64th Annual BMI Student Composer Award Winners Announced

Published: 05.19.2016

Above: (L-R) BMI Foundation President Deirdre Chadwick; David Bird; Justin Zeitlinger, Carlos Surinach Prize winner; Phil Taylor; Tristan Koester, William Schuman Prize winner; Paul Mortilla; Daniel James Miller; Tonia Ko; Jack Hughes; Ryan Lindveit; BMI President and CEO Mike O'Neill; Chair of the Student Composer Awards Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Photo by: Melissa Dispenza

The BMI Foundation (BMIF), in collaboration with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), has announced the nine young classical composers, ages 15 to 27, who have been named winners of the 64th annual BMI Student Composer Awards. Renowned American composer and permanent Chair of the Student Composer Awards, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, BMI President and CEO and BMIF Honorary Chair Mike O’Neill, and BMI Executive Director of Classical and BMIF President Deirdre Chadwick, announced the decisions of the jury and presented the awards at a private ceremony held on May 16, 2016, at the J. W. Marriott Essex House Hotel in New York City.

The 2016 award winners are:

  • David Bird – age 25, studies at Columbia University
  • Jack Hughes – age 23, studies at the University of Chicago
  • Tonia Ko – age 27, studies at Cornell University
  • Tristan Xavier Köster – William Schuman Prize, awarded for most outstanding score – age 23, studies at Hamburg Hochschule für Musik und Theater
  • Ryan Elliott Lindveit – age 21, studies at the University of Southern California
  • Daniel James Miller – age 26, studies at Dartmouth College
  • Paul Mortilla – age 20, studies at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music
  • Phil Taylor - age 26, studies at the University of Chicago
  • Justin Zeitlinger – Carlos Surinach Prize, awarded to the youngest winner of the competition - age 15, studies at The Juilliard School’s Pre-College Division

One composer also received an honorable mention in the competition: Avik Sarkar, a 15-year-old private student of Alla Cohen’s in Boston.

Deirdre Chadwick, Director of the Student Composer Awards, commented, “These young composers are on the cusp of a professional life in music. This is such a special night for all of us at BMI, to watch them take the next steps towards their future, and shine a light on them as they do so. I hope winning this award helps them trust their instincts, take chances, and move forward with confidence.”

The distinguished jury members for the 2016 competition were Oscar Bettison, Marti Epstein, Charles Wuorinen, and Yehudi Wyner. The preliminary judges were Carlos Carrillo, Alexandra du Bois, Shafer Mahoney, and David Schober. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first female composer to win the Pulitzer Prize in Music, is the permanent Chair of the competition.

The BMI Student Composer Awards recognize superior musical compositional ability. Winners receive scholarship grants to be applied toward their musical education; awards this year totaled $19,000. In 2016, nearly 700 online applications were submitted to the competition from students throughout the Western Hemisphere, and all works were judged anonymously. BMI, in collaboration with the BMI Foundation, has awarded over 600 grants to young composers throughout the history of the competition.

Listen to this year’s award winning compositions below:


About the Award Winners

David BirdDrop for string octet, strobe lights, electronic sounds

David Bird is a composer and producer from Laguna Beach, California. He is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and currently studies composition at Columbia University. His work frequently employs the use of live electronics with aims to strengthen the relationships between acoustic and electronic instruments. His music has been a “Staff Pick” on Vimeo and featured on their homepage, as well as in publications such as The Atlantic and The Plain Dealer. A review from Pitchfork’s Altered Zones has described his expansive sound as, “vibrant, shirt-staining, color squirting… amidst swirling layers of white noise and choir… I do believe a lie-down is in order.” His work has been performed internationally, at venues and festivals such as the MATA festival in New York City; the Wien Modern Festival in Vienna, Austria; the SPOR festival in Aarhus, Denmark; the IRCAM Manifeste Festival in Paris, France; the Festival Mixtur in Barcelona, Spain; the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; the Bodo Sinfonietta in Bodo, Norway; the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in Indianapolis, Indiana; and the SEAMUS electroacoustic music festival in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Jack Hughes - Ripple for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano

