In addition to his remarkable concert career, American David Tanenbaum has become one of the most tireless promoters and supporters of the classical guitar and its repertoire. As a performer, teacher, and editor, he continues to contribute to the status of his instrument.
David Tanenbaum was born into an exceptionally musical family; his mother, a private piano teacher, gave him his first lessons at the age of five. His father, Elias Tanenbaum, was a composer and head of the electronic music program at the Manhattan School of Music; the two saw that young David had an extensive musical upbringing, which included lessons in recorder, piano, cello, theory, and composition. At the age of ten, partly out of rebellion, Tanenbaum found himself drawn to the guitar, but his leanings toward the electric guitar were put aside after his father took him to Andrés Segovia concerts. At 11, he began instruction with Rolando Valdes-Blain; his progress led him to a position playing with the Joffrey Ballet touring company.
At 17, Tanenbaum left home and began what would become two intensely challenging years of study with Aaron Shearer, who helped his student cement his developing technique. Tanenbaum then moved to the West Coast, settling in San Francisco and studying at the San Francisco Conservatory with Michael Lorimer. In 1977, he won the Carmel Classic Guitar Competition, and in the next year took second prize at the Toronto International Guitar Competition.
The resulting fame helped him begin a series of national and international concert tours. Tanenbaum has played with many of the world's finest orchestras and has been a featured soloist at several outdoor festivals. In 1988, he became the first American guitarist invited to perform in China at the request of the Chinese government. The following year, while serving as president of the Second American Classical Guitar Congress, he commissioned, among others, the work Rosewood for guitar orchestra from composer Henry Brant. Conducting the work, which can utilize over 100 guitars, has won Tanenbaum international renown.
Though Tanenbaum is known for his interpretation of Baroque composers and indeed a wide variety of guitar literature, he is best-known for relentless promulgation of new music for the classical guitar, particularly by American composers. A partial list of the works that were written for, commissioned by, or first recorded by Tanenbaum, includes Hans Werner Henze's concerto An eine Aolsharfe, Terry Riley's Ascension, Peter Maxwell Davies' Sonata, Toru Takemitsu's All in Twilight, Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint, John Anthony Lennon's The Fortunels, and Aaron Jay Kernis' One Hundred Greatest Dance Hits. Tanenbaum has also worked with and performed the music of Lou Harrison, Michael Tippett, Shirish Korde, and John Adams, among many others, but perhaps his most fruitful collaborations with composers are those with Henze and Riley. With the Ensemble Modern, Tanenbaum played Henze's El Cimarron and has recorded his immense cycle for guitar, Royal Winter Music. Riley was so taken by the success of Ascension that he embarked upon the composition of a 26-piece chamber music collection featuring the guitar, each piece beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. In 2009, he premiered Repentence, for three guitars, cello and bass, written by Sofia Gubaidulina. Tanenbaum collaborated with other artists for the 2010 Naxos release, Awakenings, featuring new chamber music with guitar.
Although he has toured incessantly and recorded more than two-dozen albums, Tanenbaum's talents extend well beyond performance. He has been on the faculty at Mills College and now heads the guitar department at the San Francisco Conservatory, where in 1995 he was named Outstanding Professor. Tanenbaum's frequent articles about his instrument have added much to the field, as have his editions and arrangements of work for classical guitar, including such diverse composers as Piazzolla, Carcassi, Brouwer, Bryan Johnson, and David Conte. David and Julie Tanenbaum have one son, Zachary.