Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

A.J. McCaffrey Awarded $15,000 American Composers Orchestra Commission

American Composers Orchestra (ACO) is pleased to announce that composer A.J. McCaffrey has been named the winner of ACO's 2013 Underwood Commission, bringing him a $15,000 purse for a work to be premiered by ACO in the 2014-2015 season. Chosen from six finalists during ACO's 22nd Underwood New Music Readings on April 8 and 9, 2013, in one of the most coveted opportunities for emerging composers in the United States, A.J. won the top prize with his work Thank You for Waiting.

In addition, for the fourth year, audience members at the Underwood New Music Readings had a chance to make their voices heard through the Audience Choice Award. The winner this year was composer Nina Young, for her piece Remnants. As the winner, Nina was commissioned to compose an original mobile phone ringtone which is available to everyone who voted, free of charge.

"A.J.'s orchestral writing impresses at every level - the clarity of his sonic concept, the deft handling of often viscerally dense counterpoint, and above all, the energy that he gets from the ensemble through his orchestrational approach," said Underwood New Music Readings mentor composer Christopher Theofanidis.Joan Tower, also a mentor composer this year, added, "A.J. McCaffrey is a composer with extraordinary chops. I am hoping his newly commissioned work will push the envelope further by taking musical risks that could create a formidable piece for orchestra." Mentor composer and ACO Artistic Advisor Laureate Robert Beaser praised A.J. as well, saying, "A.J. is a composer who combines prodigious craft with a quirky sensibility. He produces works in a variety of styles - always surprising and arresting."

Upon winning the Underwood commission, A.J. McCaffrey said, "I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with ACO. I witnessed first-hand how well they tackle new music during the Readings this past spring, and I cannot wait to begin composing for them. It is overwhelming to be chosen - ACO had a fabulous group of pieces and composers to choose from and I am humbled to have been selected."

A.J. McCaffrey is a songwriter and composer of instrumental, vocal and electronic music. With backgrounds and interests in theater, fine arts and literature, and an upbringing that fostered a love for a wide variety of musical styles, A.J. writes music that strives to tell a story. His works are theatrical in nature, employing harmonically rich and lyrically striking sound worlds to create moving, dramatic narratives. A.J.'s music has been commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Tanglewood Music Center, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. In addition to ACO, his works have been performed by the New Fromm Players, Radius Ensemble, Atlantic Chamber Ensemble, and members of the Chiara Quartet, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Alarm Will Sound, and Scottish Chamber Orchestra. A fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center and Aspen Music Festival and School, A.J. has been a featured composer on BMOP's The Next Next series, Tanglewood's Festival of Contemporary Music, and the New Gallery Concert Series.

A.J. McCaffrey holds degrees in music composition from Rice University, The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and the University of Southern California, and has studied with Richard Lavenda, James MacMillan, Donald Crockett, and Stephen Hartke. A passionate educator, he is an instructor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Composer Fellowship Program and the Longy School of Music at Bard College's Masters of Arts in Teaching Music.

The 22nd Underwood New Music Readings were under the direction of ACO's Artistic Director, composer Robert Beaser, and were led by ACO Music DirectorGeorge Manahan, with mentor composers Christopher Theofanidis and Joan Tower. The conductor, mentor composers, and principal players from ACO provided critical feedback to each of the participants during and after the sessions. In addition to the Readings, the composer participants took part in workshops and one-on-one sessions with industry professionals. This year's New Music Readings attracted over 130 submissions from emerging composers around the country. In addition to McCaffrey, the participants were:

Composer Jonathan Blumhofer (b. 1979) in Brooklyn, NY. His first musical activities involved studying violin and piano, and he later took up the viola. Jonathan's compositions have received numerous awards and honors, including recognition from ASCAP, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Longfellow International Composers Competition, Boston University, and Boston Conservatory, among others. His compositions have been performed and recorded by a number of ensembles in the United States and Europe, including the Xanthos Ensemble, Juventas New Music Ensemble, and Camerata Chicago. Jonathan has taught at Clark University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Worcester, MA, and at Gordon College in Wenham, MA. He earned his doctorate from Boston University, his master's degree from Boston Conservatory, and his bachelor's degree from Wheaton College.

