Tag: BMI

A Week of New Music Celebrations: the BMI Student Composer Awards, the Ceremonial & the Underwood Readings

The 2019 BMI Student Composer Award winners with Deirdre Chadwick and Ellen Taaffee Zwilich (Photo by Amanda Stevens for BMI).

The close proximity of the BMI Student Composer Awards, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Ceremonial, and the American Composers Orchestra’s Underwood New Music Readings, which all took place in New York City last week, have turned the penultimate week of May into a multi-day celebration of new music.

On May 21, the BMI Foundation celebrated the nine winners of the 2019 BMI Student Composer Awards.

On May 21, the BMI Foundation, in collaboration with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), announced the nine winners of the 2019 BMI Student Composer Awards at a private ceremony held at Tribeca 360° presided over by BMI Executive Director of Classical and BMIF President Deirdre Chadwick, BMI Senior Vice President of International and Global Policy Ann Sweeney, and renowned American composer and permanent Chair of the Student Composer Awards Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Marco-Adrián Ramos Rodríguez received the William Schuman Prize, awarded for most outstanding score, and Lucy McKnight received the Carlos Surinach Prize, awarded to the youngest winner. Another one of the 2019 winners, Matthew Schultheis, received his third consecutive award this year. In what has now become an annual tradition, prior to the announcement of the award winners, an award-winning work from a previous year was performed in its entirety. The Aizuri Quartet performed Carrot Revolution composed by Gabriella Smith which received a BMI Student Composer Award in 2018.

Here is a complete list of the 2019 award winners:

Amelia Brey (b. 1994): Ar(i/e)as for wind quintet

Henri Colombat (b. 1997): Goûts égouttés… gouttes for brass dectet

Kevin Day (b. 1996): Havana for wind ensemble

Liam Kaplan (b. 1997): 8 Preludes for piano

Lucy McKnight (b. 1998): plunge for two violas, cello, two basses

Marco-Adrián Ramos Rodríguez (b. 1995): Toys in a Field for orchestra

Matthew Schultheis (b. 1997): The Temptation of Saint Anthony for chamber ensemble

Tyler Wayne Taylor (b. 1992): Liberation Compromise for 17 players

Anna-Louise Walton (b. 1991): Basket of Figs for flute, clarinet, and voice

Additionally, 18-year-old Katie Palka received an honorable mention for her composition Stolen Flight for string quartet.

Alexandra du Bois, Jeremy Gill, Shawn Jaeger, and David Schober served as preliminary panelists this year. The final judges were Kati Agócs, Donald Crockett, Stephen Jaffe, and Elena Ruehr. (More information about each of the 2019 award-winning composers and their works is available on the BMI website.)

Eighteen composers received awards during the 2019 American Academy of Arts and Letters Ceremonial and three composers were inducted as new members.

On May 22, the annual American Academy of Arts and Letters Ceremonial took place during which numerous awards were given to writers, visual artists, and composers and new members of the academy were inducted.

Composers Chen Yi and Meredith Monk were inducted as the newest music department academicians. In addition, Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, who was unable to attend, was inducted as a foreign honorary member.

Four Arts and Letters Awards in Music (formerly Academy Awards) of $10,000 each, plus another $10,000 toward the recording of one work, are given annually to acknowledge a composer who has arrived at his/her own voice. The 2019 awardees are David Fulmer, Stacy Garrop, Wynton Marsalis, and John Musto. Elizabeth Ogonek was the recipient of the 2019 Walter Hinrichsen Award, established by the C. F. Peters Corporation, which is given for the publication of a work by a mid-career American composer. Gity Razaz received the $10,000 Andrew Imbrie Award, which has been awarded annually since 2012 to a mid-career composer of demonstrated artistic merit. Christopher Cerrone and Reinaldo Moya were the two 2019 recipients of the annually awarded $15,000 Charles Ives Fellowships which are awarded to young composers of extraordinary gifts. In addition, $7500 Charles Ives Scholarships were awarded to six composers—Ryan Lindveit, Sato Matsui, Paul Mortilla, Tanner Porter, Marco-Adrián Ramos Rodríguez (BMI’s 2019 William Schuman Prize winner), and Miles Walter—for continued study in composition, either at institutions of their choice or privately with distinguished composers. Two Goddard Lieberson Fellowships of $15,000, which are given annually to young composers of extraordinary gifts, were awarded to Travis Alford and Daniel Bernard Roumain. Finally, two musicals received 2019 Richard Rodgers Awards for Musical Theater: Bhangin’ It by Sam Willmott (music and lyrics), Mike Lew and Rehana Lew Mirza (book); and The Lucky Ones by Abigail and Shaun Bengson who wrote the music and lyrics and also co-wrote the book with Sarah Gancher.

