About Tanya Kalmanovitch

Tanya Kalmanovitch is a Canadian violist, ethnomusicologist, and author known for her breadth of inquiry and restless sense of adventure. Her uncommonly diverse interests converge in the fields of improvisation, social entrepreneurship, and social action with projects that explore the provocative cultural geography of locations around the world. Based in Brooklyn, Kalmanovitch’s layered artistic research practice has rewarded her with extended residencies in India, Ireland, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Siberia.

Named “Best New Talent” by All About Jazz when she emerged from New York’s vibrant downtown scene, Kalmanovitch has continually stretched the boundaries between classical, jazz and improvised music. The Irish Times called her “an exceptional musician,” writing that her music possesses “austere beauty and remarkable unity between the written and the improvised.” She completed her conservatory training at the prestigious Juilliard School only to debut as a jazz violist with the Turtle Island String Quartet soon after. Her stylistically fluid recordings have garnered critical acclaim. Hut Five (2003) was hailed by the Montreal Gazette as “an exceptional recording.” Heart Mountain (2007) with venerated pianist Myra Melford won France’s “Choc” award and topped many critics’ year-end “Best of” lists. Pianist Ethan Iverson (Do The Math) praised her most recent release Magic Mountain (2016) with fellow violist Mat Maneri as “an exceptionally surreal and beautiful performance.”

Kalmanovitch’s career has become a broad platform for artistry and advocacy. She has been an invited speaker at the Society for Ethnomusicology, Carnegie Hall, the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women at Georgetown University, Columbia University, and National YoungArts Week, among others. She was drawn to ethnomusicology as a way to explore the ways in which music can speak to the world’s biggest problems and earned her doctorate at the University of Alberta. Kalmanovitch’s fieldwork on the globalization of Carnatic traditions in Chennai, Dublin, and Amsterdam has been published in World of Music and New Sound. In Istanbul, she reworked themes in Song Books for the John Cage centenary to reflect growing resistance movements. Her two residences at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul resulted in at total of 15 public performances, panel discussions, workshops, master classes, collaborative rehearsals and a student exchange with the United States. Her work has been featured in numerous publications including Canada’s Globe and Mail, the Irish Times, the Boston Globe, Time Out New York, Jazz Times, and DownBeat, as well as on air for the Canadian Broadcasting Company.

Kalmanovitch has shown her commitment to education through her dedicated teaching practice for over a decade. She has given master classes at Woodstock’s Creative Music Studios, the Banff Centre for the Arts, London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama, the Estonian Academy of Music, the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, and the Helsinki Pop & Jazz Conservatory. As a faculty member at the New England Conservatory since 2006, she played a leading role in new initiatives in the school’s departments of Contemporary Improvisation and Entrepreneurial Musicianship. In 2013, she joined the faculty at Mannes School of Music at The New School New York City, where she is an Associate Professor, Affiliated Faculty with the Tishman Environment and Design Centre, and a fellow of the Graduate Institute of Design, Ethnography and Social Thought.

Kalmanovitch is currently performing in duo settings with pianist Marilyn Crispell as well as in a collaborative trio with pianist Anthony Coleman and accordionist Ted Reichman. She is developing the Tar Sands Songbook, a documentary theater play that tells the stories of people whose lives been shaped by living in close proximity to oil development and its effects.



New York

Associate Professor, The New School
Affiliated Faculty, Tishman Center
Fellow, Graduate Institute for Design, Ethnography and Social Thought


Faculty, Department of Contemporary Improvisation
New England Conservatory

Research Interests

sustainability, climate change communications, improvisation, social entrepreneurship

Degrees Held

PhD, Ethnomusicology, University of Alberta (2008)

MSc, Psychology (History and Theory), University of Calgary (1998)

BA (After), honors, Psychology (1995)

BMus, Viola Performance, The Juilliard School (1992)



Kalmanovitch is an exceptional musician.In soloing she thinks compositionally, with an expressive contrast between the astringent chromaticism of her lines and compositions and her warmly malleable tone. Her quartet shares an uncanny mutual awareness … characterised by sometimes austere beauty and a remarkable unity between the written and the improvised. Ray Comiskey, The Irish Times

Best New Talent 2004  All About Jazz New York

The disc’s 18 short, gemlike free improvisations include mysterious textural scrabbles and aggressive jousts, microtonal meditations and limpid, drone-based reveries. The most impressive quality of the set is the sheer selflessness with which two strong players merge into a common spirit.  Steve Smith, Time Out New York

This is an exceptional and welcome venture that brings together free-jazz improvisation, contemporary music and rock, creating one of the more engaging recordings heard in some time … Listen to Rara Avis, a stunning tone poem, and her poetic sorties on the seven vignettes that are the core of this session and you will hear a musician who is alive with creativity and ideas. These collective improvisations beg for discovery and repeated listening." Irwin Block, Montreal Gazette

The young Canadian artist Tanya Kalmanovitch showcases her not inconsiderable talents on viola (and occasionally violin) on this accessible and fascinating album in which she leads a tuneful, compatible quartet that performs her often mournful compositions with a graceful sensitivity. Kalmanovitch produces a richly sonorous conservatory-based tone that exudes a lovely consistency, not unlike a rich, full-bodied wine … There are beautiful sounds emanating from this group, and lots of pregnant potential, particularly from its leader whose writing and improvisational skills are often worth exploring. Steven Loewy, All Music Guide


The original Mahavishnu Orchestra and the Dixie Dregs are obvious musical reference points for Kalmanovitch’s quartet — in instrumentation, compositional approaches and the use of unison lead lines. Kalmanovitch’s use of the viola on most of the pieces provides full-bodied foil for Rick Peckham’s guitar … The band is at its best with the riff-driven, rhythmically varied structure of Guilfoyle’s “Hidden Agenda” and the leader’s title song, where the blend of their voices creates dense textures. James Hale, DownBeat

...another engaging station stop in the career of a talented improviser and leader whose technical virtuosity and creative vision are on full display. Steven Loewy, All Music Guide

...the rapport between these two is electric, throughout.  Mike Shanley, Jazz Times

Don’t let Canadian viola player Tanya Kalmanovitch’s Juilliard pedigree fool you into thinking she can’t cut it in a heated improv setting. For proof, check out the two excellent CDs she made with her quartet,Hut Five — both the crafty, tuneful self-titled debut and the freewheeling, spontaneous follow-up, Out Where the Trains Don’t Run. Time Out New York

Classically trained Juilliard grad Kalmanovitch plays a mean viola - an instrument rarely heard in jazz - as well as violin. Her work with very impressive guitarist Rick Peckham, bassist Ronan Guilfoyle and drummer Owen Howard is startlingly good with great collective improv and dark and stark treatments of composed pieces. Especially stirring cuts on her sophomore CD are “Hidden Agenda” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression”. Geoff Chapman, The Toronto Star

The viola may be seldom heard in jazz, but Kalmanovitch’s instrument sounds entirely at home in the company of Rick Peckham’s guitar, Ronan Guilfoyle’s bass and Owen Howard’s drums. This band of old associates do considerable justice to the jagged melodies and angular forms of the leader’s compositions, making them sound easy (almost!). This is an engaging album, bristling with energy … Kalmanovitch’s playing is forceful and direct, and the superb Peckham sounds like a man possessed. Cormac Larkin,  The Sunday Tribune (Ireland)