Composer Jack Hughes is currently in the second year of his PhD at the University of Chicago, where his principal teachers have been Marta Ptaszynska and Shulamit Ran. He earned a Bachelor of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2014 as a double major in theory and composition, studying in the studio of Keith Fitch. While in Cleveland, Jack served as the Composer Fellow of the Canton Symphony Orchestra for their 2013-2014 season, and upon graduation, he was awarded CIM’s Donald Erb Prize in Composition. For the past two summers, he has attended the Stage de Création at the Orford Arts Centre in Quebec, where he studied with Jean Lesage of McGill University and Ana Sokolovic of the University of Montreal. A native of Reston, Virginia, he plays the trumpet, piano, violin, and viola.

Tonia Ko - Games of Belief for piano

The music of Tonia Ko has been described as “stunningly smart” and “experiment-gone-right” (New Haven Independent). Born in Hong Kong and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, her work strives to capture the poetics behind small visual details of everyday life. Tonia’s music has been performed across the United States, as well as in Asia and Europe, by ensembles such as New York Youth Symphony, Volti, Flux Quartet, orkest de ereprijs, Eastman Wind Ensemble, and New Morse Code. Festivals that have featured her music include Aspen, Tanglewood, Santa Fe Chamber Music, Thailand International Composition Festival, and the Wellesley Composers Conference. In 2013, she was awarded a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a residency from the Copland House. Tonia has also received recognition from BMI, New York Youth Symphony, Lin Yao Ji Foundation, New Music USA, and International Alliance for Women in Music. She is currently represented by Young Concert Artists, Inc. as 2015-2017 Composer-in-Residence.

Her own explorations in the visual arts have sparked a curiosity for interdisciplinary connections— recent projects include work for bubble wrap and electronics entitled Breath, Contained and a musical for Perry Chiu Experimental Theatre in Hong Kong. Tonia is currently a doctoral candidate at Cornell University, where she studied with Steven Stucky and Kevin Ernste. She received previous degrees from Indiana University and the Eastman School of Music.

Tristan Xavier Köster - The Empty City Stratagem for male traditional Chinese folk singer (or tenor) and large orchestra

Tristan Xavier Köster (b. 1993) is a Los Angeles-born composer currently studying in Hamburg, Germany. Working with ensembles and musicians in predominantly acoustic settings, Tristan is inspired by the abstract emotive capabilities of music and its ability to be radically interpreted by performers and listeners alike. Leaving musicians with a profound sense of artistic freedom, Tristan hopes that each performer uses his or her own unique perspectives to create an independent understanding of his works. Tristan’s compositions have been commissioned by the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra (China, 2015), the Varied Trio (Los Angeles, 2015), the 2015 HEARnow festival of new music (Los Angeles), visual artist Mark Dutcher (Los Angeles, 2014), and the Soundscape composition/performance exchange (Italy, 2013). He has been honored by the USC Thornton School of Music with the Dean’s Music Scholarship and been a finalist in the 62nd BMI Student Composer Awards, as well as the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards in 2014 and 2016.

Tristan’s mission is to utilize the power of music as an intermediary among different peoples. Tristan regards collaborations with musicians around the world as some of his most rewarding experiences. He has had the privilege of working with vocalist Huo Yonggang, conductor Cai Jindong, cellist Jonathan Dormand, pianist Brendan White, and the L.A. Duo. Upcoming collaborations in 2016 include performances and a recording project by the Varied Trio for the Los Angeles-based record label Microfest; performances and recordings of his solo Guzheng suite by the Chinese Guzheng performer Sun Zhou; and an upcoming violin concerto, commissioned by violinist James McFadden-Talbot, who will premiere its solo cadenza at the Hamburg Laeiszhalle in June 2016.

Currently studying under Xiaoyong Chen, Tristan is earning his Master’s Degree with an emphasis in orchestral composition at the Hamburg Hochschule für Musik und Theater. Having recently completed his Bachelor’s of Music in Composition, Summa Cum Laude, at the USC Thornton School of Music, Tristan names Frank Ticheli, Stephen Hartke, Donald Crockett, and A.J. McCaffrey as his most significant former mentors. He originally began his musical career aspiring to be both a cellist and an experimental rock musician, playing in orchestras and venues all over California. Having first studied the cello under Sevan Pogosyan, as well as classical, jazz, and rock guitar under various teachers, Tristan only began composing classical music when he was asked to write a piece for his high school’s string orchestra in 2010. In his free time Tristan enjoys pretending to play the piano, performing and improvising as a cellist and guitarist, traveling, and swimming whenever and wherever he has the opportunity.

