65th Annual BMI Student Composer Award Winners Announced

Published: 05.17.2017

Above: (L-R) ; Matthew Schultheis; Justin Zeitlinger; Daniel James Miller; Aaron Cecchini-Butler; BMI Foundation President Deirdre Chadwick; Chair of the Student Composer Awards Ellen Taaffe Zwilich; Lara Poe, William Schuman Prize winner; Aiyana Tedi Braun; Sydney Wang, Carlos Surinach Prize winner; Annika K. Socolofsky; BMI President and CEO Mike O'Neill. Photo by: Melissa Dispenza

The BMI Foundation (BMIF), in collaboration with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), has announced the nine young classical composers, ages 14 to 28, who have been named winners of the 65th annual BMI Student Composer Awards. Renowned American composer and 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 presented the awards at a private ceremony held on May 16, 2017, at Three Sixty° in New York City.

The 2017 award winners are:

  • Katherine Balch – age 25, studies at Columbia University
  • Aiyana Tedi Braun – age 20, studies at the Curtis Institute of Music
  • Aaron Cecchini-Butler – age 24, studies privately in Boston
  • Daniel James Miller – age 28, studies at Dartmouth College
  • Lara Poe – William Schuman Prize, awarded for most outstanding score – age 23, studies at the Royal College of Music, London
  • Matthew Schultheis – age 19, studies at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music
  • Annika K. Socolofsky – age 27, studies at Princeton University
  • Sydney Wang – Carlos Surinach Prize, awarded to the youngest winner of the competition – age 14, studies privately in Los Angeles
  • Justin Zeitlinger – age 16, studies at The Juilliard School’s Pre-College Division

“All of us at BMI are so impressed with this year’s talented young composers, and we are honored to have a front row seat as they embark on this exciting journey towards a professional life in music,” said Deirdre Chadwick, Director of the Student Composer Awards. “I hope that this award will give them the confidence to continue pursuing their passion for creating music and sharing it with others.”

The celebratory evening featured a PUBLIQuartet performance of the 2016 SCA-winning composition Miniatures for Two Violins, composed by Justin Zeitlinger, who was the Carlos Surinach Prize winner that year.

Alexandra du Bois, Jeremy Gill, Shawn Jaeger and David Schober served as preliminary panelists this year. The final judges were Steve Mackey, Cindy McTee, James Primosch and Roger Reynolds. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Music among many other accolades, is the permanent Chair of the competition.

The BMI Student Composer Awards recognize superior musical compositional ability with annual educational scholarships totaling $20,000. In 2017, 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

Katherine BalchVidi l'angelo nel marmo for soprano and double bass

In 2017, 25-year old composer Katherine Balch was named both the Young Concert Artists’ Composer-in-Residence and the Young American Composer-in-Residence with the California Symphony. As a composer, she writes music that seeks to capture the intimate details of existence through sound, influenced by various art forms, the natural world, and her academic passions.

The 2017-2018 season will feature performances of works by Ms. Balch with the Albany Symphony Orchestra (American Music Festival), Tokyo Summer Arts Festival at Suntory Hall, and in 2018, she will have her first YCA commission premiered by flutist Anthony Trionfo on his début at Merkin Concert Hall and at the Kennedy Center. Additionally, Donato Cabrera, music director of the California Symphony, will premiere Katherine’s first work for the Orchestra in May 2018.

Ms. Balch’s past commissioned works have been performed by the Albany Symphony Orchestra, New York Youth Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Ensemble Intercontemporain, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), FLUX Quartet, New York Virtuoso Singers, Yale Philharmonia, American Modern Ensemble, wildUp and others in such venues as Carnegie Hall, Disney Hall and Wiener Konzerthaus, MANCA festival and Contemporaneous.

