Ben Melsky - Harp

Photo: Aleksandr Karjaka

Photo: Aleksandr Karjaka

“Melsky’s playing belied any perceived limits of his instrument. Even within phrases, individual notes had different colors and sensations, and melodies seemed to break free from their surroundings.”  – Chicago Classical Review


Dedicated to connecting audiences to the music of the 20th and 21st centuries, Chicago-based Ben Melsky is Executive Director and harpist of the internationally-acclaimed Ensemble Dal Niente. In close collaboration with composers and performers he encourages the creation of new work to break pre-conceived notions of the harp’s capabilities, activating new techniques, sounds, and performance practices.

Ben’s concert activities include national and international appearances in solo and chamber ensemble configurations. Recently he has performed at the Library of Congress, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), the Ecstatic Music Festival at the Kaufmann Center (NYC), Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music (Germany), and Art Institute of Chicago with upcoming engagements at the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Festival Noon to Midnight, Stanford University, New Music New College, University of California Davis, and the Foro Internacional de Musica Nueva (Mexico City, MX). Having premiered hundreds of new works featuring the harp, he has worked closely with composers George Lewis, Raphael Cendo, Augusta Read Thomas, Enno Poppe, Anthony Cheung, Wang Lu, Mark Andre, Tomas Gueglio, Alican Çamci, Timothy Page, Drew Baker, Eliza Brown, Katherine Young, Jeff Parker, Marcos Balter, Fredrick Gifford, Sky Macklay, Chris Fisher-Lochhead, Mikel Kuehn, and Suzanne Farrin. Also, regularly collaborating with artists across disciplines and across borders, Ben has worked closely with the German-Icelandic contemporary music quartet Ensemble Adapter, indie noise rock group Deerhoof, and dance company Delfos Danza Contemporanea (Mazatlán, MX) with whom he was in residence at La Escuela Profesional de Danza de Mazatlán developing Proa, a new multidisciplinary piece for harp, prepared piano, and four dancers.

Additionally Ben is the principal harpist of the Joffrey Ballet and a core member of the Grossman Ensemble, the resident ensemble of the University of Chicago’s Center for Contemporary Composition comprised of thirteen of the country’s leading contemporary music specialists. Ben has played with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Grant Park Music Festival, Ann Arbor Symphony, and Chicago Opera Theater and has played in Jeff-Award winning musicals Sunday in Park with George and Follies at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, A Little Night Music at Writer’s Theater, and Animal Crackers at the Goodman Theater.

His discography includes: Assemblage (New World Records) an Ensemble Dal Niente portrait album of American composer and scholar George Lewis which was named “Best of 2017” by the National Sawdust Log and one of the “Notable performances and recordings of 2017” by Alex Ross; Balter / Saunier (New Amsterdam Records), Dal Niente’s collaboration with rock band Deerhoof called “a weird and wonderful musical exchange” by Pitchfork Magazine; and a forthcoming solo album of works by Tomás Gueglio, Alican Çamci, Wang Lu, Marc Andre, Eliza Brown, and Fredrick Gifford.

Under his leadership, Ensemble Dal Niente increased its concert activities to over forty concerts per year reaching an international listenership. In 2017 the ensemble launched STAGED, a series of four fully-staged productions that brought together collaborators from theater, scenic design, movement, shadow puppetry and lighting design. Building on its reputation for commissioning and premiering major new works, the group has landed commissions of composers Ted Hearne, Anthony Cheung, Sky Macklay, and Erin Gee. Dal Niente continues to be a model for contemporary music ensembles; producing risk-taking, intellectually rigorous, and aesthetically inspiring musical performances while expanding organizational capacity and building long-term sustainability.

Ben received his Doctorate of Musical Arts from Northwestern University where he studied with Elizabeth Cifani and also where he received both BM and MM. He was a student participant in the 2016 Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music where he worked with harpist Gunnhilder Einarsdottir.

“a phenomenal harpist” – Chicago Magazine

“The harpist was the astounding Ben Melsky, who brought virtuosity and elegance to his solo role.”– Chicago Classical Review