Dr. Tanya Ekanayaka (Tanya Nissani Ilangakkone Ekanayaka)
is among Sri Lanka's most distinguished, award winning and internationally acclaimed composer-pianists.
Tanya Ekanayaka began studying the piano when she was just five years old. She made her debut public recital appearance at the age of twelve, performed her first concerto (Mozart's Piano Concerto K.488), at sixteen with the SOSL (Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka), as joint winner and youngest competitor of the SOSL biennial concerto competition and has since performed at renowned international concert venues in Asia, Europe and the United States.
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.
What characterizes Tanya Ekanayaka as a recitalist is her quintessential recital style. Her recitals incorporate her own compositions representing a new and exciting 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 Sri Lankan indigenous and popular musics (many of which have not been adapted for the piano or harmonised), with musical motifs inspired by the tonal centres of the other compositions that form a given recital programme she is performing. In this sense, each of Tanya Ekanayaka’s compositions may be seen as re-presenting her indigenous culture while seeking to highlight connectivity between the different works of a concert programme in which one of her works might be incorporated. Overall, her 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. Tanya Ekanayaka’s compositions evolve spontaneously often as a whole when she is at the piano.
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 is a native speaker of English and Sinhala and grew up in the city of Kandy in Sri Lanka where she was exposed to a broad spectrum of musics 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. As an adult, her pianistic skills have benefitted from guidance by Colin Kingsley, John Kitchen, Raymond Monelle, Peter Nelson, Nigel Osborne, Jonathan Pasternack and Robin Zebaida.
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.
In 2010, Tanya Ekanayaka became the first Sri Lankan pianist to be invited to give a solo piano recital for the 'Pianists of the World' series at the world renowned recital venue, London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields. 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. Tanya Ekanayaka repeated her programme at Edinburgh University’s Reid Concert Hall which is also the world’s oldest instrument museum. Other music related engagements have included among others, serving on the international panel of adjudicators at one of the world’s biggest music festivals, the ‘Hong Kong Schools Music and Speech Festival’ in 2011: Tanya Ekanayaka adjudicated the piano division of this festival.
Tanya Ekanayaka debuted in the USA 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), Tanya Ekanayaka's 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 Ekanayaka gave further highly acclaimed solo recitals to capacity audiences at London's St. Martin-in-the-Fields in 2012 and 2013, for their ‘Pianists of the World’ series following invitations by St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Her recital for the 2013 ‘Pianists of the World’ series included the world première of two of her own recent compositions as well as well-known works from the classical repertoire. In 2013, Tanya Ekanayaka’s composition ‘Dhaivaya; Alter(ing) Hue’ received airplay on BBC World Service (radio) as part of an exclusive BBC World Service interview with Tanya Ekanayaka. Performances for 2014 included solo recitals and concerts in the USA and UK.
Since 2012, Tanya Ekanayaka has also been developing a pioneering music composition project on a voluntary basis aimed at empowering traumatised as well as underprivileged children in Sri Lanka recovering from the horrific civil war that ravaged the nation for over thirty years.
Tanya Ekanayaka is a direct descendant of the freedom fighter, King Edirimanne Suriya Bandara, alias King Dominicus Corea (1565-1598), on her maternal side and Ekanayaka Adiga, Prime Minister to King Parakramabahu VI (1410-1462), on her paternal side.