American Composers Orchestra (ACO), praised for its “robust and diverse commissioning program” by The New York Times, announced today that its new Artistic Director is GRAMMY-nominated violinist/composer Curtis Stewart. Stewart joins the ACO team immediately, overlapping for the remainder of the year with outgoing ACO Artistic Director Derek Bermel, who is concluding his 10-year tenure and remains on ACO’s Board of Directors. Stewart joins ACO President and CEO Melissa Ngan in leading the organization.
As Artistic Director, Curtis Stewart fills a key leadership position responsible for conceiving, curating, selecting, and programming ACO performances, readings, recordings, and other programs in alignment with the artistic priorities and equity-driven values of the organization. He is charged with creating programming that expresses ACO’s artistic vision, developing and maintaining relationships with individual and institutional artistic partners, and setting the artistic strategy for the organization in partnership with Ngan.
Working with Garrett McQueen, ACO’s Director of Artist Equity, Stewart will also provide artistic oversight to ACO’s EarShot composer advancement initiatives, including mentorship and artistic development for participating artists and programming guidance for partner orchestras and organizations nationwide.
Sameera Troesch, Chair of ACO’s Board, says, “The Board is incredibly excited to work with Curtis Stewart in his new role as Artistic Director and to support his continued leadership in the field of orchestral music. Curtis’s work will be crucial to ACO’s success in so many areas, including championing overlooked voices, mentoring emerging composers, and fostering a vibrant and inclusive community.“
“In his own artistic practice and the many ways he has nurtured the creative work of others, Curtis embodies the sense of adventure, discovery, and generosity through which ACO serves the American orchestral ecosystem now and in the future,” says Melissa Ngan. “He leads with deep authenticity, cultivates human connections in every aspect of his work, and develops artistic projects through the widest possible lens. It is a joy to welcome him to the ACO family, and to support his leadership as we enter this next chapter.”
Of joining ACO as Artistic Director, Curtis Stewart says:
“When I was in middle school, my parents and I would meander down the street from our UWS apartment to attend ACO premieres at Symphony Space. Years later, newly graduated from the Eastman School of Music, I was beginning my career with PUBLIQuartet while one of our founding members, Jessie Montgomery, was having her orchestral works workshopped for the first time with the ACO in Zankel Hall. That season, I was so excited to hear Henry Threadgill’s new works for orchestra, after participating in several composition workshops he used to do at The Jazz Gallery in Manhattan — and totally mesmerized by Zooid and Air as a kid.
Fast forward to last spring, the ACO asked me to join the orchestra for The Gathering at the Apollo Theater. I was blown away by the richness, power, and vulnerability of the programming, and the full embrace of an approach to musical storytelling not seen on many orchestral stages.
The ACO has helped define my perception of what new music needs to be next.
The opportunity to lead artistic programming for ACO is truly an awe-inspiring one, presenting a vast new canvas and landscape of challenges — aesthetic, historic and cultural. My vision is to translate the technical, musical and process-based languages of various types of creators into orchestral contexts; encouraging them to dream big, much like ACO has done for me all these years. I want creators to know that all forms of musical expression have a place on orchestral stages — and that the will to embrace your authentic, honest and vulnerable voice, framed in orchestral context, does exist in this country.
My mind and musical spirit are fully fired up.
Let’s see what we can do!”
About Curtis Stewart
Three-time GRAMMY-nominated violinist/composer Curtis Stewart aims to translate stories of self determination to the concert stage. Tearing down the facade of “Classical Violinist,” Stewart is in constant pursuit of his musical authenticity, treating art as a battery for realizing citizenship.
As a soloist, Stewart has been presented by Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Eastman School of Music, The Juilliard School, Carnegie Hall, and the 2022 GRAMMY Awards, among many others. He has been commissioned for solo, orchestral and chamber works by the Virginia Symphony, the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Eastman Cello Institute, The Knights, La Jolla Music Society, Sybarite5, curators of the New York Festival of Song, Newport Classical Festival, and Carnegie Hall: Play/USA, writing for Anthony Roth Costanzo and members of the New York Philharmonic.
Curtis Stewart has made appearances with Tamar Kali + LA Opera, as special guest soloist/curator with Anthony Roth Costanzo and the New York Philharmonic “Bandwagon,” bouncing from performance installations at the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, and Museum of Modern Art in New York City to MTV specials with Wyclef Jean and sold out shows at Madison Square Garden with Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, and Seal.
His award-winning ensembles PUBLIQuartet (CMA Visionary award, winner Concert Artist Guild) and The Mighty Third Rail (Best Music, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Comic Book Theater Festival) realize a vision to find personal and powerful connections between styles, cultures and musics. Stewart has held chamber music residencies at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and National Sawdust, and has made several appearances at the Newport, Detroit, Vision, NYC Winter Jazz Festivals. He has worked with today’s most forward-thinking musicians including Henry Threadgill, Silkroad Ensemble, Jessie Montgomery, Alicia Hall-Moran and Jason Moran, Mark O’Connor, Julia Bullock, members of International Contemporary Ensemble, Billy Childs, Alarm Will Sound, Linda Oh, the JACK quartet, members of Snarky Puppy, Don Byron, Matt Wilson, among many others.
An avid teacher, Curtis Stewart teaches Chamber Music, Improvised Chamber Music, and Cultural Equity and Performance Practice at The Juilliard School, directs the Contemporary Chamber Music program at the Perlman Music Program. He has served on the Board of Concert Artist Guild, and conducted several orchestras, opera pit, and all levels of music theory at the LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts for ten years in New York City. Stewart graduated magna cum laude from the Eastman School of Music with a BA in Mathematics from the University of Rochester and was awarded Eastman’s “Centennial Award” for commitment to artistry, scholarship, and leadership. www.curtisjstewart.com
About American Composers Orchestra
Founded in 1977, American Composers Orchestra (ACO) is dedicated to the creation, celebration, performance, and promotion of orchestral music by American composers. With commitment to diversity, disruption and discovery, ACO produces concerts, middle school through college composer education programs, and composer advancement programs to foster a community of creators, audience, performers, collaborators, and funders. ACO identifies and develops talent, performs established composers, champions those who are lesser-known, and increases regional, national, and international awareness of the infinite variety of American orchestral music, reflecting gender, racial, ethnic, geographic, stylistic, and age diversity. To date, ACO has performed music by 800 American composers, including over 350 world premieres and newly commissioned works.
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, 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. 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. www.americancomposers.org
American Composers Orchestra is grateful to the many organizations that make its programs possible including Herb Alpert Foundation, Altman 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, Francis B. Goelet Charitable Trust, Fromm Music Foundation, Steven R. Gerber Trust, Howard Gilman Foundation, Jephson Educational Trusts, MacMillan Family Foundation, Mellon Foundation, Morgan Stanley, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Pacific Harmony Foundation, Rexford Fund, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, TD Charitable Foundation, Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.
Corporate gifts to match employee contributions are made by Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Triton Container International Incorporated of North America, and Neiman Marcus.
Public funds are 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 Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, and the National Endowment for the Arts.