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First Music


"The most impressive record for championing new music of any ensemble in the United States."              -The New York Times

First Music, the New York Youth Symphony’s young composer competition, commissions America’s best emerging orchestra, chamber music, and jazz composers under the age of 30. It has been acknowledged widely as one of the leading forces in the United States for bringing the work of gifted young composers to the public’s attention. Seven awards are given each season for orchestral, jazz, and chamber music compositions. 

According to Symphony Magazine, “During the last two decades, no youth orchestra in the country has been more relentlessly committed to generating new music.” The NYYS is proud to have commissioned over 150 original works for orchestra, chamber music, and jazz through First Music since 1984, all of which have been premiered by NYYS ensembles at venues including Carnegie Hall and Jazz at Lincoln Center. First Music commissions have been awarded to Aaron J. Kernis, David Lang, Kevin Puts, Julia Wolfe, Michael Torke, and Timo Andres, among others. We are proud that First Music composers have been recognized with 12 Rome Prizes, 16 Guggenheim Fellowships, two Grawemeyer Awards, and four Pulitzer Prizes.

Orchestra Awards

One composer will be awarded a commission of $3,000, with premières in Carnegie Hall and Interlochen Center for the Arts. Two additional composers will be awarded commissions of $1,500 each and premières at Carnegie Hall. The commissioned works must be previously unpublished and unperformed.

Chamber Music Awards

One composer will be awarded a commission of $1,000, with a premiere at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall. The director of the Chamber Music Program in conjunction with the awardee will determine the instrumentation of the commissioned piece. The commissioned work must be previously unpublished and unperformed.

Jazz Awards

Three commissions will be awarded each season, one of $1,000, and two of $500, with premieres at renowned venues such as Jazz at Lincoln Center and The Times Center. The commissioned works must be previously unpublished and unperformed.

The Commissioned Composer's Role as Guest Educator

Commissioned composers play an integral role in helping the organization to fulfill its mission to educate and inspire young musicians. The composition itself serves as the basis for myriad interactions for the composer with the New York Youth Symphony stakeholders, including the artistic and administrative staff, the students, and the audience.

Working with the Artistic Directors

Composers meet with the music directors to discuss various technical and musical aspects of their piece in order to help the directors get the most out of rehearsals with the NYYS ensemble performing the work.

Working with NYYS Students

The NYYS mission is to educate and inspire young musicians. Composers will speak directly to members of the ensemble performing their work about the inspiration for and meaning of their piece. This is a unique opportunity for NYYS students to experience a "teaching moment" from contemporary composers and learn from their insights. It also helps composers achieve their artistic vision for the premier performance of their work.

Written Notes

These notes are a meaningful component of the commission, and will guide the composer's collaboration with the music directors, direct interaction with students, and the program notes that audience members will read.

First Music Advisors

Grammy-nominated composer Christopher Theofanidis is chair of the First Music Advisory Committee for orchestra and chamber music. Rufus Reid, a leading string bass player with over 250 recordings in his discography, chairs the advisory committee for jazz.


To qualify for the 2018/19 Season, First Music Commission applicants must be under the age of 30 on December 31, 2017 and be able to provide the following materials:

  1. A five-minute audio excerpt of an original composition
  2. A full recording of the same original composition (or MIDI file)
  3. PDF version of the score of the same original composition
  4. Proof of US Citizenship or legal permanent residency
  5. Resume/List of Previous Works

Please note: Previous awardees of a First Music commission are not eligible to apply again.


The application for 18/19 Season is now closed. Please check back in December 2018 for the 19/20 season application.

Related PDFs

Soloist Profile

  • Contemporary music pioneers ACME Quartet premiered Timothy Andres' First Music commission 'Senior' with the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra on March 22, 2009.