American Composers Orchestra


programs and activities

concert schedule
key developments
























































concert schedule
key developments


























concert schedule
key developments



carnegie hall subscription season

Carnegie Hall serves as the home of ACO. Performing at one of the world's foremost concert halls is important in increasing national and international recognition not only for ACO, but for the diverse and talented pool of American composers served by the orchestra. Dennis Russell Davies conducts the ACOACO programs explore the full range and diversity of American music, often focusing on a specific composer, trend, idea, or musical issue. Concerts often include lesser-known works by renowned composers, significant pieces by established composers at the forefront of present creativity, with a special emphasis on new music by young composers. A performance by ACO at Carnegie Hall is viewed by many in the industry as a right-of-passage for an emerging composer, and orchestras around the country look to ACO's concerts as a source for the best in new American music. [Click here to see concert schedule]


ACO commissions an average of four new works per season; 95 commissions to date. Composers commissioned include Aaron Jay Kernis, Sheila Silver, Hannibal Peterson, Philip Glass, David Lang, Bun-ching Lam, Anthony Advise, John Cage, John Adams, Morton Subotnick, Olly Wilson, Louis Ballard, Joan Tower, Julia Wolfe and Charles Wuorinen. Both Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Joseph Schwantner received their first orchestral commissions from the ACO; each work was subsequently awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Among ACO's recent commissions are the Koussevitsky Award-winning Desde... by Tania León; Clouds (from out of the past...) by Hollywood composer Paul Chihara; Harlem Essay by composer/hip-hop artist Daniel Roumain; Jennifer Higdon's Fanfare Ritmico; Tomorrow's Song as Yesterday Sings Today, by the experimental improviser/pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams; Sparkler by composer and technologist Tod Machover; Falling Dream by emerging composer Kevin Puts, The Book of Five, a collaborative work for orchestra and amplified ensemble by Stewart Wallace; and the Symphony No. 6 "Plutonian Ode" by Philip Glass. Recently, ACO partnered with The Women's Philharmonic in a project to commission ten fanfares in celebration of the Millennium. Commissions premiered in the 2002-03 season included new works Dan Coleman, Brian Robison, Hsueh-Yung Shen, Milton Babbitt, Shulamit Ran, and David Lang. The 2003-04 season features the realization of newly-commissioned music by Lisa Bielawa, Alvin Singleton, George Lewis, and Michael Gordon. Future commissions place emphasis on emerging composers.[Click here to see a list of ACO commissions]

new music reading sessionsDennis Russell Davies and Brian Robison at the Whitaker New Music Readings

Initiated in June 1993, the ACO holds annual reading sessions of works by young composers. Up to eight composers from throughout the United States are selected to receive a reading of a new work under the batons of Dennis Russell Davies, Steven Sloane, and guest conductors, and with the input of Artistic Director and composer Robert Beaser. Each composer selected receives rehearsal, reading and a digital recording of his or her work. Review and feedback sessions with ACO principal players, and mentor-composers provide crucial artistic, technical and conceptual assistance. Following the readings, one composer each year is awarded a $15,000 commission for a performance by ACO, providing an all-important career-building Carnegie Hall debut. The ACO's reading sessions have become respected as the industry proving-ground for many of today's most talented orchestral composers.[Click here to see info on the Whitaker New Music Reading Sessions]

orchestra underground

Launching in February 2004 is Orchestra Underground, a new experimental series being designed for the newly-constructed state-of-the-art Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall. The series will challenge conventional notions about symphonic music, embracing multidisciplinary and collaborative work, novel instrumental and spatial orientations of musicians, new technologies and multimedia. The series will develop new repertoire, and provide fertile working ground for artists who have not traditionally had access to the orchestral ensemble. The debut Orchestra Underground concert features world premieres by Lisa Bielawa, and A Day in Gotham, a collaborative work created by composer Michael Gordon and Ridge Theater.




Improvise! is ACO's festival exploring improvisation and the orchestra, scheduled for April 24 - May 1, 2004. The festival is devoted to exploring improvisation in orchestral music in all its diversity, including jazz, graphic notation, technological innovation, and other influences. Improvisation is an emblematically American musical means of expression that has impacted diverse musical genres; yet little attention has been focused on the history, practical and aesthetic issues surrounding improvisation in music for orchestra. Through the festival, ACO will explore the dynamic relationships that develop between composer, conductor, ensemble, improviser(s), soloist(s), and audiences in music that embraces improvisation, and examine how improvisation has been and might be utilized in orchestral music being written by American composers today. Composers Anthony Davis and Alvin Singleton serve as Music Alive Composers-in-Residence and artistic advisors for Improvise!

