The BMI Student Composer Awards is an annual competition open to young composers actively engaged in the study of classical music. Our oldest awards program in any genre, the competition has a prestigious history of discovering and encouraging many of today’s most prominent and talented young composers.
BMI first established the Student Composer Awards in 1951, during the expansion of its classical music repertoire. A group of composers and educators met to create a platform that would recognize superior musical compositional ability and further the classical-music education of young talent. Since its inception, the competition has awarded nearly 600 grants to musicians, including fifteen Pulitzer Prize winners, and is widely regarded as the premier recognition for young composers of classical music in the Western Hemisphere.
Co-sponsored by BMI and the BMI Foundation, awards are determined annually for vocal, instrumental, and/or electronic compositions submitted by students of classical music. All works are judged under pseudonyms by a high-profile panel of classical composers that has in recent years included such icons of American music as Bernard Rands, Joseph Schwantner, Christopher Rouse, Tobias Picker, Ingram Marshall, and Gunther Schuller, as well as notable newer voices such as Kevin Puts, Kristin Kuster, and Sean Shepherd. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first female composer in history to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music, serves as the permanent chair of the competition.
Winners are honored at an award ceremony in New York City each spring. A special William Schuman Prize, given in memory of the late William Schuman, who served for 40 years as Chairman, then Chairman Emeritus, of the BMI Student Composer Awards, is awarded to the composer whose work is judged “most outstanding” in the competition. Additionally, the Carlos Surinach Prize is awarded annually to the youngest winner of the competition.
Past winners of the BMI Student Composer Awards include such luminaries as John Adams, William Bolcom, Kevin Puts, Cindy McTee, and Joseph Schwantner, and in more recent years, emerging talents such as David T. Little, Mason Bates, and Gregory Spears.