She has been awarded fellowships from IRCAM Manifeste, Fontainebleau, Aspen and Norfolk music festivals, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Charles Ives Scholarship, several ASCAP Morton Gould Awards, New England Conservatory’s Donald Martino Prize, Fontainebleau’s Prix du Composition, the grand prize in the International Society of Bassists Composition Competition, Yale’s Alumni Association Prize and the Woods Chandler Memorial Prize.

Katherine completed her M.M. at Yale School of Music where she studied with Aaron Kernis, Chris Theofanidis and David Lang, and her B.A./B.M. in the Tufts University/ New England Conservatory double degree program, where she studied history and political science at Tufts and composition at NEC. Interested in the intersection of art, politics, and philosophy, Katherine’s particular fascination with the writings of Baron de Montesquieu, F. Nietzsche, and J.J. Rousseau has led to many academic awards and a publication in the peer-reviewed History of European Ideas. Explorations of the artist’s relationship to society remain an important part of her musical identity. She recently began her Doctorate at Columbia University, studying with Georg Haas and Fred Lerdahl. When not making or listening to music, she can be found baking, collecting leaves, and playing with her cat, Zarathustra.

Aiyana Tedi BraunUncommon Threads for clarinet, cello and piano

Aiyana Tedi Braun (b. 1997) is a composer and pianist born in Tel Aviv, Israel. She currently attends the Curtis Institute of Music where she studies under full scholarship as the Edith Evans Braun Fellow. Aiyana is currently in the composition studio of Dr. Jennifer Higdon, and during her time at Curtis she will also study with Dr. Richard Danielpour and Dr. David Ludwig.

Aiyana had her first orchestral composition premiered by the New York Philharmonic in May of 2013 when she was fifteen years old. During her time in the New York Youth Symphony’s Composition Program, she also had an orchestral work performed by members of the New York Youth Symphony and Da Capo Players in 2014. That same year, she was commissioned by Eric Bartlett and Jon Deak of the New York Philharmonic, to write a cello quartet for “Cellofest!”

Aiyana was a Teaching Artist Intern and Teaching Artist Associate in the New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composer’s “Bridge Program” from 2013-2015. She attended the Juilliard Pre-College Division from 2011-2015 where she studied with Dr. Manuel Sosa.

She has received awards such as the American Composer’s Forum “NextNotes” competition in 2015, and was featured on the National Public Radio program, From the Top in 2016. Later that year, Aiyana wrote a short ballet which was performed in collaboration with the Rock School for Dance Education as a commission by the Curtis Institute of Music. She has also had two orchestral works premiered by the Curtis Symphony Orchestra.

Aiyana performed her first original composition at eleven years old at the Marian Anderson Awards in 2008, an event honoring Dr. Maya Angelou and Mr. Norman Lear at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. This ceremony also included performances by Ben Vereen, Harry Belafonte, and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Aaron Cecchini-Butler — Wayward Pine: sanctum / sawdust / ember / pitch for string quartet, objects and electronics

Aaron Cecchini-Butler (b. 1992) writes music inspired by his interpretation of the fantasy series, The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind.  He also finds daily inspiration from nature and his two Shiba Inus.  He often incorporates electronics and a wide array of extended techniques in his music, and enjoys experimenting with notation.

 Aaron attended Berklee College of Music (BA) and the Vermont College of Fine Arts (MFA), working under Dr. Jonathan Holland, Dr. Michael Early and Dr. John Mallia.  His work has been performed and exhibited internationally and his fixed media piece, Keep, was published on the CD historage through the Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt (IMD).    

Daniel James Miller - Plumage for chamber orchestra

A native of Seattle, Daniel Miller is a composer, instrument builder, and field recordist. His creative practice centers on perceiving and responding to the vitality latent in simple processes, materials, and technologies. Recent creative interests have included explorations of found objects, live animated interactive scores, and feedback cycles between performers and stochastic processes or acoustic automata.

