David Balakrishnan, the group’s founder and ‘resident composer,’ was born in Los Angeles, California in 1954. After graduating from UCLA in 1976, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, quickly making his reputation as a talented young improvising violinist appearing on many recordings and making guest appearances with the David Grisman Quartet and jazz violin legend Stephane Grappelli. In 1981 he undertook a Masters Degree program in music composition at Antioch University West, where his groundbreaking work integrating stylistic elements of jazz, European classical, American folk and Indian classical music led to the creation of the TIQ in the fall of 1985.
Under his direction, Turtle Island has won two Grammy awards and Balakrishnan himself has been nominated six times, the most recent being a 2015 nomination in the instrumental composition category for his piece, “Confetti Man.” He is the recipient of numerous grants, from private sources such as conductor Marin Alsop, who commissioned his piece for violin and orchestra, “Little Mouse Jumps,” as well as organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America, League of American Orchestras and Meet The Composer.
In 2005 he received a MTC/ASOL “Music Alive” residency with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra (largest orchestral composing grant of the year) for which he composed six works. The NCO also commissioned Balakrishnan’s composition “Darkness Dreaming,” which premiered in April 2004 with guitarists Sharon Isbin and John Jorgenson. His piece “Spider Dreams” (1992) has been widely performed and recorded throughout the world by a diverse array of musical organizations, including a live recording by Turtle Island with the Detroit Symphony conducted by Neeme Järvi on Chandos Records. A 2002 commission awarded by a consortium of presenters headed by the Lied Center of Kansas resulted in a string octet entitled “Mara’s Garden Of False Delights,” which is featured on Turtle Island’s Grammy winning Telarc release, “4+Four.”
Again commissioned by the Lied Center in 2008, Balakrishnan composed a full-length work involving theatre, dance, poetry, video, and TIQ with the KU wind ensemble that is an artistic response to the socio/political issues concerning the various theories of evolution, both scientific and cultural, entitled “The Tree Of Life.” In 2015 he received Chamber Music America’s prestigious Classical Commissioning Program grant, supporting a full-length work “Aeroelasticity: Harmonies Of Impermanence,” recorded on the group’s latest CD, “Bird’s Eye View.” His composition “The Second Wave” is included on Terence Blanchard’s fall 2021 Blue Note release featuring the TIQ with Blanchard’s E-Collective, “Absence.”