ACO’s 2021-2022 Season: 11 premieres & partnerships with the Apollo Theater, National Black Theatre, Groupmuse Foundation, and Carnegie Hall.

American Composers Orchestra (ACO) announces its 2021-2022 season, under the leadership of Artistic Director Derek Bermel and President Melissa Ngan. ACO continues its commitment to the creation, performance, preservation, and promotion of music by American composers with programming that sparks curiosity and reflects geographic, stylistic, racial, and gender diversity. This season’s slate of performances includes eleven premieres of new works by American composers, as well as new and ongoing partnerships with the Apollo , National Black Theatre, Groupmuse Foundation, and Carnegie Hall.

“ACO’s 2021-22 season reflects a complex web of musical expression as we emerge from a year of lockdowns into a future that is uncertain yet defined by a determined, collective consciousness,” says ACO Artistic Director Derek Bermel . “Sanctuary can reflect our common desire for safety and self-care, The Gathering touches upon the yearning for community and healing, and New Canons explores bridge-building through music at a moment that seeks fresh modes of interaction and conversation.”

ACO President Melissa Ngan adds, “Our upcoming season is all about creating opportunities to gather as we emerge from the sanctuary of our homes. While we’re in the business of making great music on the face of it, what we really do as performing arts organizations is to bring people together through collective experiences that create human connections, memories, and meaning. What I most look forward to is a season that explores so many different ways we can connect with one another through the music of our time.”

The season opens on Tuesday, September 28, 2021 with a Welcome Back Family and Friends Chamber Concert at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music. The concert features ACO musicians performing chamber music for combinations of violin, cello, piano, flute, clarinet, percussion, and voice by a broad array of composers, many of whom are near and dear to the orchestra – including current and former ACO Board of Directors members Alvin Singleton, Augusta Gross, Melinda Wagner, Robert Beaser, and Jonathan Bailey Holland. Read more background about the program and composers >

On Saturday, October 16, 2021, ACO and Groupmuse Foundation co-present New Canons, a hybrid virtual and in-person performance featuring the world premiere of Cohere by Trevor New and an ACO-commissioned work, Latency Canons by Ray Lustig, from 2013. Both works allow audiences to surf the boundaries between in-person and remote environments and will take place simultaneously at four New York City locations with additional musicians participating from cities worldwide. ACO welcomes audience members to choose to experience this performance at a public gathering space, as an intimate concert in a private home, or as a fully digital event via Groupmuse’s online platform. Tickets will go on sale in August  2021; locations will be announced at that time. Read more background about the program and composers >

On Friday, March 25, 2022, ACO returns to Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall for Sanctuary, a concert that explores the places, company, and states of mind in which composers seek inviolable refuge, led by conductor Marin Alsop and featuring violin soloist Jennifer Koh. The program includes the New York premiere of Lisa Bielawa’s Sanctuary, a concerto written for Koh. Bielawa’s Sanctuary is an extraordinary historical research project around this powerful word, documenting the rhetoric around founding American principles and every important struggle along the way. Anna Clyne’s Restless Oceans from 2018 is inspired by a poem by Audra Lorde; the musicians raise their voices in song and use their feet to stand united in a defiant work that embraces the power of women. Hannah Kendall’s alternately buoyant and serene Tuxedo: Vasco ‘de’ Gama takes its title from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s iconic collection of diagrammatic block pieces. With a nod to the traditional African American spiritual “Wade in the Water,” the work conjures both the majesty and elegance highlighted by the artist as well as Kendall’s own reflective take on the history of globalization and multiculturalism ushered in by the Portuguese explorer. Newly commissioned works by Dai Wei and Paula Matthusen complete this rich musical odyssey. Read more background about the program and composers >

The Gathering: A Collective Sonic Ring Shout on Saturday, May 7, 2022 at the Apollo Theater is a sonic quest rooted in the African and African American ritual of the Ring Shout, co-presented by ACO and the Apollo and co-curated with National Black Theatre. A Shout, or Ring Shout, is an ecstatic, transcendent religious ritual, first practiced by African slaves in the West Indies and in the United States, in which worshipers move in a circle while shuffling, stomping, and clapping. Woven together through a diverse array of multidisciplinary artists featuring new musical works for orchestra and choir, this evening-length event brings the ancestral tradition of the Ring Shout into a contemporary context, opening a space to collectively grieve, to awaken joy as a source of liberation, and to find love as a form of resistance. Directed by National Black Theatre’s Executive Artistic Director, Jonathan McCrory and conducted by Michael Morgan, the program features Carlos Simon’s Amen!, Courtney Bryan’s Sanctum, and the New York premiere of Seven Last Words of the Unarmed by Joel Thompson. These works are in conversation with new commissions from Herb Alpert Award-winner Toshi Reagon, Tony Award-winner Jason Michael Webb, and Lelund Thompson created to honor our present needs for a collective space of remembrance. The performance is anchored by an 80-member orchestra and a 50-voice choir composed of singers, professional and amateur, from multiple African American churches and choral ensembles in New York. Read more background about the program and composers >