In addition, composer David Del Tredici delivered this year’s Blashfield Address, a speech toward the end of the award announcements which is a hallmark of the Ceremonial. Del Tredici’s talk, “The Gift of Gayness: A Tell-All,” was provocative, heartfelt, and often extremely funny.

(A complete list of the American Academy of Arts and Letter’s 2019 award recipients in every discipline is available on the Arts and Letters website.)

Six composers were featured in the 2019 American Composers Orchestra Underwood New Music Readings, three of whom have received commissions to write new works for ACO.

Finally, on May 23 and 24, American Composers Orchestra, under the direction of Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot, read through works by six composers during the 28th Annual Underwood New Music Readings at New York University’s Frederick Loewe Theater. The six composers and their works are:

Rodrigo Castro (b. 1985): La gaviota – Essay No. 1 for Orchestra
Chen Yihan (b. 1994): Spiritus
inti figgis-vizueta (b. 1993): Symphony for the Body
Jack Hughes (b. 1992): Needlepoint
Jihyun Kim (b. 1989): A Tramp in the Assembly Line
Aaron Israel Levin (b. 1995): In Between

Following the readings, three of the composers received commissions for new works that will be performed on future ACO concerts: Jack Hughes received the 2019 Underwood Commission, Aaron Israel Levin received the 2019 Audience Choice Commission, and Jihyun Kim received the Consortium for Emerging Composers Commission. The Underwood Commission was chosen by the mentor composers and the conductor. The Audience Choice Commission, which is now in its 10th year, was determined by paper ballot at the run-through performance on May 24. The new Consortium Commission was chosen by ACO Leadership and Alabama Symphony Orchestra/American Youth Symphony Music Director Carlos Izcaray and the resulting work will be performed by the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and American Youth Symphony (Los Angeles) in addition to ACO.

Jack Hughes, Aaron Israel Levin, and Jihyun Kim. (Photos courtesy American Composers Orchestra)

Jack Hughes, Aaron Israel Levin, and Jihyun Kim. (Photos courtesy American Composers Orchestra)

(More information about the 2019 Underwood New Music Readings and the six composers being featured this year is available on the American Composers Orchestra website.)

Celebrating New Music Awards Week

It has been a week of non-stop new music-related celebrations in New York City this week. Fresh from our own NewMusicBox LIVE and New Music USA Benefit Evening (thanks again to everyone who joined us), we now have time to report on some of the other highlights.

The top half of a BMI Student Composer Award plaque

On Monday, May 18, the BMI Foundation in collaboration with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) announced the winners of the 63rd annual BMI Student Composer Awards. The awards were presented by BMI President Mike O’Neill, BMI Foundation President Deirdre Chadwick, and composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (who serves as the permanent chair of the Student Composer Awards) in a private ceremony at the JW Marriott Essex House Hotel, a lavish Art Deco space facing Central Park that was built in 1931. There were a total of nine awardees who received scholarship grants to be applied toward their musical education totaling $20,000. There were also two honorable mentions, which has happened rarely in the history of these awards.

Mike O’Neill standa at a podium as Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Deirdre Chadwick sit to his left.

BMI President Mike O’Neill (right) welcomes attendees as composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (left) and BMI Foundation President Deirdre Chadwick prepare to announce the award winners.

Two composers—Max Michael Grafe and Daniel Silliman—tied for the William Schuman Prize, which is awarded to the most outstanding score among the submissions. Grafe and Silliman chatted with us and each other about sharing this honor.

