2013 Prize Recipients

The Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science

Richard Flavell, Ph.D., FRS

Better than most do, Yale immunologist Richard A. Flavell understands how the best-laid plans involving mice and men can go astray. “All animal models are abstractions,” he has said. “You're not studying humans but a process in animals that is relevant to humans.” Still, Dr. Flavell and his researchers work almost entirely with mouse models to discover why the human immune system sometimes fails to protect the body from foreign invaders, leading to such debilitating autoimmune diseases as Type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease.

By the eighties, the results of Dr. Flavell’s research with genetically engineered mice were notablea vaccine for Lyme disease among thembut there had to be a better way, he believed. Together with his colleagues, he set to work building a better mouse model, one with human immune cells that would make it possible to safely and reliably assess potential vaccines and therapies prior to human trials. Today, “humanized” mice are in wide use in scientific research, promising hope for the development of vaccines for HIV, multiple sclerosis, and other autoimmune disorders.

Ironically, the future of this innovative scientist looked anything but promising initially. Born in the Essex region of England, Dr. Flavell admits he “was a very bad pupil, [who] lacked motivation and found everything boring.” It was a chemistry teacher who broke through his intellectual malaise, inspiring him to do chemistry experiments and this led him to combine this interest with his fascination with natural history. He began to “want to discover things.”

He went on to earn his PhD in Biochemistry, from Hull University, and conducted his postdoc work at the University of Amsterdam and the University of Zurich. While at the latter, by first altering a gene’s function and then analyzing the effect on the development or behavior of the organismthe opposite approach to classical, “forward genetics”he opened the door to a new field of study, logically dubbed “reverse genetics.” 

As Assistant Professor at the University of Amsterdam (his first faculty position), he made a second notable discovery: that mammalian DNA contains introns, segments of genetic code that break up a gene into pieces. He continued his gene studies back in England, as head of the Laboratory of Gene Structure and Expression at the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill. Then, in 1982, he left academia, drawn by “the dawn of biotech” to take the helm at Biogen Research Corporation, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But when Yale came calling six years later, he turned in his corporate credentials to become founding Chairman of the School of Medicine’s Immunobiology department. Today, the Sterling Professor of Immunobiology, and HHMI investigator, directs one of the top immunology programs in the country, as well as his own lab.

Dr. Flavell’s contributions to the field of genetics are reflected in the recognition of the science community worldwide. He received the Invitrogen Meritorious Career Award from the American Association of Immunologists, and was made a member of the Royal Society, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine, among others. Dr. Flavell has also found time to author or co-author hundreds of highly cited papers (including some with his co-Vilcek Prize winner, Ruslan Medzhitov).

How does he manage it all and still indulge his lifelong passion for rock ‘n’ roll? (He plays guitar with his “lab rock” band, the Cellmates.) He is a master of instrumentation. 

Photo by Yale University

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The Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science

Ruslan Medzhitov, Ph.D.

In the right hands, a three-year-old science paper can be enough to launch a career and, in time, advance an entire field of science.

It was the early nineties, and the Soviet Union was in a state of economic collapse; scientific resources had dried up, leaving laboratories empty and researchers’ hands idle; even reading materials were hard to come by. Only the Academy of Natural Sciences had anything, but its library was off-limits to University of Moscow students like Ruslan Medzhitov. Born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, the biology doctoral student was all too familiar with overcoming obstacles erected by the Soviet government, yet mostly through determination and self-education, he had managed to earn his BA from the University of Tashkent. So, for the resolute Dr. Medzhitov, getting past the librarians at the Academy was just another hurdle to clear. In short, he charmed his way into the stacks. There he happened upon a 1989 copy of a paper by Yale immunologist Charles A. Janeway Jr., now recognized as revolutionary, postulating the existence of an innate immune system, which activates in advance of the adaptive immune response. Reading the paper was the spark Dr. Medzhitov needed to light his way through this dim period in his life as a science student.

From the University’s lone e-mail terminal, Dr. Medzhitov reached out to Dr. Janeway, asking for more details about his theory. To his surprise, Dr. Janeway answered”I think he was astonished that someone in faraway Moscow was so interested in his mostly ignored paper,” said Dr. Medzhitov. Their ensuing correspondence pointed Dr. Medzhitov in a new direction: “That was the point I first thought about being a researcher in immunology.”

