The story, so far.
Hailed by the New York Times as “prodigiously accomplished and exciting” and as one of the piano’s “brilliant stars,” pianist Blair McMillen has forged a busy musical life that is unbounded by convention. He is well-known for his advocacy of living composers and contemporary music, as well as for championing very early keyboard music and more recent neglected masterpieces. For the better part of two decades, McMillen has divided his time as soloist, chamber musician, music festival director, and educator/teacher.
Blair McMillen has performed in major concert venues in New York City, throughout the United States, and around the world. Recent appearances include concertos with the American Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, solo appearances with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Albany Symphony, and a 3-week solo tour of Brazil sponsored by the US State Department. He is a member of several prominent ensembles, including the American Modern Ensemble, the Bardian Ensemble, the six-piano “supergroup” Grand Band, and the Perspectives Ensemble, among others. For 12 years he was pianist for the Naumburg Award-winning Da Capo Chamber Players.
As a teacher and pedagogue, McMillen is in high demand. He has taught at Bard College and Conservatory since 2005, and he serves on the piano faculty at the Mannes School of Music in New York City. He regularly adjudicates at competitions and festivals throughout the United States and abroad. In past summers, McMillen has taught at the Elm City Chamber Festival, the Xi’an Festival, the Wellesley Composers Conference, the Samuel Barber Institute, and the Bennington Chamber Music Festival, to name a few.
His first solo CD “Soundings,” was released to critical acclaim in 2001. Since then, McMillen has been featured on dozens of commercially-released solo, chamber, and orchestral recordings. A recent album of two-piano music with Stephen Gosling, “Powerhouse Pianists II,” was declared “one of the finest piano recordings of the year” by NPR. A 2017 ECM recording with violinist Miranda Cuckson was hailed by The Guardian for “...playing that is frank and urgent, with powerfully stripped-back quiet passages in Bartók’s Second Sonata, a gritted-teeth ecstatic climax at the heart of Lutosławski’s Partita, and brutal attacks and silences in Schnittke’s extraordinary Second Sonata.”
McMillen is the co-founder and co-director of the Rite of Summer Music Festival. Rite of Summer was started as a free, outdoor contemporary-music series, held on New York City’s Governors Island. The festival has presented boundary-pushing artists such as the JACK Quartet, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Tigue, Dawn Of MIDI, Theo Bleckmann, Todd Reynolds, Contemporaneous, and Don Byron’s New Gospel Quintet. Celebrating its ninth season in 2019, Rite of Summer is still the only annual music festival on Governors Island, a place the New Yorker has called “an enormous playground for the arts.”
Blair McMIllen holds degrees from Oberlin College, Manhattan School of Music, and The Juilliard School. While at Juilliard he was featured as concerto soloist on a tour of Japan with the Juilliard Orchestra. As a Masters student there, he won both the Gina Bachaeur Competition and the Sony “Elevated Standards” Career Grant. McMillen’s principal teachers have included Jerome Lowenthal, Robert McDonald, Joseph Kalichstein, and Byron Janis. He lives in New York with his wife Kay and son Conor. In his spare time he enjoys biking, skiing, film, alt-jazz, and the occasional semi-competitive game of table tennis.