Based in New York City, the American Composers Orchestra (ACO) is the world’s only symphony orchestra whose sole purpose is the “creation, performance, preservation, and promulgation” of American composers’ music (http://www.americancomposers.org/about-aco/mission). As a young American composer, I am grateful for the existence of this organization, and I would love to at least one more on the west coast. The ACO presents an annual concert series at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan and from 2005 to 2010 ventured periodically to Philadelphia’s Annenberg Center. In the last 36 years, the orchestra has presented works by roughly 600 composers, including more than 200 world premieres and new commissions.
The orchestra was founded in 1975 by composers Dennis Russell Davies and Francis Thorne who were frustrated that major American orchestras passed over domestic composers in favor of Europeans. (This mirrors a trend we have discussed in class: Americans being proud of everything but our own art.) According the their website, the ACO’s commissioning program has led the way since its founding, cultivating more new music than any other. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Joseph Schwantner received their first symphonic commissions from the ACO, and both pieces won a Pulitzer Prize for Music.
The ACO has actively sought the broadest definitions of American composer and symphonic music. The Sonidos de las Américas festival series from 1994 to 1999 showcased the music of Latin America, while Immigrant Sounds/Immigrant Voices in 2000 presented the work of our new arrivals. The Orchestra Underground series, launched in 2004, “challenges conventional notions about orchestral music, deconstructing the symphonic experience, with unusual instrumentations and multimedia collaborations” (http://www.americancomposers.org/about-aco/mission). Some of the featured artists – dancers, “laptopists,” software developers, and more – have never worked with an orchestra before. In 2007, the ACO launched Playing it UNsafe, the first professional laboratory for active experimentation in orchestral music. They also encourage improvisation and have partnered with Jazz at Lincoln Center to present it.
This spring the ACO will present multiple readings and Orchestra Underground performances (http://www.americancomposers.org/concerts-and-events). Orchestra Underground @ Zankel: Lines on a Point features Steve Reich’s Eight Lines and world premieres by Lisa Renée Coons and Amy Beth Kirsten on February 20. March features the Detroit Symphony EarShot Classical Roots Readings of works by Jonathan Bailey Holland, Kevin Scott, Matthew Even Taylor, and Eric Lindsay in Detroit on the 9th and 10th. Orchestra Underground @ Zankel: Border Vanguards presents Latin and jazz influences including Gunther Schuller’s Countours as well as a world premiere by Marcos Balter on April 4. In May the Berkeley Symphony EarShot Under Construction Readings offers composers the opportunity to “test-drive” works in progress on the 4th and 5th. Finally, The ACO will present the 23rd Annual Underwood New Music Readings on June 6 and 7. These reading offer aspiring young composers the chance to have their music played and is free to the public.
ACO Website: http://www.americancomposers.org