(Later in the week, Silliman’s award-winning work, strain for cello and orchestra, received an ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Award and Grafe received a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. More on those award ceremonies below.)

More than 700 online applications were submitted to the competition from student composers throughout the Western Hemisphere in 2015. One of the 2015 winners, Tonia Ko, described her steadfastness in applying for this highly competitive prize. She told us that she has been submitting scores for ten consecutive years; it finally paid off.

Another awardee, Joseph Meland, described the genre-defying piece he submitted that fetched a prize, a composition for chamber orchestra and rock band; Meland feels equally comfortable in both idioms.

The jury members for the 2015 competition were Matthias Pintscher, José Serebrier, Joan Tower, and Barbara White. Alexandra du Bois, Hannah Lash, David Leisner, and Sean Shepherd served as preliminary judges. Below is a list of all the 2015 BMI Student Composer Awardees and their award-winning compositions.

Matthew Aaron Browne (b. 1988): Barnstorming Season for symphony orchestra
Max Michael Grafe (b. 1988): Kheir for clarinet and sinfonietta
Tonia Ko (b. 1988): Blue Skin of the Sea for solo marimba
Thomas Kotcheff (b. 1988): that in shadow or moonlight rises for mixed octet
Joseph Meland (b. 1993): FAUVE for chamber orchestra and rock band
Avik Sarkar (b. 2001): Mirror for chamber symphony
Daniel Silliman (b. 1993): strain for cello and orchestra
Patricia Wallinga (b. 1994): Dreams in War Time for tenor voice and piano
Benjamin P. Wenzelberg (b. 2000): Maelström for orchestra

Sarkar additionally received the Carlos Surinach Prize, an annual award given to the youngest winner in the competition. Imágenes de Guanajuato, a composition for cello and guitar by Luis M. Ruelas Romo, a 23-year-old student at New England Conservatory, and Prelude and Tricotee for violin and piano by Lauren Vandervelden, a 15-year-old private music student in Boise, Idaho, received honorable mention. (Sarkar and Vandervelden’s pieces also received Honorable Mention in the 2015 Morton Gould Awards.)


As they have done annually since 1942, academicians and award recipients sit on the stage of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Auditorium awaiting the commencement of the Ceremonial.

As they have done annually since 1942, academicians and award recipients sit on the stage of the American Academy of Arts and Letters Auditorium awaiting the commencement of the Ceremonial.

On Wednesday, May 20, the American Academy of Arts and Letters held its Ceremonial in the 730-seat auditorium of the second of the three landmarked Beaux Arts buildings it owns in northern Manhattan. An annual tradition since 1942 (the very first ceremonial took place in 1941 on the main stage of Carnegie Hall but it has taken place in their own 156th Street space since the year following), the event is one of the few times in American cultural life that visual artists, poets, novelists, and composers share a stage to honor achievements in a broad range of disciplines. And the reception following the Ceremonial, which—when it’s not raining, and sometimes even when it is (luckily for once it wasn’t!)—is one of the great spring parties in New York City, was a great opportunity for people across disciplines and generations to connect with one another.

The official seal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters

The coming together of these disparate artistic practices felt even more meaningful during this year’s event because several of the awards in one discipline were announced by practitioners of other disciplines; this was perhaps most poignant when composer John Harbison presented a Gold Medal, the Academy’s highest honor, to poet Louise Glück, whose verse he has set to music three times thus far–in one of the movements of his Symphony No. 5 for soprano, baritone, and orchestra (2007), The Seven Ages for mezzo-soprano and Pierrot sextet (2008), and most recently in his 2013 composition Crossroads for soprano, oboe, and strings. Composer Yehudi Wyner, who is the academy’s current president, described how difficult it has been to build bridges between the artistic disciplines but stated that it is something the academy has been steadfast in its efforts to do.

Although most of the awards that were given out during the course of the Ceremonial have already been announced, it still feels like a complete surprise to Scott Johnson, who received one of this year’s two Goddard Lieberson Fellowships in Music. He even wore a tie for the occasion!