Daniel’s music has been performed in North America, Europe, and Asia. Recent collaborators include Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, ensemble l'itinéraire, ensemble mise-en, the International Contemporary Ensemble, the NOW Ensemble, Ensemble MotoContrario, and folk duo Undlin & Wolfe. In 2013 he was a recipient of a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a grant that made possible twelve months of field-recording research in seven countries. In 2016, he was awarded a BMI Student Composer Award for his 2012 solo for flute and electronics, Contrails.

In 2017, Daniel was the recipient of a Fulbright research fellowship to India for a project centered on intersections between Indian classical and contemporary music and algorithmic structural processes and cognitions. 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.

Lara Poe - Violin Concerto for solo violin and orchestra

Finnish-American composer Lara Poe, currently based in London, has had performances in the US and Europe, with performers such as the JACK quartet, Aija Reke, the Liminka Music Weeks string orchestra, and the New England Conservatory Preparatory School Piano Seminar students.  She is currently studying with Kenneth Hesketh at the Royal College of Music, London, as an RCM Award Holder supported by the Doctor Knobel Fund in the MMus degree program.  

Poe received a Bachelor of Music degree from Boston University in 2016 where she studied composition with Alex Mincek, Joshua Fineberg, Martin Amlin, Ketty Nez, Richard Cornell, and with Kenneth Hesketh, while studying abroad at the Royal College of Music.  Before Boston University, she studied at New England Conservatory Preparatory School with Rodney Lister and Paavo Korpijaakko as well.  While pursuing composition, Lara has also studied piano, with Nigel Clayton (RCM), Linda Jiorle-Nagy, Edna Stern, Sergey Schepkin, Kristiina Kask-Valve, Bertica Shulman-Cramer, Melanie Almiron and Vanessa Morris.  

Poe is the 2016 American Prize for Composers of Chamber Music, Student Division winner.  At Boston University, Poe received the Wainwright and Department of Theory and Composition awards, and became a member of the Pi Kappa Lambda honor society.  She has been a finalist for the BMI student composition competition, and has been a finalist for the Morton Gould Young Composer Awards twice.  She was also a co-winner of the UMass Lowell Chapter, National Music Conference, and has received an Honorable Mention in the Ithaca Women’s Works composition competition as well.  

Poe’s current projects include a collaboration with Royal College of Art student Jennifer Haugan, which concerns noise pollution levels throughout the UK.  She is also working on a variety of chamber music projects and a couple of solo pieces for colleagues at the RCM.  

Matthew Schultheis - Suibokuga for flute (doubling piccolo and alto flute), clarinet in A, viola, and percussion

Matthew Schultheis is a composer and pianist who grew up in Virginia and is currently living in Bloomington, Indiana. He is a freshman at the University of Indiana Jacobs School of Music, studying composition and piano. He is a recipient of the David and Barbara Jacobs Music Scholarship.

Prior to attending Indiana University, Matthew studied composition with Dr. Frances McKay and piano with Lisa Emenheiser. His original compositions have been performed in masterclasses with Claire Chase, Martin Gendelman, Stephen Gorbos, Steve Antosca, and Jenny Lin.  He has attended composition workshops at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, and the Brevard Summer Music Institute.  

Matthew has won several awards in composition, including first prize in the MTNA National Composers Competition at the state and southern division levels.  He has received Honorable Mention in the ASCAP Student Composition Contest, and was a finalist in the BMI Student Composer Awards Competition in 2014.  He also won first prize in the Washington Music Teachers Association Young Composer Competition.  

An accomplished pianist, Matthew has been a consistent prizewinner in Washington DC, Virginia, and Maryland piano competitions and he has performed at George Mason University; on the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage; in master classes with Lambert Orkis, Veit Hertenstein, and Pei-Yao Wang; and in concert with the Loudoun Symphony Orchestra and the 21st Century Consort. He is currently a pianist with the Indiana University New Music Ensemble.

