Composer/pianist Michael Harrison has been called “an American Maverick” by Philip Glass. The New York Times wrote of his recent collaboration with Grammy-winning vocal arts project Roomful of Teeth, "Harrison's 'Just Constellations'… proved particularly arresting, a celestial soundscape of gorgeous harmonies… the notes rang out like a jubilantly microtonal choir of bells."
Harrison has collaborated or performed with filmmaker Bill Morrison, cellist Maya Beiser, Kronos Quartet, JACK Quartet, Del Sol Quartet, Stuttgart Ballet, Contemporaneous, and his mentors, composers La Monte Young and Terry Riley. Recent commissions include New Music USA for a collaborative recording with Indian vocalist Mashkoor Ali Khan, Roomful of Teeth, violinist Mari Kimura, cellist Clarice Jensen, Young People’s Chorus of New York City, and percussionist Payton MacDonald.
His music has been performed at BAM Next Wave Festival, the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, MASS MoCA, Park Avenue Armory, Spoleto Festival USA, the United Nations, Ojai Music Festival, Bang on a Can marathon, National Sawdust, Other Minds, Klavier Festival Ruhr, Quattro Pianoforti in Rome, American Academy in Rome, Strings of Autumn in Prague, Havana Contemporary Music Festival, Sundance and other film festivals throughout the world.
Harrison’s Harmonic Constellations (New World Records, 2016), the title track for Mari Kimura’s new CD, is scored for violin with 13 pre-recorded violin tracks and sine tones. Time Loops (Cantaloupe Music), his CD with Maya Beiser, was selected as one of NPR’s Top 10 Classical Albums of 2012. Revelation: Music in Pure Intonation (Cantaloupe Music), his 75-minute work for just intonation piano,was chosen by The New York Times, Boston Globe and Time Out New York as one of the Best Classical Recordings of 2007. 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. Upcoming recordings include Radians Phase II for Third Sound on Innova Recordings, and Cello Constellations for Clarice Jensen on Sono Luminus. His works have also been released on New Albion Records, Important Records, and Fortuna Records.
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 monumental 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 1999 he has been a disciple of Mashkoor Ali Khan and the co-founder and president of the American Academy of Indian Classical Music. Harrison earned his M.M. in composition at the Manhattan School of Music where he studied with Reiko Fueting, and his B.M. in composition at the University of Oregon where he later received the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award. Harrison has also been on faculty at the Rhode Island School of Design, Manhattan School of Music’s Contemporary Performance Program, and Bang on a Can Summer Institute.
Recent awards include the American Composers Forum Delegation to Cuba, Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Classical Recording Foundation Award, and IBLA Foundation Grand Prize. Harrison has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, where he serves on the Fellows Executive Committee, the American Academy in Rome, MASS MoCA, Yaddo, Bogliasco Foundation, Millay Colony for the Arts, Djerassi Artists Residency, Ucross Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Atlantic Music Festival.