It is certainly far from anti-climactic for the winners to share the stage with their counterparts in other fields as well as with many of the 250 celebrated composers, writers, and visual artists who comprise the academy’s membership, as composer/pianist Billy Childs, one of four winners of a 2015 Arts and Letters Award in Music, told us:

Another one of the winners, Erin Gee, one of two 2015 recipients of the Charles Ives Fellowship, described how being amidst people involved in so many different kinds of creative endeavors is really inspirational:

Although Emily Cooley, one of six Charles Ives Scholarship recipients, was disappointed that two of her favorite authors, who are members of the academy, were unable to attend this year and so she did not have a chance to meet them:

These awards, however, are much more than an opportunity to hob-nob with luminaries. They also offer important financial support to emerging artists for whom finding a balance between creative work and economic sustenance is frequently a challenge, as Alex Mincek, recipient of the Benjamin H. Danks Award in Music, pointed out:

But aside from how valuable these awards are to emerging and mid-career composers, writers, and visual artists, both in terms of offering peer validation and significant monetary support, they are a rare opportunity to honor achievements from practitioners from many different generations. The academy’s most significant award for an éminence grise, the Gold Medal, two of which are given each year to people who have already been inducted among the 250 Academicians as an honorific, is one of the ways that the academy attempts to establish a continuity between emerging and established creators. In addition to awarding Louise Glück the Gold Medal for Poetry, the academy awarded a Gold Medal in Music to composer George Crumb, who at 85 remains a vital force. Even though he has already received so many important accolades throughout his illustrious career, Crumb seemed genuinely exuberant in response to the academy’s recognition:


The stage of Merkin Concert Hall with a screen projecting "2015 ASCAP Concert Music Awards" and some people in the audience.

The stage is set for the opening of the 2015 ASCAP Concert Music Awards at Merkin Concert Hall.

Finally, ASCAP presented its 16th annual Concert Music Awards on the stage of Merkin Concert Hall on Thursday, May 21. The centerpiece of the ceremony was the formal presentation—by composers Charles Fussell, James Matheson, Lisa Bielewa, and Paul Moravec along with ASCAP’s Cia Toscanini and Michael Spudic—of the 2015 Morton Gould Young Composer Awards which were announced in March (and can be found here). Brief excerpts from recordings of award-winning pieces by each of the composers who were present were played.

We spoke with several of the composers who were in attendance about their award-winning compositions. Scott Lee from Durham, North Carolina, and Paris Lavidis from New York City, described their very different approaches—Lee, in his Bottom Heavy for small ensemble, incorporates hip-hop grooves and other popular music elements whereas Lavidis explores extended techniques in what he describes as a “semi-tonal realm” in his String Quartet No. 2:

Anahita Abbasi, who was born in Iran and is now based in San Diego, described the structure of her composition Distorted Attitudes II/Labyrinth for flute (doubling on piccolo and bass flute), soprano saxophone, bassoon, two violins, cello, and doublebass:

Composer, singer-songwriter, and classical and jazz pianist Gabriel Zucker described spending more than a year creating Evergreen, an evening-length work which he also just recorded for future release:

After opening remarks from the afternoon’s master of ceremonies, composer, conductor and radio broadcast journalist Bill McGlaughlin, ASCAP’s new CEO Elizabeth Matthews, and John Titta, ASCAP’s executive vice president of creative services, composer Alex Shapiro presented J. P. Redmond with the Charlotte V. Bergen Scholarship, which has been awarded annually since 2006 to the top ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer age 18 or under. Redmond then went over to the piano to play the third movement of the work for which he received the award, Northeastern Sonata.

James Kendrick, president of Schott/European American Music, presented Brian Heim with this year’s Leo Kaplan Award, which has been given annually since 1995 to the composer of the score judged “most outstanding” in ASCAP’s Young Composer Awards. Heim’s award-winning piece, Two Portraits After Moby Dick, was inspired by the classic Herman Melville novel as he explained to us:

In addition to all of the awards presented to the emerging composers, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME), now in their 10th anniversary season, was honored by composer and former Manhattan School of Music President Robert Sirota for “the virtuosity, passion, and commitment with which they perform and champion American composers.” Composer Timo Andres joined four of the members of ACME—Ben Russell and Caroline Shaw (violins), Caleb Burhans (viola), and ACME’s artistic director Clarice Jensen (cello)—for a performance of Andres’s Piano Quintet, another one of the Morton Gould award-winning pieces. We spoke briefly with cellist Jensen outside Merkin Hall:

Finally, Julia Wolfe was honored by retired ASCAP Vice President for Concert Music and current ASCAP consultant Frances Richard for being awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music as well as the 2015 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts. Wolfe spoke with us briefly about how much she enjoys sharing the stage with all these young composers:

33 Years of Composer Advocacy: Celebrating the Legacy of Ralph Jackson

Ralph Jackson

Ralph Jackson. Photo by Scott Bartucca, courtesy BMI Classical

Whenever I find myself grappling with a significant question in my musical life, I ask Ralph Jackson for advice. He never gives it. Yet invariably I come away with a clearer understanding of what I need to do.

Ralph is a kind of sage, a savant with an uncanny gift for seeing beyond superficial complexities into the real essence of a situation. Ralph’s perspective is always insightful, often provocative. It is never predictable. Ever.

Sometimes I’ll find myself wondering: “What would So-and-So say about this?” You can’t do that with Ralph because his brain is wired differently. He just doesn’t think like most other people. You may say to yourself: “Ah, I know where he’s going…” And suddenly you find yourself following Ralph down a path you didn’t even know existed.

Throughout his career Ralph has shared his insights countless times with so many composers. Ralph cares deeply about composers. More importantly, he understands composers—because he was one.

In 1976, two years after completing a performance degree in oboe, Ralph earned a degree in composition from the University of Texas at Austin. In each of the following two years, he won the BMI Student Composer Award.

In 1979 Ralph took a leave from the PhD program in composition at the University of Iowa (where he also worked as a professional oboist), and moved to New York City. Later that same year he won an ASCAP Young Composer Award and (following a brief stint at Associated Music Publishers/G Schirmer) began working for BMI.

Writing about his metamorphosis from composer to administrator, Ralph observes:

“Certainly there are administrators who are also very successful composers. These are almost always individuals with a tremendous, unstoppable creative urge. They have no choice other than to write music. That was not me. Instead, my passion began to be redirected to helping other composers.”

Ralph has pursued that passion for more three decades. His extensive travels have given him a broad view of the contributions composers make to our world today. Ralph is fiercely intelligent and boldly outspoken when the occasion demands. Yet his generosity often takes the form of quiet, behind-the-scenes actions, and the people who benefit rarely ever know about them.

Working his way up the ranks at BMI, Ralph eventually became Vice President for Classical Music Relations. In the ‘90s he began working with the BMI Foundation (a separate not-for-profit that supports the creation, performance and study of music), becoming President in 2002. In 2007 he was awarded the Letter of Distinction from the American Music Center, for his “significant contribution to contemporary American Music.”

Now, after almost thirty-three years of service, Ralph Jackson has retired from BMI. He will continue his service to music as President Emeritus of the BMI Foundation, and on the boards of MATA (Music at the Anthology) and the Charles Ives Society.

Over the years my wife Cynthia and I have shared many memorable meals with Ralph and his partner, the composer and guitarist David Leisner. Ralph and Cindy are a dangerous combination. Once they get started telling stories, it’s all over. Ralph is wickedly funny. His account of driving with Lou Harrison and Bill Colvig (a white-knuckle ride I’ve also experienced) is roll-on-the-floor hilarious.

Ralph and David are avid art collectors. And Ralph himself is a painter, who’s produced a continuing series of abstract portraits of his friends. In my studio is a small, color-charged painting titled Cindy Adams with Police and Lightning. But that’s another story…

Ralph is fearless, relentlessly creative, and always open to new ideas and experiences. I look forward to many more delightful dinners in the future. And I wait with curiosity to see what surprises he has in store for his encore. But for the moment, I’m confident that I’m not alone in voicing my heartfelt gratitude to Ralph Jackson for all that he’s done for American composers and their music.

Ralph Jackson Painting

Cindy Adams with Police and Lightning. © Ralph Jackson. Used with permission.