Mahan Esfahani has made it his life’s mission to rehabilitate the harpsichord in the mainstream of concert instruments.
To that end, his creative programming and track record in commissioning new works have drawn the attention of critics and audiences across Europe, Asia, and North America. He was the first and only harpsichordist to be a BBC New Generation Artist (2008-2010), a Borletti-Buitoni prize winner (2009), and a nominee for Gramophone’s Artist of the Year (2014, 2015, and 2017).
Esfahani’s work for the harpsichord has resulted in recitals in most of the major series and concert halls, amongst them London’s Wigmore Hall and Barbican Centre, Oji Hall in Tokyo, the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing, Shanghai Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, Melbourne Recital Centre, Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, Berlin Konzerthaus, Zurich Tonhalle, Wiener Konzerthaus, San Francisco Performances, the 92nd St Y, Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, Cologne Philharmonie, Edinburgh International Festival, Aspen Music Festival, Aldeburgh Festival, Madrid’s Fundacio Juan March, Bergen Festival, Festival Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the Dialoge Festival at the Salzburg Mozarteum, Al Bustan Festival in Beirut, Jerusalem Arts Festival, and the Leipzig Bach Festival.
He has made concerto appearances with the Chicago Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, BBC Symphony, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Melbourne Symphony, Auckland Philharmonia, Czech Radio Symphony, Orquesta de Navarra, Malta Philharmonic, Aarhus Symphony, Hamburg Symphony, Munich Chamber Orchestra, Britten Sinfonia, the Royal Northern Sinfonia, and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, with whom he was an artistic partner for 2016-2018.
Recent highlights include his Carnegie Hall and Wiener Musikverein debuts, residencies with both the RLPO and the Royal Northern Sinfonia, premieres by George Lewis (for the Miller Theatre at Columbia University) and Miroslav Srnka (for Contempuls Prague), the Asian premiere of Michael Nyman’s Harpsichord Concerto at Tokyo’s Sumida Triphony Hall, an evening of new works for electronics and harpsichord at the Barbican, and the continuation of a multi-year project of the complete keyboard works of J.S. Bach for Wigmore Hall, with whom he has enjoyed an association since he made his debut there in 2009.
His richly-varied discography includes three critically-acclaimed recordings for Hyperion – the C.P.E. Bach Württemberg Sonatas garnering a 2014 Gramophone Award and the Complete Pièces de Clavecin of Rameau being nominated both for a Gramophone and being named in the New York Times Critics’ List of Top Recordings of 2014, and an autumn 2018 release, ‘The Passinge Mesures’ marking his return to the label, and two albums for Deutsche Grammophon. The first for DG, ‘Time Present and Time Past,’ garnered a ‘Choc de Classica’ in France, while the latest of Bach’s ‘Goldberg’ Variations was released in August 2016 to praise from the British and foreign press, most notably being named to the long list for the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik and winning the BBC Music Magazine 2017 Instrumental Award.
He has also recorded Dutilleux with the Seattle Symphony under Ludovic Morlot and an album for Wigmore Hall Live, which again was honoured with a Gramophone nomination. A recording of Corelli with the legendary Michala Petri – a particularly important duo to his own heart – was awarded an ICMA in 2016.
Esfahani studied musicology and history at Stanford University and studied harpsichord in Boston with Peter Watchorn before completing his formation under the celebrated Czech harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková. Following a three-year stint as Artist-in-Residence at New College, Oxford, he continues his academic associations as an honorary member at Keble College, Oxford, and as professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
He can be frequently heard as a commentator on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4 and as a host for such programs as Record Review, Building a Library, and Sunday Feature; for the latter programme he is currently at work on his third radio documentary following three popular programmes on such subjects as the history of African-American composers in the classical sphere and the development of orchestral music in Azerbaijan.
Esfahani was born in Tehran in 1984 and raised in the United States. He lived in Milan and then London for several years, before taking up residence in Prague.