Keep Your Ears on the Prize: A Hyperhistory of American Composition Awards

In addition to the Morton Gould Awards for young composers, The American Society for Composers and Publishers (ASCAP) also provides several honors in the form of commissions and performances.

The ASCAP Foundation/Rudolf Nissim Prize was created by a substantial bequest from the man whose first accomplishment at ASCAP was the establishment of a “Serious Music Department” for the licensing of concert works. The $5,000 prize is given annually to an ASCAP composer’s work for orchestra, concert band, or other large ensemble which has not been professionally premiered. In addition to awarding prize money, ASCAP works on the composer’s behalf by providing supplementary funds for the premiere of the winning work. The jury for this award changes each year, and is made up of conductors who have included Paul Dunkel (American Composers Orchestra), Harold Farberman (Hartt School of Music), Bradley Lubman (SPIT Orchestra, Steve Reich and Musicians), and Mischa Santora (New York Youth Symphony).

Every few years, The ASCAP Foundation Commissioning Project honors distinguished ASCAP members past and present by commissioning young composers to write music for performances in venues suitable for each honoree. The most recent awards were in honor of the late Jacob Druckman, whose composition career was matched by his devotion to his students at Yale. Three of his former students, Stephen Burke, Eric Zivian, and Carolyn Yarnell, were commissioned to write orchestral works in Druckman’s memory, which were then premiered by the Seattle Symphony with Gerard Schwarz conducting. As young composers are chosen for their association with those being honored, applications are not accepted for these commissions. Previous honorees have included Duke Ellington, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, John Cage, and Morton Gould.

And for the jazz composers who are so frequently ignored by other composition prizes, ASCAP offers the ASCAP/IAJE Commissions. Like the Commissioning Project, this prize honors a different composer each time. The 2000 commissions are being presented in honor of Louis Armstrong’s centenary. Two composers are selected, one an internationally prominent jazz composer, and another an emerging jazz composer who has not yet reached his or her thirtieth birthday. The prizes are $7,500 for the established composer, and $3,000 for the younger composer, and the works for jazz orchestra are premiered at the annual International Association of Jazz Educators Conference in New York City.