Reza Vali was born in Ghazvin, Iran in 1952 and began his studies in music at the Conservatory of Music in Teheran. In 1972 he went to Austria to study composition and music education at the Academy of Music in Vienna. He earned his Ph.D. in music theory and composition from the University of Pittsburgh in 1985. He is currently a faculty member of the school of music at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA.

Vali's compositions include pieces for large orchestra, string quartet, piano and voice, electronic and computer media, and chamber ensemble. His awards include the honor prize of the Austrian Ministry of Arts and Sciences, two Andrew W. Mellon Fellowships, grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and commissions from the Kronos Quartet, The Boston Modern Orchestra, The Seattle Chamber Players, The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, and The Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic. In December 1991 he was selected by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust as Outstanding Emerging Artist for which he received the Creative Achievement Award. Composer David Stock has called Reza Vali "the most brilliantly successful composer since Bartok to combine ethnic folk music and Western classical music in a unique way that is as appealing as it is original."

Vali's compositions have been performed in the United States, Europe, South America, Mexico, Hong Kong, and Australia and are recorded on the New Albion, MMC, and ABC Classics labels. His first string quartet, composed for and premiered by the Kronos Quartet, was hailed by the Los Angeles Times as "urgent, cogent and tautly dramatic."