That thought was cemented into a hard-and-fast decision in 1993, as he was nearing the end of a three-month UNESCO fellowship he’d won at the University of California-San Diego. Asked about his future plans, he answered unequivocally that he’d “love to prove Dr. Janeway’s theory.” As luck would have it, his mentor at UCSD, Dr. Russell Doolittle, and another immunologist, Dr. Dick Dutton, both knew Dr. Janeway, and they recommended Dr. Medzhitov for a highly coveted postdoc position in Janeway’s famed lab at Yale. It was quite a coup, given Dr. Medzhitov had few credentials and very little research experience.

What he did have when he arrived at Yale, in 1994, along with his PhD in biochemistry from the University of Moscow, was a willingness to take risks. He teamed with Dr. Janeway in the search for the gene in the innate immune system that activates the adaptive systemto address the questions, how does the human body know when it has an infection, and how does a microbial infection trigger an immune response? The answer came two years later, in the form of a family of genes that are known as the Toll-like receptors (TLR). TLRs, originally identified in fruit flies, are now known to play a key role in immunity.

That first breakthrough continues to inform the work of Dr. Medzhitov, who is today the David W. Wallace Professor of Immunobiology at Yale University Medical School, a member of Yale Cancer Center and the National Academy of Sciences, and an HHMI investigator.  The youngest Vilcek Prize winner in Biomedical Science, Dr. Medzhitov also has won the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research and the prestigious Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine. 

Photo by Michael Marsland

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The Vilcek Prize in Contemporary Music

Yo-Yo Ma

“You don’t need a passport or a plane to visit someplace new,” said Yo-Yo Ma. “Music provides a shortcut, allowing you to be transported thousands of miles away and back during the two-hour span of a concert.” That statement, made before Congress on behalf of easing travel restrictions for foreign musicians, can be applied as well to the cellist’s abiding belief in the power of music to dissolve boundaries – literal and philosophical.   

Mr. Ma has been forging new pathways in music since he was a young child, new to this country but already capable of communicating fluently in the universal language, even with heads of state. He performed for Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower at age seven, and has been a frequent guest at the White House ever since.

Born in Paris to Chinese parents, Mr. Ma and his family immigrated to New York, where he spent most of his formative years.  His interest in the many cultures of the world is reflected through the diversity of his repertoire. It would be impossible to align his works under a single music category. Classical heads the list, of course, but he has taken his cello on journeys through Baroque and bluegrass, chamber and modern minimalist, Argentinian tango and Appalachian folk fiddling. Mr. Ma is continually in pursuit of new ways to communicate with audiences and grow artistically.

That pursuit led him, in 1998, to found the Silk Road Project, named for the ancient trade route across the Afro-Eurasian landmass. Under Mr. Ma as Artistic Director, the Project promotes innovation and learning through the arts and encourages dialogue among artists, musicians, educators, and entrepreneurs. The Silk Road Ensemble, a changing group of more than sixty performers and composers from twenty-four countries, explores and celebrates the multiplicity of approaches to music from around the world, developing new repertoire that responds to the multicultural reality of our global society. A newer endeavor, Silk Road Connect, is an educational pilot program for middle-school students in New York City public schools that “inspires passion-driven learning, empowering students and educators to see connections across all areas of study and to follow their interests from the familiar to the foreign.”  

Mr. Ma’s own passion for learning has grown unabated from its roots in his musical home (his mother was a singer; his father, a violinist and music professor). He studied under Leonard Rose at Juilliard, and earned a liberal arts degree from Harvard, in 1976.  Among the concert-length list of honors and awards accorded to the cellist in his forty-plus years as a performer, educator, and cultural advocate are: the Avery Fisher Prize, the Glenn Gould Prize, the Kennedy Center Honor, the National Medal of Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Polar Prize and more than 15 Grammy Awards. In 2006, Mr. Ma was named UN Peace Ambassador by Kofi Annan, and in 2009 he was appointed a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities. 

Photo by Todd Rosenberg

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The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science

Hashim Al-Hashimi, Ph.D.

