Yehuda Yannay was born in Romania and immigrated with his family to Israel in 1951. He studied composition in Israel with A. U. Boscovitch and graduated from the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel-Aviv in the year 1964. In 1966 he completed a Master of Fine Arts at Brandeis University in composition and electronic music and was a fellowship student at the famed Tanglewood composition seminar. He returned for two years to Israel and in 1968 he was invited to the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana where he participated in the lively avant-garde activities in the late sixties and obtained a doctorate in 1974. During his student years he held some of the most prestigious scholarships in Israel and the U.S. In 1970 he was appointed to the theory and composition faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he served as Professor of Music until 2005. In the 1980s he served as Fulbright guest-professor at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart and Hamburg. Most recently he was guest composer in the new music festivals in Saõ Paulo in 1989 and Stuttgart in 1990, and the International Week of New Music in Bucharest in 1992 and 1993. The International Music Festival in Timisoara, the city of his birth, honored him with a concert of his music. In 1998 he was invited as guest composer and presenter by the Society for Jewish Music of Berlin for the festival celebrating 50th anniversary of the State of Israel.
Yannay is a prolific and versatile composer and media artist of international reputation whose list of about 120 works include: music for orchestra, electronic, live electronic and synthesizer pieces, environmental compositions, film, music-theater, and a large body of vocal and chamber music pieces. In the early 1960s, when his works started to attract attention in Europe, Yannay was considered Israel’s most challenging composer. Yannay’s contributions to contemporary music literature are documented in most major textbooks and music encyclopedias. “Wire” magazine listed him in a short list of composers with original ideas in new music of the 20th Century.
He received numerous commissions and grants from prominent performing groups, soloists and foundations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Milwaukee Symphony, The Orchestra of Our Time, Israel Composers Fund, Wisconsin Arts Board, Anna Nassif Dance Co., Festival Musica Nova in Santos, Brazil, and others. Yannay had recently a major premiere with the Cleveland Chamber Symphony. The Innova, Electronic Music Foundation, Vienna Modern Masters and Albany labels issued five CDs with his works. He toured extensively as composer, lecturer and conductor in Western and Eastern Europe, Brazil and Israel.