Ryan Elliott Lindveit - Spinning Yarns for wind ensemble

Ryan Lindveit (b.1994) writes music that crackles with vitality—blending craft with exuberant invention. He is motivated by the diverse potential of sound, and he finds the creation (and subversion) of musical narrative to be an endlessly fascinating pursuit. Ryan has enjoyed working with such ensembles as “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, USC Thornton Symphony, USC Thornton Wind Ensemble, Donald Sinta Quartet (sax quartet), FearNoMusic (string quartet), and the City of Tomorrow (wind quintet), among others.

Ryan is a winner of the 2016 BMI Student Composer Award for his wind ensemble work Spinning Yarns. He has twice (2015, 2016) been a finalist for the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award and has received additional honors and awards from SCI, the American Modern Ensemble, the National Band Association, Tribeca New Music, and the Texas Music Educators Association. Ryan also won both the New Music for Orchestra and New Music for Wind Ensemble competitions at the University of Southern California. Recent and upcoming projects include works for Alarm Will Sound, the Donald Sinta Quartet, saxophonist Paul Nolen, and the LA-based trombone ensemble Skinny Lips and the Sound Malfunction.

Ryan recently graduated with a Bachelor of Music in Composition degree summa cum laude from the University of Southern California, where he was selected as Salutatorian for the class of 2016. At USC, he studied with Ted Hearne, Andrew Norman, Frank Ticheli, Donald Crockett, Stephen Hartke, and USC Trojan Marching Band arranger Tony Fox. Originally from the Houston area, Ryan began formal composition studies in high school with Stephen Bachicha at Rice University. Additionally, he has participated in lessons and masterclasses with Aaron Jay Kernis, Steven Stucky, Dana Wilson, and Chen Yi.

Daniel James Miller - Contrails for flute and responsive electroacoustic environment

A native of Seattle, Daniel Miller is a recipient of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a grant that, in 2013-14, made possible twelve months of research in seven countries. His project, “Experiencing Nature through Computer Music,” took him from the Australian outback to the Tokyo subways and the high-altitude salt flats in Bolivia in pursuit of new sounds and artists working off the grid. As a composer and sound artist, Daniel’s music resists narrative structures, seeking instead to create immersive environments that confront listeners with dense and intricate tapestries of sound color, texture, and pulse. Working with field recordings, responsive electroacoustic environments, and computer algorithms, Daniel’s work engages with the Euro-American concert-music tradition, but draws equally on scientific conceptions of sound, environment, space, process, and perception for inspiration. Daniel’s music has been performed in the United States and Europe by members of, among others, the Seattle Symphony, the NOW Ensemble, the International Contemporary Ensemble, and ensemble mise-en. His electroacoustic works have been accepted by conferences of the Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States and the International Computer Music Association. Recently he was a recipient of a commission from Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne for a work to be performed at the 13e International FORUM at the Université de Montréal in November 2016. A former student of the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, Daniel is a recipient of degrees in music composition and philosophy from Lawrence University. He is currently a master’s candidate in the Digital Musics program of Dartmouth College where he is a composition student of Dr. Ashley Fure.

Paul Mortilla - STUPOR for trumpet, bass clarinet, double bass, piano, and drumset

Paul began his studies in composition at age 14 at the Frost School of Music. He is currently pursuing a BM in composition at the Jacobs School of Music, where he has studied with Don Freund, Sven-David Sandström, and David Dzubay. Paul recently started a chamber opera, Alcibiades, which was performed by IU’s New Music Ensemble. Along with composing, Paul performs often as a singer, violinist, and conductor. Paul has conducted various works of new music, from his own, to works by fellow composers. Paul recently received a BMI Student Composer Award for his piece STUPOR. Last summer he attended the highSCORE music festival, where his piece for guitar quartet, Broken Music-Box, was premiered in Pavia, Italy. Paul’s work Vos Estis Lux Mundi has been performed by the Vancouver Chamber Choir and 2014 Florida All-State Reading Chorus.