The festival will include a range of performances and venues, educational activities, and presentations designed to appeal to a wide range of audiences and participants, including jazz, classical, experimental and world-music listeners, students, composers, performers, and music professionals. In total, the festival will provide a vibrant presentation and exchange of ideas about conceptual, aesthetic and practical approaches to improvisation in orchestral music, including: concerts of orchestra music at Carnegie Hall and other venues; commissions of new music integrating improvisation and the orchestra; ensemble concerts with guest artists at venues around New York City; reading sessions providing an opportunity for composer/improvisers to present works-in-progress and newer developments in their work; professional meetings, allowing composer/improvisers to interact and share their music and perspectives; master classes at area colleges and conservatories; and in-school workshops and educational residencies. [find out more...]

orchestra tech: orchestra technology initiative

Orchestra TechOrchestra Tech is a multi-year initiative to explore and encourage the creation, performance and development of music that unites orchestral forces with new technology. The initiative has been conceived as a way to examine the possibilities that computers and multimedia technologies have been, and might in the future be, applied to orchestral music; and to encourage the future development and performance of innovative music that integrates technology into the orchestra. The initiative is national in scope, and includes performance, educational, research and professional development, dissemination and commissioning activities. Through Orchestra Tech, ACO will help bridge the digital divide that exists between composers and other musical and multimedia artists working in technology, and those writing for symphony orchestra. Renowned composer and music-technology innovator Tod Machover serves as ACO's artistic advisor for Orchestra Tech.

The initiative commenced in fall 2001 with a National Conference on the Orchestra and Technology that brought together composers, scientists, music professionals, orchestra administrators, academics and students for symposia, artistic exchanges and concert performances. Current and future activities include commissions and co-commissions, performances at Carnegie Hall and as part of ACO's newly created "Orchestra Underground" series, educational workshops, and the creation of a consortium of interested orchestra professionals to advance the creation and performance of such music. During the 2003-04 season two newly-commissioned works developed through Orchestra Tech will be premiered: Gotham, a multimedia collaboration between composer Michael Gordon and video and visual artists from the Ridge Theater Co., and the Virtual Concerto by composer-technologist George Lewis.[Click here to learn more]

"composers out front" series

Composers OutfrontBeginning in 1999 season, ACO launched Composers OutFront, a series that puts composers on stage, making connections between their musical roots as performers and their works for the concert hall. The series has featured composers whose experiences include concert music as well as jazz, rock, funk, hip-hop, improvisation and world musics. Performances have been held at Joe's Pub at the Public Theatre and The Knitting Factory, alternative music spaces in lower Manhattan. Composers Out Front has featured composer/multi-instrumentalist Derek Bermel, Korean-American composer/komungo soloist and improviser Jin Hi Kim, and Hollywood composing legend David Raksin. In 2002, the series offered performances by composers-performers working with new digital technologies. By featuring primarily young composers who are also performers in a casual downtown setting, the series expands and diversifies ACO's audiences, and provides connections with the performances ACO gives at Carnegie Hall.

coming to america: immigrant sounds & voices

Coming to America: Immigrant Sounds/Immigrant VoicesComing to America: Immigrant Sounds/Immigrant Voices is ACO's exploration of the continual evolution of American music through the work of immigrant composers. Launched in 2000-01, "Coming to America" has linked the music of several composers to questions central to immigration and cultural absorption in American society. Participating in "Coming to America" have been composers Jin Hi Kim and P.Q. Phan, as well as Chinary Ung, Melissa Hui, Tania León and Lukas Foss. Together these composers span several generations and three continents. They either immigrated or fled respectively from Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Cuba and Germany. Each composer was represented by recent or newly premiered work; additional performances, in-school educational activities, forums and community dialogues took place around New York City. The program has been selected as a model by Americans for the Arts for its Animating Democracy Initiative, and was awarded a prestigious MetLife Award for Community Engagement. [Click here to learn more]

"20th century snapshots" series

Begun in January, 1999 and concluded in April 2001, ACO has undertaken a special 11-concert project based on American themes of the past century in commemoration of the Millennium. The programs were based on evocative and provocative ideas that together make up a scatter-gun document of some of the things that happened in America in the last century and that could lead the way to the next one. Working with collaborative and educational partners, this series included special themed performances and satellite events focusing on: "Walt Whitman," "The Gershwin Circle," "Protest," "Roots," "Copland-Sessions," "Ellis Island to JFK," "Hollywood," "Pacifica," and more.

sonidos de las américas

Sonidos de las Américas Composer WorkshopIn February 1994, the ACO launched Sonidos de las Américas, the first of a series of annual festivals devoted to the music of Latin America. Each week-long festival includes a visiting delegation of Latin American composers and performers; chamber music concerts in Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall and in Latino community venues; symposia and master classes at area colleges; and an orchestral concert at Carnegie Hall. The music of Cuba was explored in the 1999 festival. Previous festivals focused on Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and Argentina. ACO is now evaluating the continuation of the Sonidos concept with a new Latin American composer exchange program in a future season.

