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Ivo Nilsson was educated at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and at IRCAM in Paris. In 1989 he made his debute as a soloist with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and as a composer with an Octet premiered by the Ensemble L’Itinéraire at Radio France. 

Ever since his music has been performed by ensembles such as the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Cantus, DuoEgo, Either/Or, Ensemble Reconsil, Ensemble Son, International Ensemble Modern Akademie, KammarensembleN, Kammerensemble Neue Music Berlin, Kwartludium, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Orchestre des Flûtes Français, Orchestrutopica, Slowind and Vertixe Sonora. 

And at festivals like the Biennale di Venezia, Chiffren festival (Kiel), Chigiana (Siena), EMUfest (Rome), Enescu festival (Bucarest), Gaudeamus Music Days (Amsterdam), Huddersfield Contemporary Music festival, Ilhom (Tashkent), IRCAM, Musica (Strasbourg), New York City Electroacoustic Music festival, EMUfest (Rom), Roaring Hoofs (Mongolia), 2 Days and 2 Nights (Odessa), Sonorities (Belfast), Spazio Musica (Cagliari), Spectra (Tirana), Time of music (Viitasaari), Ultima (Oslo), Warsaw Automn and the ISCM World Music Days in Hong-Kong, Stockholm and Zagreb. 

He is a member of the ensembles Axelsson & Nilsson-duo, MA and KammarensembleN and a frequent guest in ensembles such as Klangforum and Ensemble Modern. And he is a recording artist on the labels Alice, Ariadne, BMG, Caprice, Chamber sound, DBP, Phono Suecia, SFZ & Wergo.

Ivo Nilsson was the artistic director of the Stockholm New Music festival in 2003 & 2005. 

In 2007 he was awarded the Interpreters price from the Society of Swedish Composers.

In 2017 he was elected member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.