Born in Iran, trained largely in the U.S., active in Britain, and resident in Prague, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has helped bring the solo harpsichord into the concert mainstream. In 2011, he became the first keyboardist to perform an all-harpsichord recital during the BBC Proms festival.
Esfahani was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1984, but was raised mostly in the U.S. His father gave him lessons on the piano, and as a teenager, he discovered the harpsichord. Esfahani was admitted to Stanford University in California, where he studied musicology and music history under George Houle, continuing to deepen his interest in early music. After graduating, he moved to Boston for harpsichord studies with Peter Watchorn, and then to Prague for further work with Zuzana Ruzickova. Esfahani served as an artist in residence at New College, Oxford, from 2008 to 2010, and several major prizes and fellowships from around this period helped launch his career. These included designation as a BBC New Generation Artist (2008-2010), a Borletti-Buitoni Trust award (2009), and several nominations for Classical Artist of the Year from Gramophone magazine. Esfahani has appeared at major halls in the U.S., across Europe, and in East Asia, including Lincoln Center in New York, Wigmore Hall in London, and Oji Hall in Tokyo. He has performed concertos with the BBC Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, and the Melbourne Symphony, among many others. From 2016 to 2019, he was an artistic partner to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Esfahani has often included contemporary music in his concerts even when, as in a 2016 Cologne performance of Steve Reich's Piano Phase on the harpsichord, he faced boos from the audience.
After a 2009 recording of the complete harpsichord music of John Bull on the Musica Omnia label, Esfahani moved to the Hyperion and OUR Recordings labels for a series of albums. In 2016, he released a recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, on Deutsche Grammophon. Esfahani released the album Musique? in 2020, and in April of that year in the U.S., he became the first solo harpsichordist to appear on the NPR radio network's "Tiny Desk Concert" program. Esfahani has been a professor of music at London's Guildhall School of Music & Drama since 2015, and he is often heard as a commentator on the BBC 3 and BBC 4 radio networks.