composer fellowships

As part of its efforts to provide extended professional development opportunities to emerging American composers, ACO announced the Van Lier Composer Fellowships in 1999. Through this program, three young composers over the next three years will have the opportunity to work with ACO artistic and administrative leadership to hone their professional skills, participate in planning, educational activities and performances, serve as a liaison with student composers, and enhance their professional careers by immersing themselves in the professional environment of ACO.

pre-concert discussions

Free to all ticket holders before each concert, these discussions, moderated by Artistic Advisor Robert Beaser, provide an opportunity to hear composers speak about their work and provide insight into the creative process. Average attendance is 450 per discussion, and twelve to eighteen composers participate in the discussions each season.

in-school education programs

In the 1993-94 season the ACO gave its first youth concerts through a collaboration with Carnegie Hall's Link Up! program. That association has grown over time to include as many as 16 annual concerts in NYC public schools and 8 concerts in Carnegie Hall, reaching more than 20,000 children each year. In 1999, ACO launched a new program, Music Factory: Composers in the Schools, bringing emerging composers into elementary and high-school classrooms, to involve New York City public high school students in the process of creating music, and to improve their understanding how composers work and write for orchestra. Over the last four years, Music Factory has brought more than twenty composers to work on an extended basis with each school in the program. ACO documents Music Factory curricula in order to share this material with other music organizations, with the goal of integrating American composers into music education programs nationwide.

academic ticket program

150 tickets to each Carnegie Hall performance are made available at no cost to high school and college music students throughout the Tri-state area. Students also attend pre-concert discussions and have an opportunity to meet with composers.

audience development / dissemination initiatives

ACO is committed to developing new and diverse audiences for American music, not only for its own concerts, but for musical organizations throughout the country and the world. ACO considers a fine performance of a newly commissioned work the beginning rather than the end of the creative process. Toward that end, ACO undertakes important activities such as radio broadcasts and recordings (see below). In addition, ACO has launched two innovative programs designed to foster additional performances for new American music, and to help create a fertile listening environment for this music to exist. SoundAdvice is ACO's mechanism for generating thought and discussion among audiences. A combination audience survey and interactive website, SoundAdvice encourages listeners to express an opinion about music they have heard. By creating a dialogue about music, ACO hopes to generate interest in, and break down inhibitions listeners often feel about, new works. To reach out to other music organizations and professionals, ACO has created ACO-Xchange. This professional network serves to bring together conductors, composers, music administrators, and others, to help disseminate information about new American music.

radio / internet broadcasts

In 1989, ACO launched its first series of nationally distributed radio broadcasts, Music in the Present Tense—The ACO at Carnegie Hall, over the American Public Radio network. A new annual series was begun in October, 1994 when Sonidos de las Américas was heard nationwide on the National Public Radio network. Beginning with the 1997-98 season, ACO began recording several of its Carnegie Hall subscription concerts for broadcast. These concerts are heard internationally in more than 50 countries through WGBH's Art of the States, and planning is new underway to distribute these radio recordings as a regular recurring segment on NPR's Performance Today.

ACO's first forays into internet dissemination of its performances were made as part of the recently launched Orchestra Tech initiative. Plans are know in the works to make additional archival recordings of ACO's singular performances available via the internet as part of ACO-Xchange.


The ACO makes up to two recordings per year. The discography now numbers 22 albums. Recent releases on London Records' ARGO label include the works of Colin McPhee, Lou Harrison, and Chinary Ung, and Symphonies Nos. 6, 7, and 9 of Roger Sessions. The ACO's first recording on the Point label, Philip Glass' Heroes Symphony was released in 1998. In 1999 John Zorn's Aporias–Requia for Piano and Orchestra was released as was the Philip Glass/Robert Wilson collaboration: the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down, ACT V. In 2000, ACO's album of orchestral works by John Cage appeared on the ECM label, garnering international awards and praise. In July 2001, ACO's latest recording, Ingram Marshall's Kingdom Come, commissioned by ACO, was released on Nonesuch.

touring & special concerts

Internationally acclaimed for commitment to and expertise in contemporary American music, ACO often undertakes special performances in conjunction with artistic or presenting partners. Recent examples include a birthday tribute to Alan Hovhaness; a memorial concert for Aaron Copland; the opening concert of the American Symphony Orchestra League's National Conference in New York; a program of Spanish composers exiled in the Americas held in conjunction with the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center of New York University; and the U.S. premiere of the Philip Glass/Robert Wilson opera White Raven in conjunction with the Lincoln Center Festival in July 2001.

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Last updated: 9/18/2003