Watching genes morph into different shapes, and seeing atoms “dance” is, to Dr. Hashim Al-Hashimi, exhilarating. Even as a postgrad at Yale, he was convinced that in the “jiggling and wiggling of atoms” lay the innermost secrets of biomolecules. But the technology did not yet exist for revealing those secrets; in that lack he found his career objective.

His scientific inspiration he found much earlier, in his father, who taught him to pursue his educational goals, wherever they might lead. For Al-Hashimi, that meant far from his birthplace in Beirut, Lebanon. Civil war there uprooted the family when he was a year old, and by the time he was a teenager, he had lived in Greece, Italy, and Jordan; at sixteen, he was sent to an international high school in Wales, and he stayed on in the U.K. to complete his Bachelors in Chemistry at Imperial College, London. Fully intending to go on there to earn his PhD, he was thwarted by scarcity of funding opportunities for foreigners, compelling him to apply to other graduate schools, Yale among them. The day he received his admission letter from Yale, he says, “remains one of the happiest moments of my life.”

Once at Yale, he immersed himself in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, to investigate the structure and dynamics of molecules. Throughout his postdoctoral years, at Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center, and into his tenure at the University of Michigan, Dr. Al-Hashimi remained steadfast in his determination to solve the problem of how to visualize atomic motion, “to obtain a deeper understanding of gene regulation and to build new technologies for drug discovery and biotechnology.” Twelve years later, he and his team succeeded in developing the NMR techniques for capturing a molecule in action, morphing into different shapes at atomic resolution. “This was,” he explains, “the first experimentally determined 3D movie of matter at the atomic scale.”  

Dr. Al-Hashimi continues to make atomic movies today, as the J. Lawrence Oncley Collegiate Professor of Chemistry and Biophysics, at the University of Michigan. One of them, “starring” the iconic DNA double helix occasionally morphing into an entirely different structure, “produced a bombshell effect throughout the world community of nucleic acid biophysicists,” said Dr. David A. Frank-Kamenetskii, a world authority in DNA structure and biophysics. Little surprise then, that when Popular Science magazine named him one of its Brilliant 10 researchers, in 2011, he was given the title “Molecular Filmmaker.”

The title Dr. Al-Hashimi might prefer above all others, however, is that of teacher. “Teaching undergraduates,” he says, “is the best part of my job,” and he credits some of his group’s best research ideas to his students. Of his many awardswhich include the 2012 Founder’s Medal, International Conference on Magnetic Resonance in Biological Systemsthe one he holds closest to his heart is the LSA Excellence in Teaching Award, in 2009. That same year, he co-founded Nymirum, a company that uses his visualization technology to screen a growing universe of RNA drug targets.  One day, he hopes “to enable drug discovery on a computer.”

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The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science

Michael Rape, Ph.D.

Michael Rape’s fascination with the process by which living things degrade can perhaps be traced to his boyhood in Northern Bavaria, where he carried out chemistry experiments in his lab in the basement. “I was born in an area where we had trouble with pollution,” he explains, “and we had a lot of problems with sulfur dioxide in the air, so I tried to make SO2 in the lab. I gassed some plants and looked how they tried to survive.” Today, as Associate Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of California-Berkeley, Dr. “Micha” Rape is a leading biochemical researcher helping to unravel the mysteries of the ubiquitin system, which “tags” damaged or bad proteins for destruction, and others for elimination to enable certain processes to occur, and thus is vital to the health of all life-forms.

It has only been in the last three-plus decades that the crucial importance of “ubiquitin,” an aptly named small regulatory protein (from ubiquitous, for it is found in virtually all cell types), began to be understood. “Its diversity and adaptability makes it an ideal entry point for understanding vast swaths of biology,“ says Dr. Rape. More specifically, he explains, “aberrant ubiquitination results in many diseases, including cancer or neurodegeneration.” But the reach of ubiquitination goes beyond cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, with implications for novel drug development, making the work of this determined biochemist relevant to the public at large.

Regarded as a gifted student from his high school daysfor his athletic prowess (in handball and tennis) as well as his intellectRape made his first trip to the States while an undergraduate in biochemistry at the University of Bayreuth, when he was awarded scholarships to study for a year at the University of Delaware. He returned to Bayreuth to complete his master’s degree, then attended the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry for his PhD studies. He moved to America for his postdoctoral work at Harvard Medical School, where he met “the most important person for my scientific development,” Dr. Marc Kirschner, who described his former student as having “a competitive spirit toward solving the mysteries of science that does not contemplate failure to solve a problem.”

