About ACO

Innovating Right Before Your Ears

American Composers Orchestra (ACO) is the only orchestra in the world dedicated to the creation, performance, preservation and promotion of music by American composers. Founded in 1977, ACO pursues a singular mission by maintaining an unparalleled range of activities:

Creating new opportunities for American Composers

ACO makes the creation of new opportunities for American composers and new American orchestral music its central purpose. ACO programs increase opportunities for American composers and generate broader awareness of their work. ACO’s new approach generates further interest and programming by other music organizations. It also increases the audience for contemporary American orchestral music by influencing music decision makers.

aco-40th-logo-for-webWe start by identifying today’s brightest emerging composers and championing prominent established artists. To increase international awareness of the variety of American orchestral music, we incubate new ideas, develop talent, and serves as a catalyst and advocate for American composers and their music.

Now in its 40th season, ACO has performed music by over 800 composers, including more than 350 world premieres and commissioned works. Many ACO-commissioned composers have gone on to win important prizes such as the Pulitzer, Guggenheim Fellowship and Prix de Rome.

Promoting innovative music

Each year, ACO actively promotes music by emerging and established composers through a suite of innovative programs:

  • Orchestra Underground is a series stretching the definition of, and possibilities for the orchestra. Originally designed for the opening of state-of-the-art Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, the series challenges conventional notions about symphonic music, embracing multidisciplinary and collaborative work, novel instrumental and spatial orientations of musicians, new technologies and multimedia. Through the Orchestra Underground concerts ACO now commissions more new and experimental work each season than at any time in its history.
  • Underwood New Music Reading & Commission – Gives emerging composers the rare opportunity to work with an orchestra through public readings, professional development workshops and feedbback sessions with conductors, musicians and mentor composers. One participating composer receives a $15,000 commission and future performance by ACO.
  • Earshot Network – The nation’s first program that identifies and promotes emerging composers and then showcases them in Readings hosted by major national orchestras.
  • Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute – Brings together jazz composers at various stages in their careers chosen from a national pool of applicants, to explore the challenges of writing for the symphony orchestra.

Other major projects have included:

  • SONiC: Sounds of a New Century, a festival featuring works composed in the first decade of this century by composers aged 40. The first SONiC festival took place over nine days in October 2011 and featured over 100 composers, 16 ensembles, 11 venues, and 24 world premieres. The second SONiC Festival was presented in October 2015.
  • Improvise! – a festival supporting and encouraging the creation and performance of works, integrating improvisation with the orchestra; and 20th-Century Snapshots, a multi-year celebration of the Millennium based on evocative and provocative American themes and ideas.
  • Sonidos de las Américas, six festivals devoted to the music of different Latin American countries; Coming to America: Immigrant Sounds/Immigrant Voices, an exploration of the ongoing evolution of American music through the music of immigrant composers
  • Orchestra Tech, a long-term project to encourage the creation, performance and development of music uniting orchestral forces and new technology


  • A special award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
  • A proclamation from the New York City Council
  • The inaugural MetLife Award for excellence in community engagement
  • BMI has honored ACO for its outstanding contribution to American music
  • The League of American Orchestras has awarded the ASCAP annual prize for adventurous programming 35 times
  • ASCAP has singled-out ACO as “the orchestra that has done the most for new American music in the United States”