66th Annual BMI Student Composer Award Winners Announced

Published: 05.15.2018

Above: (L-R) BMI President and CEO Mike O'Neill; BMI Foundation President Deirdre Chadwick; Katherine Balch; Miles Walter; Jonathan Cziner, William Schuman Prize winner; Matthew Schultheis; Amy Thompson; Ari Sussman; Chair of the Student Composer Awards Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Photo by: Amanda Stevens

The BMI Foundation (BMIF), in collaboration with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), has announced the nine young classical composers, ages 18 to 26, who have been named winners of the 66th 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 14, 2018, at Three Sixty° in New York City.

Listen to this year's award-winning compositions below:

The 2018 award winners are:

  • Katherine Balch – age 26, studies at Columbia University

  • Jonathan Cziner – William Schuman Prize, awarded for most outstanding score – age 26, studies at The Juilliard School

  • Saad Haddad – age 25, studies at Columbia University

  • J.P. Redmond – Carlos Surinach Prize, awarded to the youngest winner of the competition – age 18, studies at The Juilliard School

  • Matthew Schultheis – age 20, studies at Indiana University

  • Gabriella Smith – age 26, studies at Princeton University

  • Ari Sussman – age 24, studies at New England Conservatory of Music

  • Amy Thompson – age 23, studies at McGill University

  • Miles Walter – age 23, studies at Yale University

One composer also received an honorable mention in the competition: Avik Sarkar, a 17-year-old student of Alla Cohen’s in Boston.

“We are excited to honor these deserving and talented young composers” said Deirdre Chadwick, Director of the Student Composer Awards. “This is only the start to what is sure to be an exciting professional journey for them all.”

The celebratory evening featured a performance by the Emissary Quartet of the 2017 SCA-winning composition One Wish, Your Honey Lips, composed by Annika K. Socolofsky.

Alexandra du Bois, Jeremy Gill, Shawn Jaeger and David Schober served as preliminary panelists this year. The final judges were Michael Daugherty, John Harbison, Shafer Mahoney, Judith Shatin and Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon. 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. This year, 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.

About the Award Winners

Katherine Balch — Leaf Fabric for orchestra

Katherine Balch (b.1991) writes music that seeks to capture the intimate details of existence through sound. Her music has been commissioned and performed by the Tokyo, Minnesota, and Albany Symphony Orchestras, Ensemble Intercontemporain, International Contemporary Ensemble, FLUX Quartet, Contemporaneous, Yale Philharmonia, the New York Youth Symphony and wildUp, among others. She is currently composer-in-residence for the California Symphony, and recently joined the roster of Young Concert Artists, Inc., where she holds the William B. Butz composition chair. The 2018-2019 season includes premiers by the Oregon and California Symphony Orchestras, Bearthoven Trio, and the Argus Quartet. Recent recognitions include fellowships from IRCAM Manifeste, Fontainebleau, Aspen, Santa Fe, Norfolk, and Tanglewood music festivals, awards from ASCAP, BMI, the International Society of Bassists, Fontainebleau, and a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. 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. She currently pursuing her D.M.A. at Columbia University, where she studies 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.

Jonathan Cziner — Resonant Bells for orchestra

Jonathan Cziner (b. 1991) is an American composer based in New York City. His music combines colorful harmony and texture with nostalgic lyricism, creating a sound-world that ranges from dark and mysterious to vibrant. Drawing on a wide variety of inspirations, Jonathan’s writing engages the senses and the emotions, fully immersing listeners in the musical experience.

A 2018 Charles Ives Scholarship recipient from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Jonathan's works have been performed in the United States and Europe by artists including pianist Steven Masi, Dallas Symphony principal harpist Emily Levin, and by ensembles including the New Juilliard Ensemble, Atlantic Music Festival Contemporary Ensemble, and violin duo Les Deux. His orchestral work Resonant Bells was selected by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra for performance at the 2018 Cone Composition Institute with Maestro David Robertson. Other commissions include Once New for the Lyric Chamber Society, Fantasy Chorale for the American Guild of Organists, and Nebulous for the Dallas Harp Quartet, with performances at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York City.

Cziner’s work Transient Bodies for Sinfonietta, commissioned by the New Juilliard Ensemble, was awarded the 2017 Palmer Dixon Prize, given to the year’s most outstanding composition at the Juilliard School.  He has also received recognition from the Minnesota and Sioux City Symphony Orchestras, as well as the BMI Student Composer Award for his orchestral work reAwaken.

