Big Ideas in art + culture + improvisation graphic for Vijay Iyer in conversation with Hafez Modirzadeh. Red latters over a whote background mark the series title; black letters mark the names of each participant. Big Ideas In Improvisation 2023: Vijay Iyer and Hafez Modirzadeh in Conversation

On Saturday, October 21st, 2023, IICSI and Musagetes co-presented the Big Ideas in Improvisation lecture, “Vijay Iyer and Hafez Modirzadeh: in Conversation” as a part of IICSI’s fourth annual Improvisation Festival: IF 2023. This event brought these two celebrated recording artists, educators, politically conscious collaborators, and pillars of creative music together for an afternoon of thought provoking, stimulating, and inspiring dialogue. Iyer and Modirzadeh shared their perspectives on improvisation, cultural stewardship, and the limits of systems and institutional thinking in a free-flowing discussion.

The event was recorded in its entirety, and is now available to watch below.

Thank you to the event’s organizer, Dr. Ajay Heble, as well as our sponsors: CFRU 93.3FM; the Art Gallery of Guelph; the College of Arts at the University of Guelph; Lost Aviator Coffee; and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

More about our speakers:

Described by The New York Times as a “social conscience, multimedia collaborator, system builder, rhapsodist, historical thinker and multicultural gateway,” VIJAY IYER has carved out a unique path as an influential, prolific, shape-shifting presence in twenty-first-century music. A composer and pianist active across multiple musical communities, Iyer has created a consistently innovative, emotionally resonant body of work over the last twenty-five years, earning him a place as one of the leading music-makers of his generation.

He received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, a United States Artist Fellowship, a Grammy nomination, the Alpert Award in the Arts, and two German “Echo” awards, and was voted Downbeat Magazine’s Jazz Artist of the Year four times in the last decade. He has been praised by Pitchfork as “one of the best in the world at what he does,” by the Los Angeles Weekly as “a boundless and deeply important young star,” and by Minnesota Public Radio as “an American treasure.”

Iyer’s musical language is grounded in the rhythmic traditions of South Asia and West Africa, the African American creative music movement of the 60s and 70s, and the lineage of composer-pianists from Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk to Alice Coltrane and Geri Allen. He has released twenty-four albums of his music, most recently UnEasy (ECM Records, 2021), a trio session with drummer Tyshawn Sorey and bassist Linda May Han Oh; The Transitory Poems (ECM, 2019), a live duo recording with pianist Craig Taborn; Far From Over (ECM, 2017) with the award-winning Vijay Iyer Sextet; and A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke (ECM, 2016) a suite of duets with visionary composer-trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith.

Iyer is also an active composer for classical ensembles and soloists. His works have been commissioned and premiered by Brentano Quartet, Imani Winds, Bang on a Can All-Stars, The Silk Road Ensemble, International Contemporary Ensemble, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, LA Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra, and virtuosi Matt Haimowitz, Claire Chase, Shai Wosner, and Jennifer Koh, among others. He recently served as composer-in-residence at London’s Wigmore Hall, music director of the Ojai Music Festival, and artist-in-residence at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A tireless collaborator, he has written big-band music for Arturo O’Farrill and Darcy James Argue, remixed classic recordings of Talvin Singh and Meredith Monk, joined forces with legendary musicians Henry Threadgill, Reggie Workman, Zakir Hussain, and L. Subramanian, and developed interdisciplinary work with Teju Cole, Carrie Mae Weems, Mike Ladd, Prashant Bhargava, and Karole Armitage.

A longtime New Yorker, Iyer lives in central Harlem with his wife and daughter. He teaches at Harvard University in the Department of Music and the Department of African and African American Studies. He is a Steinway artist.

HAFEZ MODIRZADEH’S work is global in scope and highly collaborative in nature. As a Pi Recordings artist and Professor of Creative Music at SF State University, over the past three decades, the influence of his original concepts – such as chromodality, aural archetypes, compost music, and convergence liberation – has galvanized innovative performance practices that extend beyond any one discipline, genre or generation. Most recently, Modirzadeh’s acclaimed “Facets” (PI 87) has taken explorations in resonance towards “an entirely new mode of expression” (Chicago Reader), with “a feeling of rich uncertainty” (New York Times) that serves as a “blueprint for pancultural parity” (Downbeat).

More about the Big Ideas in Improvisation series:

This annual series, presented by IICSI and Musagetes, showcases provocative thinkers and creative practitioners in a public forum as they share ideas and insights about the power, expansive force, and urgency of improvisation. These public lectures, aimed at a general audience, encourage us to consider how the artistic practices of improvisation developed by creative practitioners can translate into broader spheres of influence and action. Improvisational practices can put pressure on unquestioned assumptions, help us discover new ways of being, and put into action potential solutions to some of our most pressing contemporary global challenges. The Big Ideas in Improvisation lecture series is free and open to all.