While most competitions are very competitive, there are a few larger ones that are widely publicized, very prestigious, and extremely competitive. Here is an overview of some of these. As in previous posts about score calls and competitions, this is not an exhaustive list, but is rather a showcase of key players in the world of score calls and competitions. Please click here for a rundown of the very popular ASCAP and BMI competitions (separate from this survey).
Some basic rules implemented here include:
- Application fees are not specified as many competitions change them from year to year. If they are listed, their date is listed (e.g. “$10 in 2018”).
- No logos are used to avoid copyright infringement and the fact that re-branding is ubiquitous in every organization; most logos are obsolete after a few years.
- Links are presented as general as possible, to avoid linking to prior award years. If the only links available are to prior award years, try visiting the main webpage of the competition for current-year awards.
- When quoting a website, the quote is clearly marked via block quote formatting.
Popular and Competitive Competitions
The American Prize
This is a very popular prize among college students and professionals, as there are professional and student sub-categories for each genre/category:
- The Ernst Bacon Memorial Award for the Performance of American Music
- Concert Band
- Chamber Music
- Opera, Theater, Musical Theater, Film, Dance Division
There are also pops, instrumental, and vocal subcategories in some categories.
Application fees are a bit pricey given that one of their main perks is minor publicity, and the cash prizes are small (up to $500). But, if you have a moderate-sized application fee budget this should align with it.
Note: this is only for American (i.e. U.S.) composers.
Toru Takemitsu Composition Award
This is an international competition for young composers that features a cash prize and international recognition. The submitted work is a non-concerto orchestral work between 10 and 20 minutes, with standard instrumentation (and some strict limits on electronics). There is no application fee! If you think you have a chance at winning this, go ahead and submit, but note that the scores must be submitted by mail to Japan (I assume this may require a large postage fee).
This is one of many competitions here that are very competitive and among a wide range of peer competitions: international, broadly applied to, extremely hard to win, but goals that one should aspire to win. Prepare each entry to each competition as if it is one of these top-level ones. (And submit to these regardless.)
American Composers Orchestra (two opportunities)
EarShot, a nationwide network of new music readings and composer-development programs, is the nation’s first ongoing, systematic program for identifying emerging orchestral composers, which provides professional-level working experience with orchestras from every region of the country and increases awareness of these composers and access to their music throughout the industry.
Underwood New Music Readings
These are reading, and the subsequent performance and recording, of new works by composers. The composers also receive a large amount of professional development and feedback.
American Composers Forum – Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute
The Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute offers a unique week-long intensive immersion into the world of a major American symphony orchestra. Under the guidance of composer and Institute Director, Kevin Puts, up to seven composers will have orchestral works rehearsed and performed by the Minnesota Orchestra and will participate in a series of seminars on musical, career, and professional development topics.
MATA Call for Scores
MATA seeks submissions from composers in the early stages of their careers for our 2019 Festival of New Music in New York City and additional concerts during our 2018-19 season. We accept all music from fully notated to improvised, sound art, video, electronic, found instruments, toys, installations and everything in between. Approximately 30 composers will be selected to have their work presented at our Spring 2019 MATA Festival. Composers are selected on the strength of their overall portfolio, and will receive either a performance of a pre-existing work or a commission to write a new piece. Performers are among the world’s finest ensembles and in the past have included chamber groups large and small, vocalists, soloists, and much more.
Music at the Anthology’s (MATA) mission is to present, support, and commission the music of early career composers, regardless of their stylistic views or aesthetic inclinations.
This is a very popular score call, but it is worth the effort to apply. I have heard great things about the music made each year at the festival. There is no application fee for this opportunity!
Kronos: Under 30 Project
This is a competition that results in a commission for the internationally-renowned Kronos Quartet. It is an amazing opportunity to work closely with these amazing musicians and compose a work specifically for them. This is, again, a top-level opportunity, but do not let that discourage you from applying.
Lake George Music Festival
The Lake George Music Festival is a strong supporter of contemporary classical music, and annually hosts an international competition to promote its continued development and dissemination. Our mission is to find and recruit the next generation of leading composers and promote their work to the world at large. We will pair the most promising works with our roster of exceptional performers, fostering long-lasting relationships between artists of the highest caliber.
The application fee on this is low ($10 in 2018).
Ithaca College Choral Composition Contest
This competition provides a cash prize, performance, and possible publication by Hal Leonard. The application fee is right on the edge of acceptable ($25 in 2017), so do apply to this if you have high-quality choral works.
MISE-EN Music Festival
This is an annual call for scores that are performed by the Ensemble MISE-EN.
The festival has featured more than 30 pieces each year since 2014…. In order to participate, all selected composers are required to attend the festival. Selected composers will have the chance to collaborate with ensemble mise-en as well as other guest ensembles. This is a unique opportunity to share your work with not only a New York City audience, but also with visiting musicians and composers from around the world.
It is a great opportunity to be a part of a festival that is vibrant and well-spoken in the new music world.
North/South Consonance, Inc. is currently conducting an open search for compositions to be featured during the upcoming 2018–2019 season. Of the compositions recommended for performance, one will possibly be selected for recording on a CD album issued on the North/South Recordings label.
Competitions intentionally not included
I have not included the Pulitzer Prize, Guggenheim Fellowships, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and others that are much above my level to accurately and appropriately comment. This article is a summary of important score calls and competitions that have moderate to high visibility and prestige, but virtuosic and mid- to late-career prizes are not the focus (but we should all aspire to win those, too!).
For more score calls and competitions, please see these resources:
There will be an entire post devoted to finding these opportunities, but these are quick links for now.
These are must-know competitions, and while some of these are representative of a larger body of opportunities, these are a good place to start (along with the ASCAP and BMI competitions). No matter where you are in your career, apply to the next opportunity whenever you feel you are ready. And even if you do not feel you are completely ready, apply anyway as a way to stretch yourself and grow.
Most of these competitions are American, so I apologize to all of the international readers who may not have access to all of these!
If anyone (especially international) wants to comment below with a competition that is like these and worth noting here (and there are dozens), please drop a note in the comments section!