Scope of Activities

Carnegie Hall Subscription Season

Carnegie Hall serves as the home of ACO. Performing at one of the world’s foremost concert halls increases national and international recognition not only for ACO, but for the diverse and talented pool of American composers served by the orchestra. ACO 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 rite-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.


ACO commissions an average of eight new works per season; 350 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 Bernard 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 recent Pulitzer-Prize winning Kevin Puts; The Book of Five, a collaborative work for orchestra and amplified ensemble by Stewart Wallace; and Symphony No. 6 “Plutonian Ode” by Philip Glass. Commissions premiered in recent seasons include new works by Erin Gee, Lukas Ligeti, Doug Cuomo, Wang Jie, Missy Mazzoli, Ryan Francis, Christopher Trapani, Sean Friar, Joan La Barbara, Laura Schwendinger, Kenji Bunch, Christopher Stark, Alex Temple, Wang Lu, Michael Daugherty, and Gabriel Kahane. Current commissions place emphasis on emerging composers, experimental work and eclectic influences.

Orchestra Underground

Launched in February 2004, Orchestra Underground is a new experimental series designed for the 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. The series develops new repertoire, and provides fertile working ground for artists who have not traditionally had access to the orchestral ensemble. The debut Orchestra Underground concert featured world premieres by Lisa Bielawa, and Gotham, a collaborative work created by composer Michael Gordon and Ridge Theater. Since then, ACO has collaborated with many composers, performers, technologists, video artists, including Bill T. Jones and Pilobolus Dance Company. Orchestra Underground has reached new diverse audiences, playing to sold-out houses during its first ten seasons, and bringing the orchestra into new unchartered territory.

Underwood New Music Reading Sessions & Commission

Initiated in June 1993, 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. 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. ACO’s reading sessions have become respected as the industry proving-ground for many of today’s most talented orchestral composers.

Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute

In 2010 ACO launched the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute (JCOI) in partnership with the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University. In 2012-13 JCOI expanded its collaborations by adding the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA. JCOI includes an Intensive with workshops exposing jazz composers to the world of the orchestra and New Music Readings that unveil works written by these composers. JCOI extends the scope of jazz composition to the realm of the symphony orchestra, an area that many jazz composers desire to engage, which has not been adequately supported by traditional jazz studies curricula or by standard professional or infrastructural networks in the jazz and orchestra fields.

coLABoratory: Playing It UNsafe

R&D Labs identify new emerging compositional talent from around the country, provide opportunities for experimentation and artistic development, and through workshops, offer feedback and revision to create a new collaborative paradigm for the creation of orchestra music. These laboratories encourage the development of innovative music that stretches the boundaries of what is possible in orchestral music while supporting composers throughout the development of their projects. Composers, musicians, artistic leaders and conductors benefit from their collaboration and breadth of learning that occurs.


EarShot is the first-ever national partnership created to strengthen and support orchestras in their commitment to up-and-coming American composers and their music. The program identifies emerging American orchestral composers, provides them with professional-level working experience with orchestras from every region of the country, increases awareness of the selected composers and access to their music throughout the industry. A key priority of EarShot is to build partnerships with orchestras around the country to establish and promote a national network of New Music Readings that will introduce audiences to and provide professional advancement for American composers and their work. Among the current and past EarShot partners are the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Colorado Symphony, New York Youth Symphony, Nashville Symphony Orchestra and San Diego Symphony. EarShot is a collaboration between American Composers Orchestra, American Composers Forum, American Music Center, the League of American Orchestras, and New Music USA.

SONiC: Sounds of a New Century (2011 and 2014)

ACO produced the nine-day, New York City-wide festival of young composers running from October 14-22, 2011. The festival, curated by composer Derek Bermel and pianist Stephen Gosling, featured works composed during the first decade of this century by 125 composers age 40 and under. This was the most visible gathering of today’s young music creators ever convened, the festival generated a groundswell of interest in new music composed by the largest and most diverse array of emerging composers. In addition to its own performances,  ACO served as the lead festival producer and presented 12 other concerts featuring 15 of today’s most exciting contemporary music ensembles that included Alarm Will Sound, eighth blackbird, Either/Or, International Contemporary Ensemble and many others. The festival took place at a multitude of venues throughout the city including Carnegie Hall, the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden, Symphony Space, Miller Theatre, Roulette, Americas Society, Joe’s Pub, the Joyce SoHo and The Kitchen. SONiC was organized in collaboration with the Alice M. Ditson Fund at Columbia University, Miller Theatre, Carnegie Hall and WNYC’s Q2 Internet station.

The SONiC Festival was presented again in 2015.

Composers Outfront Series

Composers OutFront is a concert series that puts composers on stage, making connections between their musical roots as performers and their works for the concert hall. Launched in 1999, the series has featured composers whose experiences include concert music as well as jazz, rock, funk, hip-hop, improvisation and world music. Performances have been held at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theatre and The Knitting Factory, as well as at BAMCafé in Brooklyn and Harlem School of the Arts. Composers OutFront! has featured composer/multi-instrumentalist Derek Bermel, Korean-American composer/komungo soloist and improviser Jin Hi Kim, pianist-composer Muhal Richard Abrams, Hollywood composing legend David Raksin, and composer/jazz saxophonist Fred Ho. 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 ACO’s performances at Carnegie Hall.

Emerging Composer Fellowships

As part of its efforts to provide extended professional development opportunities to emerging American composers, ACO commenced its Emerging Composer Fellowships in 1999. Through this program, young composers have had 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.

