Composers Datebook®

Iyer's 'Mutations'

Composers Datebook - Jan. 27, 2024


To say that American composer and jazz pianist Vijay Iyer is a multifaceted artist would be quite the understatement. The son of Tamil immigrants, he was born and raised in New York and began classical music training at 3. His undergraduate degree at Yale was in mathematics and physics, but music retained its strong pull. At the University of California, Berkeley, his 1998 Ph.D. dissertation was titled, “Microstructures of Feel, Macrostructures of Sound: Embodied Cognition in West African and African-American Musics.”

As a pianist, Iyer started attracting a lot of attention. Reviewing Break Stuff, his 20th CD release, critic Steve Greenlee wrote, “He may be the most celebrated musician in jazz.”

On today’s date in 2005, Iyer and the Ethel String Quartet gave the premiere performance of his chamber work Mutations, a suite that combines improvisatory elements of jazz with the meticulously organized scoring of contemporary classical music. The work was recorded for the ECM label, a home for many cross-discipline composers and performers.

“The world likes to put us in boxes,” Iyer says. “But when you’re an artist, a composer, a creative person … you find a lot of different sides of yourself opening up.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Vijay Iyer (b. 1971) Mutations; Vijay Iyer, p; Ethel String Quartet ECM 2372

On This Day


  • 1756 - Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in Salzburg;

  • 1806 - Spanish composer Juan Crisostomo Arriage, in Rigoitia;

  • 1823 - French composer Edouard Lalo, in Lille;

  • 1885 - American composer Jerome Kern, in New York City;


  • 1901 - Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, age 87, in Milan;


  • 1726 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 72 ("Alles nur nach Gottes Willen") performed on the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany as part of Bach's third annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1725/27);

  • 1733 - Handel: opera "Orlando" in London at the King's Theater in the Haymarket(Gregorian date: Feb. 7);

  • 1844 - Erkel: opera "Hunyady László," considered the first national Hungarian opera, in Budapest;

  • 1849 - Verdi: opera "La battaglia di Legnano" (The Battle of Legnano), in Rome at the Teatro Argentina;

  • 1874 - Mussorgsky: opera "Boris Godunov", in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: Feb. 8);

  • 1944 - Paul Creston: Saxophone Concerto, in New York;

  • 1947 - Stravinsky: Concerto in D, in Basle (Switzerland), by the Basle Chamber Orchestra conducted by Paul Sacher (who commissioned the work);

  • 1955 - Tippett: opera "The Midsummer Marriage," in London at the Royal Opera House, with John Pritchard conducting (and soprano Joan Sutherland in the cast);

  • 1967 - Leon Kirchner: Quartet No. 3 for strings and electronic tape, in New York City, by the Beaux Arts Quartet; This work was awarded the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Music;

  • 1991 - Off-Broadway premiere of Sondheim: musical "Assassins."

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®