American Composers Orchestra (ACO) is pleased to announce the seven winners of its 19th annual Underwood New Music Readings. Just one of the many ways that ACO provides opportunities for emerging composers, the Readings are one of the country's most coveted honors for up-and-coming artists. This year, the Readings will be held on Friday, May 21 at 10am and Saturday, May 22 at 8pm at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre (Broadway at 116th Street, NYC) and, as always, are free and open to the public, giving audiences a chance to look behind-the-scenes at the rehearsal process involved in bringing a new orchestral piece to life. Seven of the nation's most promising composers in the early stages of their professional careers have been selected from more than 100 submissions received from across the country. This year's winners are Matti Kovler, Hannah Lash, Eric Lindsay, Tamar Muskal, Ricardo Romaneiro, Christopher Stark, and Wang Xi, representing a broad range of sound worlds and life experiences.
Following the Readings, one of the young composers will receive a $15,000 commission to write a new work to be performed by ACO. ACO’s 2009 winner, Wang Jie, won the top prize with her work Symphony No. 1. Her newly commissioned work, Episodes from the Other Sky, will be premiered by ACO at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall on October 15, 2010.
Writing for the symphony orchestra remains one of the supreme challenges for the aspiring composer. The subtleties of instrumental balance, timbre, and communication with the conductor and musicians are critical skills. Opportunities for composers to gain hands-on experience working with a professional orchestra are few. Since 1991 ACO’s New Music Readings have provided invaluable experience for emerging composers while serving as a vital resource to the music field by identifying a new generation of American composers. To date, more than 100 composers have participated in the Readings, including such award-winning composers as Melinda Wagner, Pierre Jalbert, Augusta Read Thomas, Randall Woolf, Jennifer Higdon, Daniel Bernard Roumain, and ACO's Creative Advisor, Derek Bermel.
The 2010 Readings are under the direction of ACO’s Artistic Director, composer Robert Beaser, and this year will be led by ACO Music Director Designate George Manahan (who begins his tenure with the orchestra in the fall of 2010) and guest conductor José Serebrier; mentor composers are Derek Bermel and George Tsontakis. The conductors, mentor composers, and principal players from ACO provide critical feedback to each of the participants during and after the sessions. In addition to the Readings, the composer participants will take part in workshops and one-on-one sessions with industry professionals on Friday and Saturday.
Since participating in ACO's Readings, composers have held important residencies and had many works commissioned, premiered, and performed by the country's prominent symphony orchestras. The New Music Readings continue ACO's emphasis on launching composers' careers, a tradition that includes many of today's top composers, such as Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Joseph Schwantner, both of whom received Pulitzer Prizes for ACO commissions; and Robert Beaser, Ingram Marshall, Joan Tower, Aaron Jay Kernis, Christopher Rouse, Sebastian Currier, and Tobias Picker, whom the orchestra championed when they were beginning their careers.
ACO & the EarShot Network
In addition to its annual Readings in New York, ACO has expanded its efforts to reach composers and orchestras across the country through the creation of EarShot, the National Orchestral Composition Discovery Network. EarShot is a partnership among five leading new music organizations – American Composers Orchestra, American Composers Forum, American Music Center, the League of American Orchestras, and Meet The Composer – that assists orchestras around the country in mounting their own new music readings. It is the nation’s first ongoing program to identify emerging orchestral composers, and to provide professional-level working experience for those composers with orchestras from every region of the country.
Through EarShot, founded in 2008, more than two dozen composers have already been selected for programs with the New York Youth Symphony, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Most recently, EarShot presented new music readings with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra on April 7 and 8, and with the Pioneer Valley Symphony (MA) on April 17 and 18, 2010.
ACO & Playing it UNsafe 2011
Founded in 2008, ACO’s Playing it UNsafe initiative is the first professional laboratory to support the creation of cutting-edge new American orchestral music through no-holds-barred experimentation. Like ACO’s Readings and the EarShot Network, the goal of Playing it UNsafe is to provide composers with uncommon access to composing for the orchestra. Playing it UNsafe takes the process a step further, with a unique incubation process of workshops, public readings, collaborative feedback, and laboratory performances of music created especially for the program.
A nationwide call for proposals has been issued (submission deadline is April 30, 2010) for music that challenges conventional notions about orchestral music. The composers selected to participate will be chosen for their willingness to experiment and stretch their own musical sensibilities, and their ability to test and stretch the possibilities for the orchestra itself. A series of public readings and open rehearsals will commence in fall 2010, and the project culminates in a final Playing it UNsafe lab performances on March 4, 2011 at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall. More info about Playing It UNsafe is available online at www.americancomposers.org/unsafe/.
Playing it UNsafe features Orchestra Underground, ACO’s groundbreaking ensemble that seeks to redefine orchestra music by embracing the gamut of musical styles, unusual instrumentations and spatial orientations of musicians, technological innovations, and multimedia/multidisciplinary collaborations. Since its launch in 2004, ACO’s Orchestra Underground has commissioned and premiered fifty cutting-edge new works and played to sold-out houses at Zankel Hall.
Now in its 33rd year, American Composers Orchestra is the only orchestra in the world dedicated to the creation, performance, preservation, and promulgation of music by American composers. ACO makes the creation of new opportunities for American composers and new American orchestral music its central purpose. Through its concerts at Carnegie Hall and other venues, recordings, radio broadcasts, educational programs, New Music Readings, and commissions, ACO identifies today’s brightest emerging composers, champions prominent established composers as well as those lesser-known, and increases regional, national, and international awareness of the infinite variety of American orchestral music, reflecting geographic, stylistic, and temporal diversity. ACO also serves as an incubator of ideas, research, and talent, as a catalyst for growth and change among orchestras, and as an advocate for American composers and their music.
To date, ACO has performed music by 600 American composers, including 200 world premieres and newly commissioned works. Among the orchestra’s innovative programs have been Sonidos de las Américas, six annual festivals devoted to Latin American composers and their music; Coming to America, a program immersing audiences in the ongoing evolution of American music through the work of immigrant composers; Orchestra Tech, a festival and long-term initiative to integrate new digital technologies in the symphony orchestra; Improvise!, a festival devoted to the exploration of improvisation and the orchestra; Playing it UNsafe, a new laboratory for the research and development of experimental new works for orchestra; and, of course, Orchestra Underground, ACO’s entrepreneurial cutting-edge orchestral ensemble that embraces new technology, eclectic instruments, influences, and spatial orientation of the orchestra, new experiments in the concert format, and multimedia and multi-disciplinary collaborations.
Among the honors ACO has received are special awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and from BMI recognizing the orchestra’s outstanding contribution to American music. ASCAP has awarded its annual prize for adventurous programming to ACO 31 times, singling out ACO as “the orchestra that has done the most for new American music in the United States,” and most recently awarding ACO the 2008 ASCAP Morton Gould Award for Innovative Programming. ACO received the inaugural METLife Award for Excellence in Audience Engagement, and a proclamation from the New York City Council. ACO recordings are available on ARGO, CRI, ECM, Point, Phoenix USA, MusicMasters, Nonesuch, Tzadik, New World Records, and InstantEncore.com. More information about American Composers Orchestra is available online at www.americancomposers.org.