American Composers Orchestra


Festival Goals
Artists & Ensembles




Scope & Background of the Project

Improvise! is American Composers Orchestra's (ACO's) festival and conference exploring improvisation and the orchestra. The project is devoted to exploring improvisation in orchestral music in all its conceptual and stylistic diversity, including jazz, graphic notation, technological innovation, collective improvisation, and other influences.

The festival takes place in venues around New York City from April 24 - May 1, 2004. Composers Anthony Davis and Alvin Singleton serve as Music Alive Composers-in-Residence and artistic advisors for Improvise! Two dozen guest artists, composer-improvisers, and ensembles will participate.

The Need for Artistic Exploration

Improvisation is representative of the American musical means of expression that has impacted diverse musical genres; yet little attention has been focused on the history and practical and aesthetic issues surrounding improvisation in music for orchestra. Through the conference and festival, ACO will explore the dynamic relationships that develop between composer, conductor, ensemble, improviser(s), soloist(s), and audiences in any music that embraces improvisation in the orchestral setting, and examine how improvisation has been and might be utilized as a structural, stylistic, procedural or thematic element in orchestral music being written by American composers today.

By focusing on improvisation, ACO will bring nationwide attention to provocative new music and musicians, while exploring both the rewards and challenges posed by integrating improvisation into the orchestra. Historical antecedents and new experiments will be embraced, and issues from the philosophic and aesthetic to the practical will be discussed. Among the concepts to be explored in performances, presentations and educational activities are:

  • The composer-improviser continuum: where does traditional "composition" end and "improvisation" begin?

  • How do the two disciplines/traditions relate to each other?

  • Is improvisation an abdication of the composer's responsibilities, or the basis for positive collaboration?

  • How has the specialization of the composer as a non-performer, beginning in the 20th century, effected the development of improvisation in concert music?

  • What impact has the rise of jazz had on orchestral music generally, and on improvised music for orchestra in particular?

  • What other music influences have impacted, or might impact improvised orchestra music? (World music traditions; digital technologies)

  • What are the production issues associated with improvised music for the orchestra? How does it effect rehearsal and performance? How is the need for music notation addressed?

  • How and when should improvisation be used as a compositional tool available to the musical creator? What works, what doesn't?

  • How are the relationships between conductor, players, and composer effected by improved music?

  • Music education: Are improvisation skills adequately addressed in music training? If not, what can be improved?


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Last updated 3/28/04