Composer/pianist Michael Harrison has been called “an American Maverick” by Philip Glass. Through his expertise in “just intonation” (pure tunings) and Indian ragas, Harrison has created “a new harmonic world…of vibrant sound” (The New York Times). His professional engagements have included associations with filmmakers, choreographers, visual artists and architects, including filmmaker Bill Morrison, cellist Maya Beiser, Roomful of Teeth, Stuttgart Ballet, Kronos Quartet, JACK Quartet, Del Sol Quartet, and Contemporaneous, as well as with his mentors, composers La Monte Young and Terry Riley.
Harrison’s Time Loops CD with Maya Beiser, on Bang on a Can’s Cantaloupe Music label, was selected by NPR as one of the Top 10 Classical Albums of 2012. His 75-minute work for just intonation piano, Revelation: Music in Pure Intonation(Cantaloupe), was chosen by The New York Times, Boston Globe and Time Out New York as one of the Best Classical Recordings of 2007. Esteemed critic Tim Page wrote: Michael Harrison's “Revelation: Music in Pure Intonation” is probably the most brilliant and original extended composition for solo piano since the early works of Frederic Rzewski three decades ago.
Harrison’s compositions have received performances at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next
Wave Festival, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie’s Zankel Hall,
Park Avenue Armory, the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, MASS MoCA, Spoleto Festival USA, the United
Nations, Ojai Music Festival, Bang on a Can marathon, Big Ears Festival, WNYC New Sounds Live at
Merkin Concert Hall, National Sawdust, Le Poisson Rouge, Other Minds Festival, Klavier Festival Ruhr, Quattro Pianoforti in Rome, American Academy in Rome, Strings of Autumn in Prague, Havana Contemporary Music Festival, and at Sundance and other film festivals throughout the world.
Recent commissions and upcoming recordings include Just Constellations for Roomful of Teeth
(New Amsterdam Records), Harmonic Constellations for violinist Mari Kimura (New World Records), Cello Constellations for Clarice Jensen, Radians Phase II for Third Sound (Innova Recordings), Jaunpuri and Hijaz Prelude for pianist Sophia Subbayya Vastek (Innova Recordings), and a New Music USA commission for an album with Indian vocalist Mashkoor Ali Khan and tabla virtuoso Anindo Chatterjee. Chapters are devoted to Harrison’s music in the books Grand Obsession (Perri Knize, Scribner) and Temperament (Stuart Isacoff, Alfred A. Knopf).
As La Monte Young’s composition and tuning assistant in the 1980’s, Harrison executed the specialized tunings and scores for Young's 6½-hour work, The Well-Tuned Piano, eventually becoming the only other person to perform this work. Later Harrison created the “harmonic piano,” an extensively modified grand piano able to play 24 notes per octave. Along with Young and Riley, Harrison was a disciple of master Indian vocalist Pandit Pran Nath from 1979 to 1996. Since then he continues studying Indian classical music with Mashkoor Ali Khan.
Harrison earned his Master’s Degree in composition at the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with Reiko Fueting, and his Bachelor’s Degree in composition at the University of Oregon. He is the co-founder and president of the American Academy of Indian Classical Music. He has been on the faculty at Rhode Island School of Design, Manhattan School of Music, and Bang on a Can Summer Institute, and has taught composition seminars at Princeton University, Columbia University, and many other institutions throughout the country. Recent awards include the American Composers Forum Delegation to Cuba, New Music USA, Aaron Copland Fund, Classical Recording Foundation Award, University of Oregon Distinguished Alumnus Award, IBLA Foundation Grand Prize, and fellowships from the American Academy in Rome, Yaddo, Djerassi, Ucross, Millay, VCCA, Bogliasco, and MacDowell, where he has served on the Fellows Executive Committee since 2013.