Once at Berkeley, says Dr. Kirschner, “Micha hit the ground running,” making several key discoveries that shaped the ubiquitin field. He has kept up the pace ever since, diversifying his independent research even as he and his group remain focused on ubiquitin biochemistry. In the not-too-distant future, he hopes to apply his research to the “development of drugs that exploit the rich biology of ubiquitination, ”especially aimed at breast cancer. To that end, with two colleagues, he has cofounded Nurix, a biotechnology company.

In recognition of his creativity and productivity, in 2007, Dr. Rape was named a Pew Scholar, and received the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. He has also won prestigious fellowships from the Human Frontier Science Program and the European Molecular Biology Organization.

To stimulate that high level of creativity, Dr. Rape turns to the arts, and has “found a love for playing the piano and guitar.” And to maintain the stamina required “to keep working on a crucial problem for years, despite multiple failures," the former athlete plays tennis with colleagues. The mixed approach seems to be working, in helping him achieve his personal goals, to “remain an innovative scientist, a critical thinker, and a supportive mentor.”

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The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science

Joanna Wysocka, Ph.D.

The day the Berlin Wall came down, the world opened up for Joanna Wysocka. “Wide-eyed with excitement” on her first visit to the United States a few years later, as a representative of Poland at the 1992 International Chemistry Olympiad, to the budding chemist the world seemed full of possibilities she “never dared dream about as a child.”

All those possibilities were soon to be within her reach.

While an undergraduate at the University of Warsaw, the Lodz native spent a summer volunteering at the renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Long Island, and at the end was invited to return, for her PhD studies. Thus, almost before the ink was dry on her Master of Science degree in Molecular Biology, she was back in the States. At Cold Spring Harbor, and later as a postdoc at Rockefeller University, she quickly began making a name for herself. Her contributions to the “great puzzle” of chromatin functionality (DNA packaging) started “new chapters in chromatin biology, with clear implications for cancer biology,” said Dr. C. David Allis, her advisor at Rockefeller.

But there were still missing pieces, and in 2006, following a highly successful three-year postdoctoral fellowship, Dr. Wysocka went looking for them, at Stanford University, where she had chosen to establish her independent laboratory, in the Departments of Chemical and Systems Biology and Developmental Biology. It was at this juncture that she exhibited her self-described “audacity to take risks and venture beyond the obvious.”  

Veering from the safe path, along which lay her postdoctoral projects, Dr. Wysocka decided instead to apply her expertise in chromatin biology to stem cell biology. Within three years, “the gamble paid off,” she says, confirmed by her receipt of the 2010 Outstanding Young Investigator Award from the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR). The shift also took her out of the lab and directly into the controversy over stem cell research. “Given the circumstances in which I grew up,” she explains, “I am passionate about personal, scientific, and academic freedom,” adding “it is our obligation as scientists to educate and engage the public, and to remain guardians of liberty in pursuing scientific ideas.”

Dr. Wysocka’s own scientific ideas are many and varied, and together with her interdisciplinary group, her research has already led to the discovery of novel and crucial insights into cell fate and lineage. Going forward, she plans to address the question of human diversity. Her approach will be, quite literally, head-on, as she intends to use as a model the human face“The face is at the center of our identity…yet we know next to nothing about the genetic basis of human facial variation.” The Associate Professor is also working on CHARGE syndrome, a devastating childhood developmental disorder.

“On a sure path to greatness,” as Dr. Allis described his former student, Dr. Wysocka has already accumulated an impressive number of awards and honors, in addition to the ISSCR accolade: the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine Basic Biology Awards (2011); W. M. Keck Distinguished Young Scholar in Medical Research Award (2008–2013); California Institute for Regenerative Medicine New Faculty Award (2008–2013); Searle Scholar Award (2007–2010); and Baxter Foundation Award (2007). To that growing list of accomplishments she hopes one day to “know I have inspired and encouraged young people to dream big and do their very best.”

