Ashan Pillai (born 1 December 1969 in Colombo, Sri Lanka) is a British violist. He was educated as a music and academic scholar at Merchant Taylors School, London and then at the Royal Academy of Music, London, the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, the Banff Center for the Arts, Ontario, and the Juilliard School, New York City. His principal teachers were John White, Donald McInnes and Karen Tuttle.
Between 1994 and 1998 he won several prizes at international and national competitions including the Tertis and Rome International Competitions, the Royal Overseas League and Park Lane Group Competitions in London and Artists International in New York. These successes led to acclaimed debuts in London’s Wigmore Hall and Purcell Room (1997–1999), New York’s Carnegie Hall and festivals throughout the world including Kuhmo, Salzburg, Tanglewood, Banff, Ravinia, Aspen, Casals (Puerto Rico, France and Barcelona), and Schleswig-Holstein. He has premiered works (many dedicated to him) by noted Spanish composers Anton Garcia Abril, Leonardo Balada, Francisco Fleta Polo and others, and also works by Krzysztof Penderecki, Wolfgang Rihm and Gavin Bryars.
Pillai has performed as soloist under the batons of Christian Zacharias, Eiji Oue, Andrew Parrott, Christopher Hogwood, Robert King and Lawrence Foster, with the English, Gulbenkian, Czech, Andorran and Scottish Chamber Orchestras, as well as I Musici, London and New York, several Spanish orchestras and collaborated with the likes of Lynn Harrell, the Kreutzer and Brodsky Quartets, and the Ensemble Modern, Frankfurt.
He was assistant principal violist in the English Chamber Orchestra (1995–2000), co-founding member of the Mobius Ensemble (London 1997–2006), violist in the Zukerman Chamber Players (New York/Ottawa 2004–2010), violist in the Trio Cervello (Barcelona 2016– ) with pianist Enrique Bagaria and clarinetist Josep Fuster, and principal violist with the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra (2000–2018). Pillai is Professor of Viola at Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya (from 2001), the Conservatori Superior del Liceu in Barcelona (from 2008) and visiting professor at the University Alfonso X in Madrid (from 2012). In 2014, he was appointed chair professors of viola and chamber music in Música en Compostela. In 2020, Pillai was appointed Artist in Residence and Visiting Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, London.
As a recording artist, Pillai has recorded widely for EMI, Naxos, ASV, Altara, Verso, Meridian, Bel, Columna, RTVE (Spanish Radio and Television), the BBC and Oehms Classics. His recordings include sonatas by Brahms, Bax, Debussy, Lluís Benejam, Felipe de los Rios, Juan Oliver Astorga, Mendelssohn, Naumann, Glinka, Schubert, Gerhard, and concerti by Hoffmeister, Mozart, Leonardo Balada and Josep Soler. Among Pillai’s notable recordings are The Viola Sonatas from the Royal Palace in Madrid, The Virtuoso Viola in Spain, the Hoffmeister Works for Viola, and the string quintets recorded with Zukerman.
Pillai edited the 12 Estudios o caprichos de mediana dificultad (12 Studies or Capriccios of Medium Difficulty) for viola solo (1881) by José María Beltrán Fernández (1827–1907), published by Clivis Publications. In 2016 he edited the first edition of the 11 sonatas from the Royal Palace in Madrid (1770-1819) for Boileau Publications and released the first recording of this monumental collection of works for viola. He has also edited the Sonata en Re by Tomas Lestan ( 1884) for Edition Piles.