Doug Balliett is a composer, instrumentalist and poet based in New York City. The New York Times has described his poetry as “brilliant and witty” (Clytie and the Sun), his bass playing as “elegant” (Shawn Jaeger’s In Old Virginny), and his compositions as “vivid, emotive, with contemporary twists” (Actaeon). Popular new music blog I Care if You Listen has critiqued Mr. Balliett’s work as “weird in the best possible way” (A Gnostic Passion) and “light-hearted yet dark…it had the audience laughing one minute and in tears the next…” (Pyramus and Thisbe). With a constant stream of commissions, a weekly show on New York Public Radio, and nearly 200 performances per year, Mr. Balliett has been identified as an emerging voice for his generation.
Raised in central Massachusetts, Mr. Balliett graduated from Harvard with high honors in 2007 and from Juilliard in 2012, with a Master’s in Historical Performance. During this time he received compositional guidance from John Harbison, Elliot Gyger, and Philip Lasser. Primarily a composer of vocal music, Mr. Balliett has written for some of New York’s best singers, including Grammy winners Estelí Gomez and Dashon Burton, members of the Trinity Wall Street Choir, as well as young breakout singers Charlotte Mundy, Davone Tines, and Ariadne Greif. Recent projects include the evening-length A Gnostic Passion, written with his twin brother and commissioned by CANTORI NYC, a cycle of songs based on stories from The Brothers Grimm which premiered at the Lucerne Festival, and a series of rap cantatas based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which have been commissioned from musicians across America. He has held composer-in-residence positions with the Lucerne Festival Academy, the Chelsea Music Festival, New Vintage Baroque, the Millennials, and the Colonials. His works have been performed at many major New York venues, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Juilliard, the Stone, SubCulture, (le) Poisson Rouge, Galapagos, ShapeshifterLab, and Spectrum. Upcoming premieres include a double bass concerto for Juilliard faculty member Robert Nairn and a new cantata for members of Les Arts Florissants and Le Jardin des Voix, to be written specifically for William Christie’s personal gardens.
Mr. Balliett has wide-ranging interests, many of which he shares with his twin brother Brad. The two host The Brothers Balliett on WQXR’s Q2; a weekly show exploring new music. The brothers also curate a monthly series at Spectrum on the Lower East Side, featuring many major NYC new music luminaries. Mr. Balliett has given talks at the International Society of Double Bassists on historical performance, conducted many performances of his own works, and tirelessly composes poetry. Alongside his brother and composer Elliot Cole, Mr. Balliett is a member of The Oracle Hysterical, a half-band-half-book-club that has presented hip-hoperas, art-rock song cycles, rap cantatas, and other genre-bending works all over America and Europe. Their most recent endeavor took them to Chicago, where they performed their album Hecuba with the Chicago Composers Orchestra.
Trained as a classical double bass player by Todd Seeber during his time at Harvard, Mr. Balliett maintains an extremely active career as a performer. He has performed as principal or solo double bass with Ensemble Modern, the San Antonio Symphony, Alarm Will Sound, and many other ensembles. He has collaborated with musicians from all walks, ranging from baroque opera at William Christie’s French estate, to tours with pop band Pink Martini, to appearances with MacArthur fellow Steve Coleman at the Newport Jazz Festival. Deeply committed to period instrument performance, Mr. Balliett is also principal bass of the Trinity Wall Street Baroque Orchestra, the Holy Trinity Lutheran Bach Orchestra, 17th century string band ACRONYM, and has appeared as principal bass of Les Arts Florissants, Boston Baroque, the Handel & Haydn Society, and the Washington Cathedral. He performs regularly on the viola da gamba and the violone.
Hometown is Westborough, Massachusetts. Other places were Cambridge, MA and San Antonio, TX.
I play lots of instruments, some better than others: Bass, Violone, Viola da gamba, Viennese bass, electric bass, guitar, banjo, flugelhorn, harmonica, etc.
What music or pieces turns you on?
I love anything that has something to say and says it well.
Big glass of water.
Favorite drink post concert?
Big glass of gin and tonic. Or a nice IPA.