Photo by Christopher Vaughan

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The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Contemporary Music

James Abrahart

Convalescing from a severe skiing accident may not be the most auspicious way to begin a career in music, but it worked for songwriter James Abrahart. With two broken bones in his left leg, and unable to walk or play sports, the twelve-year-old was already having a tough time adjusting to life in Atlanta, Georgia, where his family had moved two years earlier from Upminster, Essex“I was extremely homesick at this time,” he recalls.  The healer during his extended recovery period proved to be music.

He started as a singer but realized that, for him, writing was a “more fulfilling means of creative expression.” He became obsessed with great pop songwriters of the nineties: “It became almost a ritual,” he says, “to buy a CD and instantly flip through the inside cover to see who was involved in the creation of the music.” He found his mentor at eighteen, not in the liner notes of a CD, but through his local church. Songwriter and producer Travon Potts taught James the “importance of learning the craft of songwriting.” From that moment on, he says, “I became hell-bent on becoming one of the names behind the faces.”

That determination, coupled with hours of hard work, has since put the name James Abrahart  (known in the industry as JHart) behind a lot of famous faces, across musical genrespop, dance, country, rock, R&B, and gospel. His first record placement was the single “Wish You Were Here,” for singer Mýa; though released only in Japan, it reached number 1 on the ringtone chart, in 2009. His name next appeared behind the face of viral sensation Priscilla Renea, as co-writer of “Pretty Girl,” on her Capitol Records debut album. These early successes earned him industry notice (he was signed by Universal Music Publishing in 2010), but his career did not truly start to flourish until he decided to move to Los Angeles, in May 2011. “Since then,” he says, “I have been fortunate enough to have worked with incredible pop talents.” To name names: In 2012, JHart wrote  “Surrender,” a single for house/trance DJ Paul Oakenfold; it climbed to number 3 on the Billboard dance chart and 11 on Beatport. A single called “Go In, Go Hard,” which he co-wrote for Island Records artist Angel, made it all the way to the top on the iTunes R&B charts. An audience of 22 million saw the result of another JHart collaboration, with Jason Derulo, called “Undefeated,” performed by the latter on the 2012 finale of American Idol.

JHart’s next musical coup, which brought his name decidedly out from behind, was the song “Take You,” co-written for pop sensation Justin Bieber’s Believe album. (Believe debuted at number 1 on iTunes and Billboard and has since gone platinum.) JHart then crossed musical genres, while staying on top, with the song “Never Again,” for R&B crooner Trey Songz’s album Chapter V, another number 1 debut, on Billboard 200. 

Counting hits, and their financial rewards, is not, however, the only measure of success for James Abrahart. Describing his five-year outlook, he says he would “just [like to be] in a stable place, where I’m respected by my peers and have the ability to continue reaching people.” He admits, though, that “a Grammy would be nice!”

Photo by Megan Sistachs

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The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Contemporary Music

Samuel Bazawule

Hip-hop was the soundtrack for Samuel Bazawule growing up in Accra, Ghana; later, it gave him his own voice; today, performing as Blitz the Ambassador, he is using hip-hop to “give others a voice.” How music moved from the background to the foreground of this young artist’s life (he originally intended to be a visual artist) has all to do with the appearance in his country, in 1992, of the politically and socially conscious rap group Public Enemy. “I was only ten years old,” he recalls, “but the impact of that show would last my whole life.”

As a child, he drew famous soccer players and musicians, all the while listening to music. “The special thing about life in Accra,” he recalls, “was that music was everywherefrom funerals to baby-naming ceremonies.”  Once “caught by the hip-hop bug,” he began his music theory “training” by memorizing raps and studying the mastersChuck D. (front man for Public Enemy), Rakim, and KRS-One. In this way, he shaped his own sound, ”fusing elements seldom heard in hip-hopfor example, rapping a 6/8 time signature and mixing traditional sounds of my youth.”  

To spread his sound, he knew he had to come to America, “the best place for pursuing a career as a hip-hop artist.” He immigrated, in 2001, as a college student (“Coming from an African family,” he explains, “higher education is a must”). He earned his degrees, in business management and marketing, but never veered from his true purpose: “to become outspoken about justice and political issues in Africa and in the world” through his music, putting together a band, The Embassy Ensemble, to help him do that.