Music Factory Education Program

Music Factory is ACO’s innovative educational initiative geared towards public school children. The program teaches musical concepts through an engaging process which aids students in development of original compositions. The program presents composers as teaching artists in workshops and residencies that often are accompanied by professional musicians performing in small ensembles. Other features encourage student attendance at working rehearsals of music by resident composers or student composition projects modeled on creative processes of resident composers. ACO partners with schools in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan, reaching over 2,500 school children annually.  Music Factory also includes in-school performances that engage the community and free tickets to ACO concerts for students and their families.

Compose Yourself was designed for listeners and practitioners interested in expanding their knowledge about contemporary music by engaging hands-on, focusing on the fundamentals of music composition with ACO’s staff of composers. Each participant receives six lessons and two opportunities to have their music read by ACO’s Reading ensemble.

Up to 100 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.

Sonidos de las Américas (1994-99)

In February 1994, ACO launched Sonidos de las Américas, the first of a series of six annual festivals devoted to the music of Latin America. Each week-long festival included 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 festivals focused on Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and Cuba.

Coming to America: Immigrant Sounds, Immigrant Voices (2000-01)

Coming to America: Immigrant Sounds/Immigrant Voices explores the continual evolution of American music through the work of immigrant composers. Coming to America links the music of these composers to questions central to immigration and cultural absorption in American society. In 2000-01, Coming to America featured composers Jin Hi Kim (Korea), P.Q. Phan (Vietnam), Chinary Ung (Cambodia), Melissa Hui (China), Tania León (Cuba) and Lukas Foss (Germany). Together these composers span several generations and three continents. 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 was selected as a model by Americans for the Arts for its Animating Democracy Initiative and was awarded a prestigious MetLife Award for Community Engagement. Since its launch, featured composers included Shulamit Ran (Israel), Hsueh-Yung Shen (China), Carlos Carrillo (Puerto Rico), Behzad Ranjbaran (Iran), and Alla Borzova (Belarus).

Improvise! (2004)

Improvise! was ACO’s spring 2004 festival exploring improvisation and the orchestra. The festival devoted itself to exploring improvisation in orchestral music in all its diversity, including jazz, graphic notation, technological innovation, and other influences. Through the festival, ACO explored the dynamic relationships that develop between composer, conductor, ensemble, improviser(s), soloist(s), and audiences in music that embraces improvisation, and examined how improvisation has been and might be utilized in orchestral music being written by American composers today. Composers Anthony Davis and Alvin Singleton served as Music Alive Composers in Residence and artistic advisors for Improvise! ACO’s interest in improvisation continued with commissions by composer-improvisors such as Uri Caine, Vijay Iyer, Fred Ho, and Donal Fox, as well as collaborative concerts with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

20th-Century Snapshots Series (1999-2001)

From January 1999 to April 2001, ACO undertook a landmark 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 made 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. Working with collaborative and educational partners, this series included special themed performances and satellite events focused on: Walt Whitman, The Gershwin Circle, Protest, Roots, Copland-Sessions, Ellis Island to JFK, Hollywood, Pacifica, and more.

Orchestra Tech: Orchestra Technology Initiative

Orchestra 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 bridges 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 artistic advisor.

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. Recent Orchestra Tech commissions include: the Virtual Concerto by composer-technologist George Lewis; Neil Rolnick’s iFiddle Concerto; Dan Trueman’s Silicon/Carbon: an anti-Concerto-Grosso; Glimmer, an audience- interactive work by composer Jason Freeman; Anna Clyne’s Tender Hooks, a multimedia concerto for theremin, laptop & orchestra; Rand Steiger’s Cryosphere, for live electronics and orchestra; and Mouthpiece XIII: Mathilde of Loci, Part 1, by Erin Gee, for computer-processed voice, film, actor, and orchestra.

Radio / Internet Broadcasts/Recordings

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. In 2009, ACO entered into a partnership with, through which recordings of ACO’s Orchestra Underground performances are made available for free to the public.

With more than 1,000 musical works by over 600 American composers, ACO’s diverse collection of live recordings showcases every major compositional trend of American orchestral music over the last 75 years. Our one of a kind collection features compositions in their truest form, as the composers themselves directly assisted in rehearsal and performance preparation, oftentimes making these the first and/or only recordings in existence. ACO’s irreplaceable collection of sound recordings and related materials are in need of significant work to stabilize, conserve and catalog all the material. Upon completion of this project, the archive will be housed at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, where it will be accessible as part of the Library’s music special collections.

ACO’s discography numbers 25 albums. ACO’s album of orchestral works by John Cage on the ECM label has garnered international awards and praise. In July 2001, Ingram Marshall’s Kingdom Come, commissioned by ACO, was released on Nonesuch. ACO’s first recording on the Point label, Philip Glass’s 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. Other ACO recordings include albums for London/ARGO, Composers Recordings Inc., MusicMasters, New World Records, and Phoenix USA. In 2009, ACO commenced an online audio initiative with, Amazon and iTunes, making recordings of ACO’s groundbreaking Orchestra Underground programs available worldwide. ACO’s digital album, Orchestra Underground: X10D, was released in 2012.  SONiC Double Live was released in 2016.

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 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. In 2005, ACO established a new multi-year residency at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Pennsylvania that continued through 2010. The residency brought ACO outside of New York City for the first time in two decades, with a series of concerts, new music readings, and educational and outreach activities. In fall 2006, ACO initiated its first collaborative concerts with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center, extending its interest in improvisation and playing to three sold-out houses. In addition, ACO participates in Immigrant Heritage Week each year, presenting Coming to America performances around New York City.