Ezequiel Viñao was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He first studied piano with Manuel Rego and composition with Jacobo Ficher. Early on he developed an interest in music technology and in the rhythmic cycles of India, both of which would later assume a dominant role in his music.
His formative works, such as ‘La Noche de las Noches’ for string quartet and electronics -"concentrated, evocative, of austerely theatrical force" (The Times, London)- or the solo tape piece 'Voices of Silence' -"exquisitely sustained music" (Express News, San Antonio)- were already found to show a distinctive style. While still a teenager, Viñao’s skill at the keyboard drew the attention of American pianist Earl Wild. At the time, Argentina was going through what has been described as a “cultural dead end”, particularly because aesthetics came to be subordinated to politics and questions about acceptable ideological lines. Wild was instrumental in securing a United Nations grant that allowed Viñao to leave his home country and move to New York.


Ezequiel then attended the Juilliard School, where he studied with Gyorgy Sandor and Milton Babbitt. After graduating, he was invited to Avignon, France, to work with Olivier Messiaen in a series of televised master classes. This experience had a lasting influence on Viñao's style, particularly in relation to the use of dissonance and consonance as pure color, rather than as tension and release. This concept permeates 'The Conference of the Birds', a work for piano and electronics inspired by a medieval Sufi text. Soon after it was completed, the piece was performed in Europe, Japan, and the United States. Newsday, reviewing a performance at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, found the work "fascinating." Similarly, after the West Coast premiere, the L.A. Times remarked how it "filled the hall with a sense of expectation and cresting excitement."


'The Conference of the Birds', as well as a first book of piano 'Études', brought Ezequiel Viñao wider recognition in the international musical scene. So in 1992, through a commission from the Boston Pro Arte Orchestra to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World, he was able to realize an idea that had interested him for some time: a work integrating “live” electronics and orchestra. The Boston Herald described the resulting 'El Sueño de Cristobal'; as "a hallucinatory vision of the sleeping admiral's dream voyage, marked by skewed dance rhythms and accumulating textures of fevered intensity." *

* (In 1995 the work was awarded a “Commendation for Excellence” from the Barlow Endowment, and a few years later, in 1998, it was performed at Carnegie Hall by the ACO under Dennis Russell Davis. Then, in 2010,  it was revised and enlarged. This new version was premiered at the opening night gala of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic in the newly refurbished Teatro Colón. The concert was part of the bicentennial of Argentinean independence.)


Through Messiaen, Viñao had also acquired the tools to rethink rhythm and its potential to organize form. Complex rhythmic structures were prominent in several of his works from the 1990's (e.g., 'The Seven Valleys' for violin and electronics, written in 1992; the 'Trio' for violin, cello and piano, which he began to compose in 1994, and even the 'Fantaisie' of 1998). In 1995, The Washington Post remarked how Viñao "carved compelling musical statements out of virtuosity, engaging the ear in a fantastic harmonic language." The following season, Jed Distler, reviewing the first concert devoted solely to Viñao's compositions (Weill Hall at Carnegie) found that: "there is nothing generic about this highly gifted composer, whose music, whichever way it turns, is always vibrant and alive." A commercial recording of the concert followed, and Fanfare -the recording industry publication- focused on the dramatic impact of the works: "the powerful, evocative music of Ezequiel Viñao is a real find. It is intensely communicative without sacrificing invention and originality."


An increasing concern with the articulation of large-scale form led Viñao to view the notion of scale (rather than process) as the one imparting structural stability. The unfolding of long, vocally conceived lines, as well as the concept of "reinterpretation" (the recontextualization of past narratives), began to interest him, causing him to research medieval sources, especially Spanish chant. This led to 'Arcanum' (1996), an hour long vocal cycle where "...the music draws on old European musical traditions or on non-European music. The most remarkable thing about it is that the music never sounds like pastiche or parody. Quite the contrary; it possesses a timeless quality that -curiously enough- sounds remarkably modern" (MusicWeb-UK).


In 2000, Ezequiel was asked to participate in “A Great Day in New York”, a portrait of fifty-four living composers inspired by the classic 1959 photograph of jazz legends in Harlem. The picture, which appeared full page in the New York Times, was a Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society initiative to “celebrate composers who have drawn inspiration from living in the city and have played a role in its musical life”. The project also included a concert series at Lincoln Center.


In 2002, New York City Opera selected a scene from ‘Merlin’ (an unfinished opera in collaboration with best-selling author Caleb Carr) to be presented, semi-staged, in the VOX Series, their showcase for American composers.


Later works include 'Saga' (2003), an evening length piece for large chamber ensemble and soloists, written for the Composer Portrait Series at Miller Theater in New York (where it was premiered by Joseph Kalichtein, Anne Akiko Meyers and Kristjan Jarvi's Absolute Ensemble); 'The Loss and the Silence' (2004), commissioned by the Juilliard School for its centennial and premiered by the Juilliard String Quartet; 'The Wanderer' (2005), a setting of a tenth century Anglo-Saxon text commissioned by Chanticleer, Chicago A Cappella and Meet the Composer; ‘Three Versions of a Dream’ (2008), a radio piece commissioned by WNYC; ‘Beowulf: Scyld’s Burial’ (2009), for SATB and percussion quartet, commissioned by the National Chamber Choir of Ireland and the Cork International Choral Festival;  ‘Sirocco Dust’ (2009), commissioned by the Library of Congress and Stanford Lively Arts for the St. Lawrence String Quartet, and ‘Sonetos de Amor’ (2012) a setting of Pablo Neruda’s poetry commissioned by the Jebediah Foundation and premiered at Lincoln Center -“A rich, beguiling work” (The New York Times). The piece had its European premiere at the Zwischentöne Festival (Switzerland) in 2021.


In 2015, Mr. Viñao worked as a co-producer in the mastering sessions of “Vivo en Red House”, a live album (Sony) documenting the reunion (after a 30 year hiatus) of Manal, a foundational group in Latin-American rock.


In the last decade, Mr. Viñao has been invited to lecture in a variety of settings, Including UC Berkeley’s center for New Music & Audio Tecnologies; the University of Cambridge (UK) Center for Music & Science; the Jorge Luis Borges Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, and as a Visiting Scholar at NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center (2017 & 2019). In 2017 he was also invited to join a working group of NYU’s Global Institute for Advanced Study in Ghana where in addition to meeting with prominent local artists and scholars, he made field recordings of traditional Akan music.


Mr. Viñao is currently developing ‘La Crónica Andalusí’, a staged narrative (neither a conventional opera nor really a play) that uses music as the principal means of articulation. The subject matter is the rise and fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba in medieval Spain. A video version of the “opera” is also in the works.


Ezequiel Viñao's music is available from TLON Editions and can be heard on BIS Records, ICMA and Pro Piano Records. He has also served as a consultant for Nonesuch's best-selling recordings of Gershwin's piano rolls.

Mr. Viñao is in the faculty of New York University (Steinhardt).

 

"rich, beguiling work"

Steve Smith, The New York Times

THE CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS (excerpt)

ezequiel viñao

(biography)