Paul strives to create rhythmically driving and tonally exciting worlds, often combining ideas from various styles. He is currently refining his thoughts and work on composition in his “Music: Sound with Connotation,” a lecture which he first presented at the Jacobs School of Music.

Phil Taylor - Sparks for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano

Phil Taylor writes music exploring ideas about gesture, transformation, and dialogue. His works are often inspired by phenomena in linguistics, literature, visual art, and nature. Upcoming projects include collaborations with Ensemble Échappé, Ensemble Dal Niente, and Latitude 49, as well as a multimedia concert tour with violinist and visual artist Michiko Theurer. Phil is currently completing doctoral studies in composition at the University of Chicago, where he studies with Augusta Read Thomas. His award-winning work was commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival and premiered in July 2015.

Justin Zeitlinger - Miniatures for two violins

Justin Zeitlinger is a 15-year-old composer and violinist currently studying composition at The Juilliard School Pre-College Division, under Ira Taxin. A resident of Dumont, N.J., Justin attends Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, N.J. He studies violin privately with Allan Schiller, and is a member of the Juilliard Pre-College Orchestra. In 2015, Justin was named a winner in the National Young Composers Challenge for his composition Fantasy for String Quintet, which resulted in a performance by members of the Orlando Philharmonic. He was also named a finalist for the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards. He will be attending Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute this summer. Justin formerly performed with the Bergen Youth Orchestras, serving as youngest concertmaster in the organization’s 48-year history. His BMI award-winning work was premiered at a Juilliard Pre-College recital last month.

Honorable Mention

Avik Sarkar - Purvi for orchestra (two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in B flat, two bassoons, two horns in F, two trumpets in C, percussion, violins I, violins II, violas, violoncellos, double basses)

Avik Sarkar is a fifteen-year-old pianist, cellist, and composer, studying composition with Alla Cohen. His piece Mirror for Chamber Orchestra won the 2015 Carlos Surinach Prize and BMI Student Composer Award, as well as an honorable mention at the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers competition that year. Avik’s string quartet Polarity was awarded prizes at the Robert Avalon International, National Young Composers Symposium, and Tribeca New Music Young Composers, and honorable mention at the ASCAP Morton Gould competitions. His chamber piece A Separate Unity was premiered by Juventas new music ensemble at the Emerge program in Boston, and the orchestral piece Purvi was played by Janáček Philharmonic in Ostrava, Czech Republic. He has had several other works performed by prep students of the New England Conservatory, at Keller and Brown halls.

As a pianist, Avik is equally accomplished and has won many piano competitions, including 1st prize at Forte International Music, 2nd prize at New York International Artists and 3rd prize at the 2014 Louisiana International Piano competitions. He has won 1st prizes at several regional and state competitions including NEPTA, MTNA state winner, and MMTA & Steinway Society of Massachusetts piano competitions. Avik has performed at recitals at Cadogan Hall in London UK, Symphony Hall in Boston, and Carnegie Hall in New York City, and was recently heard on WGBH Radio, NPR, Boston. Aside from piano and composition, Avik plays cello in the NEC Youth Repertory Orchestra and enjoys competition math, writing poetry, and watercolor painting. He is a member of the Center for Development of Arts Leaders (CDAL) in Boston and currently a freshman at Buckingham Browne & Nichols in Cambridge, MA.

New York Public Library Collection

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center houses a permanent archive of BMI Student Composer Award-winning scores dating back to the 1953 inaugural competition. Winning scores are annually donated by composers to the collection on a voluntary basis and are available for study within the library.

About the BMI Foundation

The BMI Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded in 1985 to encourage the creation, performance, and study of American music. The Foundation’s programs include competitive scholarships for songwriters and composers, operating grants for nonprofit arts presenters, and support for innovative music education initiatives in schools and communities across the country. For more information about the work of the Foundation, please visit For exclusive news and content, follow @bmifoundation on Twitter at and like “BMI Foundation” on Facebook at