lot of Sorrow (2015), which captured a live, MoMA-hosted performance art collaboration with Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson from 2013. Dessner also contributed to the soundtrack for the Oscar-winning film The Revenant (2015), and a score he wrote with his brother Aaron for the 2016 thriller Transpecos received a soundtrack release on Milan Records. In 2017, the 4AD label released Planetarium, a collaborative work inspired by the Solar System that featured music by Dessner, Nico Muhly, Sufjan Stevens, and drummer James McAlister.