Our Vision

To ensure a vibrant and inclusive future, we focus our work in three areas:

Discovery and development of composers who expand the definition of American orchestral music

Educational programs that position music composition and improvisation as a gateway to creativity

Performance experiences that build a community of creativity

Meet ACO

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, systemic 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.

Our History

American Composers Orchestra (ACO) was founded in 1977

ACO's Founders Dennis Russell Davies, Francis Thorne, Nicolas Roussakis, and Paul Dunkel


Inaugural concert in Alice Tully Hall, broadcast on National Public Radio and Voice of America


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 class in 2000


Inauguration of Sonidos de las Américas Festival of Latin American music


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

Tania León at Sonidos de las Américas Festival


ACO inaugurates Coming to America: Immigrant Sounds/Immigrant Voices, exploring the constant evolution of American music through the work of immigrant composers


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

Derek Bermel performing with ACO 
at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall


ACO, in cooperation with American Composers Forum, American Music Center, the League of American Orchestras, and Meet The Composer creates EarShot, a national orchestral composition discovery network. ACO initiates Playing it UNsafe, the first-ever laboratory for the development of innovative new work for orchestra


ACO’s recording initiative launches free streaming music on InstantEncore.com

EarShot with ACO and New York Youth Symphony


Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute launches, providing experience to 30 jazz composers in writing for symphony orchestra

ACO performing at SONiC Festival 2011


ACO produces a nine-day, New York City-wide festival of young composers titled SONiC: Sounds of a New Century, featuring works composed in the first decade of this century by 125 composers age 40 and under

EarShot with ACO and New York Youth Symphony


ACO completes a major project to archive its definitive collection of American orchestral music recordings of the last 75 years, and transfers its collection to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts


Derek Bermel named ACO’s Artistic Director


ACO celebrates 40th Anniversary with a concert and Gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center

Dennis Russell Davies conducting ACO at its 40th Birthday Concert


ACO commits to high-quality audio and video recordings of all NYC concert and reading activity to be publicly available