Annika K. Socolofsky - One Wish, Your Honey Lips for flute quartet (four C flutes)

Annika Socolofsky (1990, Edinburgh) is a composer, avant-folk vocalist, and fiddler. Her music stems from the timbral nuance and embodied resonance of the human voice, and is communicated through mediums ranging from orchestral works to unaccompanied folk ballads.

New projects for the 2016 – 2017 season include works for the Albany Symphony Orchestra, Third Coast Percussion, Emissary Quartet, Shattered Glass, sean-nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, and bassist Evan Runyon. She has collaborated with artists such as Donald Sinta Quartet, JACK Quartet, Latitude 49, Mobius Percussion, shakuhachi grandmaster Riley Lee, and the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra. Her works, projects, and related research have been presented at The Italian Society of Contemporary Music, Bang on a Can Summer Festival, Carnegie Hall, Northwestern New Music Institute, Strange Beautiful Music Detroit, Listening to Ladies, and Princeton Sound Kitchen. She is a recipient of a 2014 Fromm Foundation Commission.

Annika is a Mark Nelson Doctoral Fellow at Princeton University. She holds a master’s in composition from the University of Michigan where she was a Regents Fellow. Her primary musical mentors have been Evan Chambers, Donnacha Dennehy, Reza Vali, and Kristin Kuster. She has an intense interest in Yiddish song and contra dance, and can be heard alongside her dearest friends in avant-Isles folk band Ensoleil.

Sydney Wang - Tales from the Sea (A Symphony in Four Movements) for full orchestra

Sydney Shanshan Wang, age 14, is an aspiring composer studying with Professor Ian Krouse of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. Her works have won top prizes in national and international competitions for young composers, including the Robert Avalon International Competition. Tales From the Sea is her first major symphonic work, but she has previously scored for orchestra as well. Another of her orchestral works, Moonlit River, was performed by the Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestra in early May.

Sydney has also been playing piano since the age of four and is currently studying with Mina Perry. She has won many awards in piano competitions in Southern California, including Southern California Junior Bach Festival, Southwestern Youth Music Festival, Los Angeles Young Pianist Competition, Kathryn Gawartin Chopin Piano Competition, and Glendale Piano Competition. In addition to her solo repertoire, Sydney plays piano in the chamber program of the Colburn School and her piano trio group was featured in Sundays Live at LACMA (LA County Museum of Art). Sydney is also the assistant principal cellist in the Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Aside from her passion for music and composition, Sydney loves playing tennis, reading, writing, art, and traveling around the world. Sydney lives in Los Angeles, California.

Justin Zeitlinger - …dal nulla… for full orchestra

Justin Zeitlinger is a 16-year-old composer and violinist currently studying at the Juilliard School’s Pre-College Division under Ira Taxin. Justin won the Carlos Surinach Prize at the 2016 BMI Student Composer Awards for his composition Miniatures for Two Violins. He was also named a finalist in the 2016 and 2017 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards and was a 2016 YoungArts Merit Winner. In April, Justin was awarded a Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award in conjunction with an appearance on NPR’s radio show From the Top. Additionally, he was named a National Young Composers Challenge winner in 2014 for his composition Fantasy for String Quintet, which was performed by members of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. Justin’s award-winning work …dal nulla… was read by the Juilliard Pre-College Symphony earlier this year.

A resident of Dumont, N.J., Justin attends Bergen County Academies, in Hackensack, N.J. He previously attended programs at the Thurnauer Music School, in New Jersey, and attended Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute during the summer of 2016 as a recipient of scholarship made possible through the ASCAP Foundation’s Irving Caesar Fund. He will return to BUTI this summer for a course in electroacoustic composition. Justin studies violin at Juilliard with Naoko Tanaka, and is a member of the Juilliard Pre-College Orchestra. Justin formerly performed with the Bergen Youth Orchestra, serving as youngest concertmaster in the organization’s 48-year history.

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 our website at For exclusive news and content, follow @bmifoundation on Twitter and Instagram, and like “BMI Foundation” on Facebook at