Karen Tanaka is an exceptionally versatile composer and pianist. Her works have been performed by distinguished orchestras and ensembles worldwide including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Utah Symphony, Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Kronos Quartet, Brodsky Quartet, BIT20 Ensemble, among many others. Various choreographers and dance companies, including Wayne McGregor and Nederlands Dans Theater, have often featured her music.
Born in Tokyo, she started formal piano and composition lessons as a child. After studying composition with Akira Miyoshi at Toho Gakuen School of Music, she moved to Paris in 1986 with the aid of a French Government Scholarship to study with Tristan Murail and work at IRCAM. In 1987 she was awarded the Gaudeamus Prize at the International Music Week in Amsterdam for her piano concerto Anamorphose. She studied with Luciano Berio in Florence in 1990-91 with funds from the Nadia Boulanger Foundation and a Japanese Government Scholarship. In 1996, she received the Margaret Lee Crofts Fellowship at the Tanglewood Music Center. In 1998 she was appointed as Co-Artistic Director of the Yatsugatake Kogen Music Festival, previously directed by Toru Takemitsu. In 2012, she was selected as a fellow of the Sundance Institute’s Composers Lab for feature film and mentored by Hollywood’s leading composers. Recently, she served as Lead Orchestrator for the BBC’s TV series, Planet Earth II. Karen Tanaka lives in Los Angeles and teaches composition at California Institute of the Arts.