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Reena Esmail

Los Angeles, CA      

Indian-American composer Reena Esmail enjoys working in both the Western and Hindustani (North Indian) classical music idioms.

Esmail holds a bachelors degree in composition from The Juilliard School, and a masters degree from the Yale School of Music. Her primary teachers have included Susan BottiAaron Jay Kernis, Christopher Theofanidis and Martin BresnickChristopher Rouse and Samuel Adler. She has won numerous awards, including the Walter Hinrichsen Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (and subsequent publication of a work by C.F. Peters) and two ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards. She is currently in the post-residential period of her doctoral degree at the Yale School of Music.

Esmail was a recipient of a Fulbright-Nehru grant for the 2011-2012 year and lived in New Delhi, India, where she was affiliated with the Faculty of Music and Fine Arts at Delhi University, and studied Hindustani vocal music with Gaurav Mazumdar. She was selected as a 2011 INK Fellow to speak about her work at the INK Conference (in association with TED) in Jaipur, with additional speaking engagements in Chennai, Delhi and Goa. For the 2010-11 season, she was the conductor and arranger for Yale’s Hindi a cappella group, Sur et Veritaal. Esmail’s doctoral thesis, entitled Finding Common Ground: Uniting Practies in Hindustani and Western Art Musicians explores the methods and challenges of the collaborative process between Hindustani musicians and Western composers. Her most recent Hindustani vocal studies have been with Srimati Lakshmi Shankar and Saili Kalyanpur in Los Angeles, CA.

As a pianist, Esmail was a winner in the MTAC-WLA Chamber Music Competition in 2001, and performed chamber music with members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She has studied violin with Ella Rutkovsky-Heifets, and has sung with the New Amsterdam Singers and C4.

Esmail was on the composition faculty at Manhattan School of Music Precollege from 2008-2011, and was also on the theory and ear training faculty there from 2006-2009. Both her composition and piano students have placed in state and national competitions. She taught music theory courses at Yale College from 2012-14.

Recent commissions include: Teen Murti (तीन मुर्ति) for string orchestra, commissioned by the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Mei-Ann Chen; Curiosity for the Pasadena Master Chorale, a new work for Mount Holyoke Glee Club, and a collaborative work for the Albany Symphony and bharatanatyam dancer Sisira Gorthala. Her recent film work includes scores for Kali Juger Kumbh, a Bengali film by filmmaker Ashish Avikunthak and Radha, by filmmaker Rupeshi Shah.

Esmail currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

(updated October 2014)


Excerpt of Avartan.

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Excerpt of Vishwas performed by Dogs of Desire.

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NewMusicBox Articles

Articles October 30 2014 | By Reena Esmail
Hindustani Music: The Four-Syllable Darling and Text Setting in Hindi

Learning Hindi in its written and sung forms simultaneously has been revealing in so many ways. Little idiosyncracies I would have otherwise missed in the language are illuminated through song.

Articles October 23 2014 | By Reena Esmail
Hindustani Music: Cultural Collisions (and Washing Machines)

The unlikely collisions between the two musical cultures I inhabit bring up so many questions for me about musical perception: What do people from one musical culture hear in the...

Articles October 16 2014 | By Reena Esmail
Hindustani Music: Let It Go

When I began to study Hindustani music, I treated the recording of each lesson the way I would have treated the score of a Beethoven sonata, meticulously learning and memorizing...

See more of Reena Esmail's articles on NewMusicBox.