Louis Chiappetta (b.1989) is a New York-based composer. His recent projects have included Fracture, a series of clarinet miniatures written in collaboration with choreographer Thomas Peacock and the London Contemporary Dance School, and Echoes of Embers for baritone and small ensemble. In March 2012 Louis participated in Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute professional training workshop with Kaija Saariaho and Anssi Karttunen, which included the premiere of his trioLoops, Clocks, and Shadows at Zankel Hall. Louis began his formal composition studies at Mannes College of Music's Preparatory Division at the age of thirteen. He later went on to study with Keith Fitch at the Cleveland Institute of Music where he received his bachelor's degree in 2011.

Joshua Groffman (b. 1984) of Millbrook, NY has written works for orchestral, vocal, and chamber ensembles, as well as for electronic media, theater, and film. His music has been performed by groups including Ensemble Laboratorium, the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, the Delaware Valley Chorale, the Indiana University Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, and the Cornell University Chamber Singers, and selected for performance at festivals including the Aspen Music Festival, June in Buffalo, SEAMUS National Conference, Florida State University New Music Festival, the CUNY POP! Conference, Midwest Composers Symposium, and the 60x60 VoxNovus New York Minutes Mix. He graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University in 2007, where he completed double majors in music and history. Joshua holds Doctor of Music (2012) and Master of Music (2009) degrees from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

Saad N. Haddad (b. 1992) is an Arab-American composer based in Los Angeles whose music showcases his Middle-Eastern heritage. A junior at the University of Southern California, he is majoring in Music Composition with a minor in Cinematic Arts. In addition to his concert work, Saad has composed the soundtracks to eighteen short films, eight which were recorded live by the Thornton School of Music at the John Williams Scoring Stage. He is currently scoring "Core Overload," a video game thesis being developed at USC. In the summer of 2011, he was selected as the youngest of fourteen students across the United States to study with Professor Samuel Adler of the Juilliard School in Berlin as part of the Freie Universitat in Berlin International Summer Program.

Nina C. Young (b.1984) is a New York-based composer who writes instrumental and electronic music. Her pieces incorporate her research of blending amplification and live electronics into instrumental ensembles, always with a view toward creating a natural and cohesive sound world. Nina's music has been performed by ensembles such as the Orkest de Ereprijs, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, JACK Quartet, Yarn/Wire and Sixtrum. Her music has received honors from BMI, the International Alliance for Women in Music, and the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States. She is currently a doctoral fellow at Columbia University, studying with Fred Lerdahl, Brad Garton, and George Lewis, where she also teaches electroacoustic composition at the Computer Music Center.

Writing for the symphony orchestra remains one of the supreme challenges for the aspiring composer. The subtleties of instrumental balance, timbre, and communication with the conductor and musicians are critical skills. Opportunities for composers to gain hands-on experience working with a professional orchestra are few. Since 1991 ACO's New Music Readings have provided invaluable experience for emerging composers while serving as a vital resource to the music field by identifying a new generation of American composers. To date, more than 130 composers have participated in the Readings, including such award-winning composers as MeLinda Wagner, Pierre Jalbert, Augusta Read Thomas, Randall Woolf, Jennifer Higdon, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Sebastian Currier, and ACO's Creative Advisor, Derek Bermel.

The New Music Readings continue ACO's emphasis on launching composers' careers, a tradition that includes many of today's top composers, such as Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Joseph Schwantner, both of whom received Pulitzer Prizes for ACO commissions; and Robert Beaser, Ingram Marshall, Joan Tower, Aaron Jay Kernis, Christopher Rouse, Sebastian Currier, and Tobias Picker, whom the orchestra championed when they were beginning their careers.

ACO's 2012 winner, Peter Fahey, received the top prize for his work Impressions. His newly commissioned work, A Mirror to Kathleen's Face, will be premiered by ACO at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall on October 25, 2013. The 23rd Annual New Music Readings are scheduled for June 6 and 7, 2014 at The DiMenna Center for Classical Music in New York City. This year, the Readings are part of the NY PHIL BIENNIAL. The submission deadline for composers interested in applying is December 2, 2013 at 5pm Eastern. Complete submission guidelines and application are available at

Photo by Shaun Larson

Related Articles View More Classical Music Stories

More Hot Stories For You