In 1977, a collective of fearless New York City musicians came together to form the American Composers Orchestra (ACO), an ensemble dedicated to the creation, celebration, performance, and promotion of orchestral music by American composers. Over more than 40 years committed to artistry, creativity, community, and equity, ACO has blossomed into a national institution that cultivates and develops the careers of living composers, providing a direct pipeline to meaningful partnerships with orchestras across the country.
In addition to its annual season, presented by Carnegie Hall since 1987, the ACO serves as a New York City hub where the most forward-thinking experimental American musicians come together to hone and realize new art by developing talent, established composers, and underrepresented voices, increasing the regional, national, and international awareness of the infinite variety of American orchestral music.
ACO produces national educational programs for all ages, and composer advancement programs to foster a community of creators, audience, performers, collaborators, and funders – all dedicated to American composition.
To date, ACO has performed music by 800 American composers, including over 350 world premieres and newly commissioned works. Recent and notable commissioned composers include John Luther Adams, Andy Akiho, Clarice Assad, Carlos Bandera, Courtney Bryan, Valerie Coleman, Dai Wei, Du Yun, inti figgis-vizueta, Marcus Gilmore, Vijay Iyer, Yvette Janine Jackson, Joan La Barbara, Steve Lehman, Tania León, Paula Matthusen, Trevor New, Mendi + Keith Obadike, Ellen Reid, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Carlos Simon, Henry Threadgill, and many more.
Now encompassing all of ACO’s composer advancement initiatives, EarShot is the first ongoing, systematic program for developing relationships between composers and orchestras on the national level. Through orchestral readings, CoLABoratory fellowships, consortium commissions, publishing, and professional development, EarShot ensures a vibrant musical future by investing in creativity today. Serving over 350 composers since inception, ACO Readings in NYC began in 1991, and since 2008, national Readings have been offered in partnership with orchestras across the country in collaboration with the League of American Orchestras, New Music USA, and American Composers Forum. EarShot Readings composers have gone on to win every major composition award, including the Pulitzer, Grammy, Grawemeyer, American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Rome Prizes.
ACO has received numerous awards for its work, including those from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and from BMI recognizing the orchestra’s outstanding contribution to American music. ASCAP has awarded ACO its annual prize for adventurous programming 35 times, singling out ACO as “the orchestra that has done the most for new American music in the United States.” ACO received the inaugural MetLife Award for Excellence in Audience Engagement, and a proclamation from the New York City Council.
American Composers Orchestra (ACO) was founded in 1977
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich becomes first woman composer to receive Pulitzer Prize for ACO-commissioned work, Symphony No. 1
ACO holds its first reading sessions of works by emerging composers, through the American Symphony Orchestra League’s New Music Project
Music Factory with Composers in Schools debuts (now known as Sonic Spark), bringing composers into New York City elementary and high schools, exploring the process of creating music
ACO creates Improvise!, a festival exploring improvisation and the orchestra
Composer Derek Bermel appointed Music Alive Composer-in-Residence, providing new artistic guidance for ACO’s Orchestra Underground and Composers OutFront series
ACO’s recording initiative launches free streaming music on InstantEncore.com
Derek Bermel named ACO’s Artistic Director
ACO celebrates 40th Anniversary with a concert and Gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center