Imbrie was born in New York City and began his musical training as a pianist when he was 4. In 1937, he went to Paris to study composition briefly with Nadia Boulanger and piano with Robert Casadesus. He returned to the United States the next year to attend Princeton University where he studied with Roger Sessions, receiving his undergraduate degree in 1942. His senior thesis there, a string quartet, was recorded by the Juilliard Quartet. During World War II he served in the U.S. Army as a Japanese translator. Afterwards, he went to the University of California, Berkeley, where he received an M.A. in Music in 1947; there he continued to study with Sessions, who had taken a position at Berkeley.
Imbrie taught composition, theory, and analysis at Berkeley from 1949 until his retirement in 1991. In the summer of 1991 he was Composer-in-Residence at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts.
In addition to his principal teaching job at Berkeley, he served as a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, Brandeis University, Northwestern University, New York University, the University of Alabama, and Harvard University, and had a regular teaching post at the San Francisco Conservatory.
He died at his home in Berkeley, California at the age of 86.
His notable students include Larry Austin, Tamar Diesendruck, Richard Festinger, Alden Jenks, Frank La Rocca, Neil Rolnick, Allen Shearer, Laura Schwendinger, Nils Frykdahl, Kurt Rohde, Hi Kyung Kim, Leslie Wildman and Carolyn Yarnell.
Imbrie's style was influenced early by Béla Bartók, and then by Roger Sessions, his teacher at both Princeton and Berkeley. Imbrie preferred harmony that was non-triadic, or if triadic, non-functional, and a tightly organized, often atonal, contrapuntal texture with attention to careful motivic development; he avoided the serial techniques that dominated art music composition after the Second World War. Imbrie was also attentive to melodic line and shape to make a free atonal language accessible.
Imbrie's body of work spans many genres. His chief works are:
First Recordings of Two Naumburg Award Compositions. Columbia Records, MS 6597
Andrew Imbrie. New York: Composers Recordings Inc., 1973. Rereleased, New World Records, 2007.
New Music for Virtuosos. New York: New World Records, 1977.
Andrew Imbrie and Gunther Schuller. New York: New World Records, 1978.
New Music Series Vol. 3. Neuma Records, 1993
Collage New Music. Boston: GM Recordings, 1989.
Andrew Imbrie. Boston: GM Recordings, 1993.
Music of Andrew Imbrie. New York: CRI, 1994.
Dream Sequence - Chamber Music of Andrew Imbrie. New York: New World Records, 1995.
Andrew Imbrie, Requiem. New Rochelle, NY: Bridge Records, 2000.
Andrew Imbrie. Albany, NY: Albany Records, 2002.