Jonathan served for two years as co-artistic director of Dynamic Music Festival, an annual concert series dedicated to premiering works of student composers attending universities in the New York City area. He currently is the associate artistic director of the Charles Ives Concert Series, which focuses its programming on the music of Ives, as well as other past and present American composers. Equally dedicated to scoring for film, he was awarded best original score for up-and-coming director Nora Unkel’s 2015 film “The Goblin Song”, and is slated to score her first feature film, “A Nightmare Wakes” in summer 2018.

Jonathan began formal composition training upon his acceptance to New York University, where he received a Bachelor of Music degree studying with Justin Dello Joio. He completed his Master of Music degree at The Juilliard School under the tutelage of Robert Beaser, and is in the midst of his studies in Juilliard’s prestigious C.V. Starr doctoral program.

Current projects include a solo piano work for Italian pianist Edoardo Turbil as well as a chamber work for the Charles Ives Concert Series.

Saad Haddad — Takht for full orchestra

Saad Haddad (b. 1992) is a composer of orchestral, chamber, vocal, and electroacoustic music who achieves a “remarkable fusion of idioms” (New York Times), most notably in his work exploring the disparate qualities inherent in Western art music and Middle Eastern musical tradition. His music delves into that relationship by transferring the performance techniques of traditional Arab instruments to Western symphonic instruments, while extending their capabilities through the advancement of technology.

Recent distinctions include the Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Barlow Endowment General Commission, the S&R Foundation Washington Award Grand Prize, the Jerome Fund for New Music grant from the American Composers Forum, the Palmer Dixon Award from the Juilliard School, the Aaron Copland Residency Award, and multiple awards from ASCAP, BMI, and the Vancouver Chamber Choir. His orchestral works have been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, American Composers Orchestra, Hangzhou Philharmonic, Symphony in C, Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, and the symphony orchestras of Albany, Columbus, Milwaukee, New Jersey, Princeton, and Sioux City.

Born in Georgia and raised in California, Haddad holds degrees in composition from the Juilliard School and the University of Southern California, where his principal teachers included John Corigliano, Mari Kimura, Bruce Broughton, Frank Ticheli, Stephen Hartke, and Donald Crockett. His music is published exclusively by Dib Press.

J.P. Redmond - Silhouette for full orchestra

J.P. Redmond was born in California in 1999 and grew up in Yonkers, New York. He currently studies composition at The Juilliard School with Dr. Christopher Rouse and piano privately with Ann Schein. Since 2010, he also studied composition at Concordia Conservatory with Dr. Matt Van Brink.

Redmond has been recognized with a number of honors: he is a 2017 Davidson Fellow and a 2017 National YoungArts Foundation Finalist; he has received four ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Awards—including the 2015 Charlotte V. Bergen Scholarship, a 2018 BMI Student Composer Award, a 2016 American Composers Forum NextNotes Award, a 2016 National YoungArts Foundation Honorable Mention and 2015 Merit award, and a 2013 Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award and appearance on NPR’s From the Top.

Summer festivals he has participated in include the National Youth Orchestra of the USA in 2017 as an apprentice composer, the Chelsea Music Festival and the Boston University Tanglewood Institute in 2016, the Curtis Institute of Music Young Artist Summer Program in 2015, and the NYU/ASCAP Foundation Film Scoring Workshop in 2014. Upcoming commissions include a wind nonet for Portland’s Chamber Music Northwest festival, where Redmond will be protégé composer-in-residence this summer, and a chamber opera for Concordia Conservatory.

Matthew Schultheis - Chamber Concerto for 15 Players

Matthew Schultheis (b. 1997) is a composer and pianist from Virginia. He currently attends the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University and is a recipient of the David and Barbara Jacobs music scholarship. His principal teachers in composition have included Sven-David Sandström, David Dzubay, Aaron Travers, and Don Freund. He also currently studies piano with Jean-Louis Haguenauer and is a pianist in the Indiana University New Music Ensemble. He has received awards in composition from the BMI Foundation, ASCAP, the Music Teachers National Association, and the National YoungArts Foundation.

While living in Virginia, Schultheis began composition study with Dr. Frances McKay at Levine Music in Washington, D.C. and studied piano with Lisa Emenheiser. He has attended composition programs and festivals at Tanglewood, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the Brevard Summer Music Institute, and the EAMA–Nadia Boulanger Institute in Paris. His original works have been performed by a variety of artists, including Claire Chase, Jenny Lin, and the Del Sol String Quartet, and in master classes with Martin Gendelman, Stephen Gorbos, and Steve Antosca.