He has released two full-length albums, Stereotype (2009) and Native Sun (2011); as visual accompaniment to the latter, he wrote and co-directed a short film of the same name, which he calls “a true representation of who I am.” Filmed in Ghana and scored with music from the album, it follows the wanderings of an orphan boy as he learns to be the master of his fate.  In Native Sun (selected for the 2011 Brooklyn ActNow Film Festival), the boy is told by Akousa, the big-hearted prostitute who shelters and feeds him, “Get big, ok?” His alter ego is already big, and getting bigger. 

Multilingual as well as multitalented, Blitz shifts effortlessly between English, Twi (pronounced “trwee,” his native tongue), and West African pigeon, yet makes himself understood by all. His musical collaborations include those with Grammy Award-nominated duo Les Nubians, JUNO Award-winning Shad, and Chuck D.; and in the last two years he has performed at music festivals all over the world, from the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland to the Montreal Jazz Festival to SummerStage in New York and at numerous map points in between. His proudest achievement, though, was the homecoming concert he performed with his full band in Accra in 2011, ten years after he left.

Hailed by Rolling Stone as “the future of African music,” Blitz the Ambassador says his goal is to “push more global voices in hip-hop through collaborations and tours, to show that hip-hop is truly world music.” He adds, “In my opinion there is no other musical culture that has influenced so many people, regardless of geographic location, language, race, or ethnicity.”

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The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Contemporary Music

Tigran

At three, Tigran had given up his first toy, a cassette player, in favor of the piano, where he was already “figuring out songs” by pop and rock artists such as Queen and The Beatles; he began composing at five, and at ten, discovered classic jazz. It was at thirteen, however, when he “began to understand the rich culture of Armenia,” his homeland, that he found his musical focus. “I grew up with this incredible music, without realizing it,” he says. “The more tunes I learned, the more I saw the rich potential for merging those with improvised music. That started me on a lifetime journey.”           

That journey was waymarked by ten years of study at the Tchaikovsky Specialized Music Academy in Armenia, accompanied by classical jazz studies with a private tutor. It was a journey also mapped by powerful outside forces: the persistent weak economy of Armenia and a devastating earthquake in Gyumri, their hometown, cost his parents their jobs and the family their home. 

The family immigrated to the United States in 2003, where Tigran enrolled at the University of Southern California and began playing with a jazz/funk band and trumpet player John Diversa, collaborating with both on albums. Two years later, drawn to the city he describes as “better fitted for a career in music,” Tigran transferred to New York’s New School, but left within a year to pursue his professional career full-time.

It didn’t take long before the name Tigran became known throughout the jazz world. In 2006, he won first place at the Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition, and second place in the Martial Solal International Jazz Competition in Paris. He also recorded his first album, World Passion, that year; and in annual succession, his second and third, New Era and Red Hail. His fourth album, A Fable, followed in 2011. Ninety percent of the music on all his albums are original compositions, inspired, Tigran says, by “traditional Armenian folk music, as well as poetry.” This gifted pianist, whose touch has been called “sublime,” his virtuosity “almost intimidating,” has found the way to successfully mine the rich potential he saw as a teenager for the tunes of his native land while tapping more deeply into his own potential for creative growth.   

For Tigran, 2011 was a banner year; in addition to the release of A Fable, he performed with such top-tier musicians as Dhafer Youssef, Jeff Ballard, Hindi Zarha, Norayr Kartashian, Vahagni, Mark Guiliana, Fowatile, Lars Danielsson, Charles Benavent, and Trilok Gurtu. Of his performance with the latter, The Guardian wrote: “It’s not often Trilok Gurtu finds himself upstaged, but from the moment he was joined on stage by…Tigran Hamasyan, eyes were fixed elsewhere.” In February, he took home the French Grammy, and in the fall released the twenty-minute extended play EP No. 1, exclusively on vinyl and as a digital download.

In 2012, Tigran continued to impress wherever he performed, whether solo at the French rock festival Le Printemps de Bourges, or with his trio at international festivals. He will remain in motion throughout 2013; and his sixth album is scheduled for release in March. But one day he does plan to stopnot the music, but the touring. He intends to take time to complete his education so that one day he can “pass on the knowledge that I have acquired throughout years of study and experience in music.”

Photo by Vahan Stepanyan

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