Bio / About

Berlin and Brooklyn-based clarinetist-saxophonist-composer Ken Thomson is widely regarded for his ability to blend a rich variety of influences and styles into his own musical language while maintaining a voice unmistakably his own.

Thomson has a growing catalog of music written for ensembles of different sizes, and has released a number of albums with groups that he has created.  His latest effort combining the sounds of jazz and contemporary music, Sextet, garnered Top of 2018 placement from websites Second Inversion and AnEarful and has toured to Europe and across the US.  His previous project, a five-piece group called Slow/Fast with whom he released two albums, toured to the Saalfelden Jazz Festival and more; the group was praised by The New York Times in a full review for its “intricate long-form compositions.” He released heralded full-length CDs of his compositions in 2013 with JACK Quartet (Thaw) and in 2016 with cellist Ashley Bathgate and pianist Karl Larson (Restless).

Besides his own groups, Ken plays clarinet for the Bang on a Can All-Stars, one of the world’s preeminent contemporary music ensembles. He co-leads Anzû Quartet, an ensemble based on Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, dedicated to performing that work and commissioning for its instrumentation. He is the musical director for the Asphalt Orchestra, an 8-piece next-generation avant-garde street band. He plays saxophone and is one of the 4 composers in the punk/chamber/jazz band Gutbucket, with whom he toured internationally to twenty countries and 32 states over twenty years.

As a teaching artist, he is on faculty at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival and has given composer master classes to multiple universities across the globe, and as guest faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Masters program and a composer mentor at the Ensemble Offspring Hatched Academy in Sydney, Australia. 

As a composer, he has been commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra, Bang on a Can, the True/False Film Festival, Lorelei, HearNow BerlinDoug Perkins, Mariel Roberts, and others, and has received awards from New Music USA, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, ASCAP and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.  His arrangement of Meredith Monk’s “Downfall” was called one of the “Top 25 Classical Tracks of 2020” by The New York Times.

Performing with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, he has appeared as a soloist with the LA Philharmonic, Danish Radio Symphony, BBC and RTE Concert Orchestra, and more.  He has performed and recorded with Ensemble Signal (conducted by Brad Lubman), working directly with composers from Steve Reich to Helmut Lachenmann and performing on CDs for Harmonia Mundi, Mode, Orange Mountain, and Cantaloupe Records. He has collaborated with many new-composed music groups including Alarm Will Sound, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Novus NY, Eighth Blackbird, and more.

Highlights as musical director and conductor include conducting Louis Andriessen’s massive “De Snelheid” in 2023, musical directing and conducting Julia Wolfe’s “Traveling Music” at the Bordeaux Conservatory in France in 2009, and conducting Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Chorus and guest musicians in Melbourne, Bogota, New York and Buenos Aires.

He has recently been the subject of profile features in Downbeat, NewMusicBox and Critical Read. He is a F. Arthur Uebel Artist, D’Addario Woodwinds Artist, and Conn-Selmer endorser.