ACO will hold its 30th EarShot New Music Readings (formerly Underwood New Music Readings) in June 2022 in New York City, conducted by George Manahan.Through these Readings and EarShot partnerships with orchestras across the country, ACO is dedicated to cultivating the next generation of composers. In what has become a rite of passage for aspiring orchestral composers, 18 composers from throughout the United States will be selected to receive a reading of a new work. As in the past, commission opportunities will be available to the participants. This season, ACO also partners with the Houston Symphony (TBD 2022), Oregon Symphony (April 18-20, 2022), and Tucson Symphony (May 17-21, 2022) for EarShot Readings, in collaboration with the League of American Orchestras, New Music USA, and American Composers Forum. ACO Readings composers have gone on to win every major composition award, including the Pulitzer, Grammy, Grawemeyer, Guggenheim, American Academy of Arts & Letters, and Rome Prizes.  Read more about ACO’s EarShot Readings program >

ACO’s Sonic Spark education programs will reach at least 500 students in New York City this season. Sonic Spark, led by ACO Education Director Kevin James, uses composition as a platform to unlock students’ creativity. Sonic Spark Lab, in partnership with Harlem School of the Arts, is offered for middle and high school students. These eight-week courses teach students to engage with their creativity, harness their curiosity, and collaborate to complete original musical works. Four composer teaching artists teach the curriculum, including Jess Marlor, Mary Prescott, Nate May, Nick Dunston. Sonic Spark Ensembles engage students with active music-making, whether through song, percussion, or other instruments. This school-based program is customized to enhance and magnify the educational and social objectives of the school and taught by a dedicated team of accomplished professional Teaching Artists. Compose Yourself provides advanced curriculum in two formats, in-school and out-of-school. The program serves approximately 50 high school age musicians with direct instruction in music composition. Classes help young composers develop their creativity and learn professional standards in a supportive, hands-on environment; the program has a strong record of preparing students for the rigors of college and beyond. Ten high school composers who are participating in the Compose Yourself Summer Intensive Readings, focused on traditional and non-traditional ways of scoring music, will have their original works read on August 31, 2021 at 4pm at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music; six students enrolled in the collegiate level Compose Yourself classes will share their original works on October 1, 2021 at 7pm at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music. Read more about ACO’s Sonic Spark education programs >

Now in its fifth year, ACO’s Commission Club invites individuals to follow the creative process from start to finish, from discussing the composer’s first creative spark, through the process of composing, and finally to the premiere. Membership fees support expenses related to composer commission fee, printing, rehearsal, and performance costs. In return, members are invited to exclusive events to interact with the artists. This season, the Club will support the new orchestration of Carlos Simon’s work Amen!, to be premiered at the Apollo in May 2022. Two preview events, including a cocktail reception, short musical performances, and Q&A with the composer, will take place in fall 2021 and spring 2022 (more details to be announced in September). Read more about ACO’s Commission Club >


The commission of Sanctuary by Lisa Bielawa is made possible in part by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and American Composers Orchestra 2020-21 Commission Club.  

The commission of a new work by Dai Wei is funded by Elizabeth and Justus Schlichting.

The Gathering: A Collective Sonic Ring Shout is generously supported by Art for Justice, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Linda and Stuart Nelson, Anonymous, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and The New York Community Trust. 

EarShot is a program of American Composers Orchestra completed in partnership with American Composers Forum, the League of American Orchestras, and New Music USA.

American Composers Orchestra is grateful to the many organizations that make its programs possible including Herb Alpert Foundation, American Orchestras’ Futures Fund, Amphion Foundation, Aaron Copland Fund for Music, AmazonSmile Foundation, ASCAP Foundation, BMI Foundation, BMI, Inc., Cheswatyr Foundation, Edward T. Cone Foundation, Communities Foundation of Texas, Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University, Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, Ford Foundation’s Good Neighbor Committee, Francis B. Goelet Charitable Trust, Fromm Music Foundation, Steven R. Gerber Trust, Hearst Foundations, Howard Gilman Foundation, Jephson Educational Trusts, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas), Morgan Stanley, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, NYC COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund in The New York Community Trust, Rexford Fund, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Schlam Stone & Dolan LLP, Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.

ACO programs are made possible with public funds provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the National Endowment for the Arts

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