The 2017-2018 season marks the 40th year of the American Composers Orchestra, the only orchestra in the world whose sole mission is to preserve, perform, promote, and help create music by American composers. This season, entitled Dreamscapes, will feature 10 world, U.S., and New York premieres and an extensive schedule of performances, beginning with their season opening concert on November 7th. It will also be the inaugural season of the Commission Club, a new initiative that invites members to invest in the lifespan of a composition. If that isn’t enough, it is also the first full season for new President Ed Yim, who has held positions with the LA Philharmonic, New York City Opera, and was most recently Vice President for Artistic Planning with the New York Philharmonic. After hearing of his reputation for collaboration and his passion for working with composers, we had to ask him a few questions.
With so much experience in New York and LA working with groups that are known for commissioning new works, what do you hope to ultimately achieve with the American Composers Orchestra?
Commissioning new work was a very important part of my job when I worked for the NY and the LA Philharmonics. It was, quite frankly, my favorite part. However, we did tend to commission more established composers, and among the younger composers, those who were already gaining national buzz. Also, as is correct, a lot of real estate at those institutions had to go to international composers. At ACO, we work on all parts of the American composer continuum. We want to celebrate neglected American composers, the young woman who just finished her training, and the living legends who have exciting ideas for projects. As we chart our future, the team is very excited about continuing this work and building a community of creators, listeners, and performers that is very connected and interactive. We also want to draw new listeners from fans of other contemporary arts: visual, theater, dance and film.
When there is a change of leadership, there is always an excitement and a fear of what the new direction will be. What does your course of action for the ACO look like?
We are just finishing a strategic planning process with our board, staff, musicians, and stakeholders. The central question is: what can ACO contribute uniquely? What can we do better than others? How do we make a real difference? The landscape has changed a lot even just in the past 10 years. Groups like ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble), the Knights, Metropolis Ensemble, wild Up, A Far Cry, etc. were either non-existent or just entering the scene. The new music community is so rich and vibrant, perhaps unprecedentedly so. We want not only to fit into this community in our special way, but we want to collaborate with and support like-minded organizations so we can produce things together that which we could not do separately. So our course of action is to plan, collaborate, create unique programming, and charge forward into the next 40 years.
As we become more aware as a society of racial, cultural, and gender inequality, how do you think the ACO can help address these issues within the new music community?
ACO in 2017 should look like America in 2017. Supporting composers representing ethnic, gender, and stylistic diversity is very much a core value for us. I think we can make a difference not only by making sure that recruitment and participation in our emerging composer programs is deliberately focused on a rich and diverse pool of composers, but also, we should not be afraid of letting our composers write about hard and timely issues of social justice and equity. I see so many composers who want to write about the issues of our day–race relations, immigration, gun control, feminism, gay rights–and we embrace that. In our strategic planning, we found diversity to be such an important issue in everything that we were discussing. Ultimately, we realized that diversity is an area in and of itself that we should be forging a national conversation about the demographics of American composers.
What do you hope the new Commission Club will do for American composers and for audiences at large?
I think that the new Commission Club is a wonderful opportunity for composers and audiences to form a relationship. For composers, there is a cohort of people supporting your work, cheering you on, and invested in your success. For listeners–especially those who do not have that much exposure to new music–it is a great glimpse into the creative process, a behind the scenes look at a work as it evolves. I think to invite a new listener directly to a program featuring Morton Feldman or Gloria Coates, George Lewis or Du Yun, can be intimidating sometimes. But by making them part of the process and connecting the music with the creator, we not only break down a barrier but we also create that community I was talking about.
American Composers Orchestra has already done so much for American music and for new music, specifically in the past 40 years. What do you hope the next 40 years looks like for ACO?
I hope that ACO will thrive under the current team’s watch: must-see, must-hear events; growing audiences for American music; wonderfully diverse groups of composers on our programs and in our emerging composer programs; and children in our education programs thinking that being an American composer is an awfully cool thing to shoot for.