Personal Information
Nationality:Sri Lankan
Education:Peradeniya University, Edinburgh University, Scotland
Occupation:Concert Composer-Pianist, Musicologist, Linguist
Parents:Prof. Asoka & Indira Ekanayaka

Tanya Ekanayaka at Asia Society (New York, United States)

Tanya Ekanayaka at The John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts (United States)
Tanya Ekanayaka at St. Martin-in-the-Fields (United Kingdom)

DR. TANYA EKANAYAKA (Tanya Nissani Ilangakkone Ekanayaka) is counted among Sri Lanka's most distinguished, award winning and internationally acclaimed composer-pianists. Tanya is the daughter of Prof. Asoka & Indira Ekanayaka. She is a descendant of Dominicus Corea (Edirilla Rala) through her mother and a descendent of Ekanayaka Adigar, Prime Minister to King Parakramabahu VI (1410-1462), through her paternal side.

Classically trained and with a background in popular and South Asian music, she is also an improviser and musicologist in addition to being a highly qualified linguist. Tanya began studying the piano when she was just five years old, making her debut public recital appearance at the age of twelve. She has since performed widely as soloist, accompanist and in ensembles both internationally and in Sri Lanka. Consistent with her interdisciplinary background, she holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA) Honours degree in English Literature and Linguistics from the University of Peradeniya, a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Linguistics and English Language from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and a Doctorate for her interdisciplinary research in Linguistics and Musicology also from Edinburgh University. Tanya Ekanayaka is also a Fellow of the Trinity College of Music London (FTCL), and a Licentiate of both the Associated Board of The Royal Schools of Music (LRSM), and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (LGSMD) UK. The Guildhall School awarded her its Professional Performer's Diploma (PPD) in 1999. Tanya Ekanayaka was appointed a member of the academic staff of the University of Peradeniya in 2003 shortly after graduating with her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in the same year. She was a member of the university's academic staff as Assistant Lecturer in Linguistics and subsequently as Lecturer in Linguistics in the Department of English (Literature and Linguistics) from 2003 to 2005 and 2005 to 2011 respectively. Tanya Ekanayaka is currently on the teaching faculty of Edinburgh University in Scotland, where she has taught part-time in both its Departments of Linguistics and Music since 2007.

What characterizes Tanya Ekanayaka as a recitalist, is her quintessential recital style. Her recitals incorporate her own compositions representing a new musical genre as well as works from the established classical repertoire ranging from baroque to contemporary works. Her compositions comprise the integration of unusual adaptations of melodies belonging to genres of Sri Lankan indigenous and popular music (many of which have not been adapted for the piano or harmonised), with musical motifs inspired by a particular aspect salient to each of the other compositions that form a given recital programme she is performing. In this sense, Tanya Ekanayaka’s recitals become a discourse where the merging of genres (such as, genres of classical music with popular and folk musics), as well as eras is facilitated. As such, her work may be seen as transgressing and in so doing conflating the borders of temporality. Tanya Ekanayaka’s compositions evolve spontaneously when she is at the piano and often within a few minutes.

Tanya Ekanayaka regards her compositions as deeply autobiographical ‘moments’. She attributes her compositional style to her multilingual and multicultural backgrounds as well as to being ambidextrous and having partial colour synesthesia. She grew up in the city of Kandy in Sri Lanka where she was exposed to a broad spectrum of music from a very early age. Devoting endless hours to evolving semi-improvisational compositions, was how she attempted to comprehend and express the kaleidoscopic convergence of these various cultural and linguistic facets which seemed to define her. Tanya Ekanayaka’s recent compositions have also been influenced by her interdisciplinary doctoral research which addressed questions relating to whether there are differences between communities’ collective perception of language in particular language mixing in music (i.e. songs) and their perception of language and/or language mixing in non-musical environments. Having discovered interesting differences between them her research included the formulation of a theoretical model designed to explain the differences.

In Sri Lanka, Tanya Ekanayaka studied the piano under the tutelage of her mother Indira Ekanayaka and later with Bridget Halpé. At sixteen, Tanya Ekanayaka became the youngest competitor and joint winner of the biennial Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka (SOSL) Concerto Competition (Pianoforte). She later performed Mozart's Piano Concerto K.488 with the same orchestra. She gave her debut solo piano recital in 2002 performing works by J. S. Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Gershwin, Sinding and Scriabin. In 2006, Tanya Ekanayaka was awarded the ‘University of Edinburgh Principal's Sri Lankan Scholarship’ for postgraduate studies in linguistics. Her final recital in Sri Lanka shortly before relocating to the UK, was as soloist with the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka when she performed Schuman's Piano Concerto in A Minor Op.54.

In 2010, Tanya Ekanayaka became the first Sri Lankan pianist to be invited to give a solo piano recital in the 'Pianists of the World' series at the world renowned recital venue, London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields. At one of the oldest recital series of St Martin-in-the-Fields having been founded by the legendary Dame Myra Hess, Tanya Ekanayaka’s programme concluded with the world première of her composition 'Adahas: of Wings of Roots'. This is the first composition by a Sri Lankan composer to be performed at this venue. The audience at this concert was reportedly among the largest audiences recorded at lunchtime concerts at St Martin-in-the-Fields. On the invitation of the University of Edinburgh, Tanya subsequently repeated her programme at Edinburgh’s Reid Concert Hall, which is also the world’s oldest instrument museum. In 2011, she was invited to serve on the international panel of adjudicators at one of the world’s biggest music festivals, the ‘Hong Kong Schools Music and Speech Festival’. She adjudicated the piano division of this festival.

Tanya Ekanayaka debuted in the United States in 2012, with a solo recital at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC (USA) following an invitation by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and performance at the Asia Society Concert Hall in New York. Performing to a capacity audience (the audience reportedly among the largest observed at this particular concert stage), the programme for her recital at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, incorporated the world première of two of her own compositions. They are the first compositions for the piano by a Sri Lankan composer to be performed at this venue. Tanya also gave a further highly acclaimed solo recital at London's St. Martin-in-the-Fields in 2012, also to a capacity audience, following an invitation by St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

Tanya's website is:

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