Mesut Özgen has performed and taught master classes throughout the United States, Spain, and Turkey and has been on the guitar faculty at the University of California, Santa Cruz since 1998. He was the first guitarist to be awarded the "Dean’s Prize," which is the highest honorary prize of the Yale School of Music. He began playing guitar in 1981 while pursuing his study at the School of Medicine. During his seven years of medical practice, as a self-taught guitarist, he also played concerts and taught guitar in his native Turkey. After his two performances in the International Paco Peña Guitar Festival in Cordoba, Spain in 1989 and 1990, he was invited to the U.S. by Benjamin Verdery to study with him at Yale University, School of Music. Özgen completed both his Master of Music degree and Artist Diploma at Yale. Later, Özgen studied with Professor Frank Koonce in the doctoral program at Arizona State University and worked as his teaching assistant between 1994 and 1998. He performed in master classes for many notable guitarists, such as John Williams, David Russell, Manuel Barrueco, and Leo Brouwer. He has also studied early music on guitar, lute, and Baroque guitar with Jaap Schroeder, Rosalyn Tureck, John Metz, and Robert Spencer.
In addition to being a prizewinner in the International Portland Guitar Competition, he has performed as featured soloist in the International Paco Peña Guitar Festival in Cordoba, Spain and Santa Cruz Baroque Festival, and premiered new music for guitar at the Yale Guitar Festival and April in Santa Cruz: Contemporary Music Festival. Besides teaching, Özgen has been giving solo recitals regularly, writing solo, duo, and ensemble music for guitar and other instruments based on or influenced by traditional Turkish music. Frequently collaborating with other composers, Özgen has long been a strong advocate of new music for guitar. Composers who have written solo, concerto, and various ensemble music for Özgen include Pablo Ortiz, Benjamin Verdery, Deepak Ram, Christopher Pratorius, Robert Strizich, Charles Nichols, Paul Nauert, and Yalçin Tura.
Özgen has also a long-standing interest in bringing classical guitar music to wider audiences. His staged performances include "Folkie Classical Guitar," presenting classical music based on American, Spanish, Turkish, Greek, and Argentinean folk cultures, with special stage design and costumes, as well as "Pick and Roll" for guitar ensemble by Ben Verdery, featuring a basketball player in dialogue with the ensemble and utilizing spatial elements in the hall.
Özgen has been the director of a multimedia concert project "New Dimensions in Classical Guitar" since 2002, collaborating with a multidisciplinary artistic team from the film and digital media, theatre, and music departments at the Arts Division of University of California Santa Cruz. The team prepares visual accompaniments for each musical composition, comprising video, interactive computer images, and particularized lighting design and stage choreography. This interdisciplinary collaboration between several art forms (music, visual arts, digital media, and theatre arts) aims to push the traditional boundaries of these art forms to explore visually enhanced stage presentations in classical music performance.