An accomplished pianist, Schultheis 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; and in concert with the Loudoun Symphony Orchestra and the 21st Century Consort. He was the pianist for the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestra from 2013-2016 and returned as a guest artist for their 2017 spring concert. As the 2018 winner of the Indiana University Piano Concerto Competition, he made his solo debut with the IU New Music Ensemble in April 2018, performing Ligeti's Piano Concerto.

Gabriella Smith - Carrot Revolution for string quartet

Gabriella Smith is a composer from the San Francisco Bay Area whose music is described as “high-voltage and wildly imaginative” (Philadelphia Inquirer), “bold, original and suggests exciting new directions for American music” (Giancarlo Guerrero), and “You really get the Pacific Ocean, man!” (Cabrillo Festival audience member). Her music has been performed throughout the U.S. and internationally by eighth blackbird, Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, Nashville Symphony, PRISM Quartet, Aizuri Quartet, and yMusic, among others. Her upcoming projects include performances by Roomful of Teeth, Dover Quartet, and Los Angeles Philharmonic. Smith is a recipient of the 2014 ASCAP Leo Kaplan Award, three ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards, a winner of the American Modern Ensemble Ninth Annual Composition Competition (2015), and the Theodore Presser Foundation Music Award (2012). Smith was the Nashville Symphony’s inaugural Composer Lab & Workshop Fellow during the 2016-17 season. Other recent residencies include two months as an artist fellow at Instituto Sacatar on the island of Itaparica in Bahia, Brazil and a Copland House Residency. She is a doctoral candidate at Princeton University, where she has studied with Steve Mackey, Paul Lansky, Dan Trueman, Dmitri Tymoczko, Donnacha Dennehey, and Ju Ri Seo. She received her Bachelors of Music in composition from the Curtis Institute of Music. After graduating, she returned to the Curtis Institute of Music as an ArtistYear Fellow for the 2015-16 season, dedicating a citizen-artist year of national service in the Philadelphia region. When not composing, she can be found backpacking (playing trail songs on her ukulele along the way), birding, playing capoeira, working on small-scale organic farms and environmental projects around the world, and recording underwater soundscapes with her hydrophone.

Ari Sussman - Kol Galgal for orchestra

Praised for his “sophisticated writing...and intriguing rhythms” (GTM), Ari Sussman (b. 1993) is an award-winning Philadelphia-born and Boston-based composer of vocal, chamber, orchestral, choral, electronic, and film music. His compositions have been performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Delaware Valley Jewish Choral Festival, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Fondation des États-Unis in Paris, the North American Jewish Choral Festival, and in many other venues. Sussman's music aims to transport to a supernal and metaphysical realm by means of manipulating time and space via voluminous and mellifluous soundscapes. As a result, minimalism, spectral music, post-minimalism, indeterminate music, spatial music, astronomy, Kabbalah, nature, cosmology, meditation, metaphysics, and poetry are among his many musical and non-musical influences and interests.

Sussman has won the American Composers Forum: Philadelphia Chapter: Young Composers Scholarship, two Honorable Mentions for the Guild of Temple Musicians Young Composers Award, the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra Young Composers Initiative, the ‘Shalshelet’ 6th International Festival of New Jewish Liturgical Music, and the KC VITAs Chamber Choir Composition Competition. He is a two-time finalist for the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers Award, and has been awarded a fellowship from the North American Jewish Choral Festival.

An accomplished concert pianist, Sussman has performed many concerts and recitals throughout the Philadelphia and Boston areas. With a fondness for musical theater, Sussman has held music directorships for productions of Hairspray, Les Misérables, and The Last Five Years. In 2016, Sussman was selected as a judge for Kol HaOlam: The Annual Collegiate Jewish Acappella Championship Competition.

Sussman previously studied piano with Joel Rothstein and Ellen Bildersee and composition with Daniel Shapiro. Sussman received his Bachelor of Music with Honors in Composition from the New England Conservatory of Music. He is currently pursuing his Master of Music in Composition at the New England Conservatory of Music, where he studies with Michael Gandolfi and Kati Agócs. He will begin pursuit of the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Composition at the University of Michigan in the fall of 2018.

In his spare time, Sussman enjoys long walks, playing basketball, Broad City, mancala, playing Bluegrass/Old-time music, and avidly rooting for Philadelphian sports teams. (

Amy Thompson - Somewhere to Elsewhere for orchestra

A native of Springfield, Tennessee, Amy Victoria Thompson recently completed her graduate studies in performance at McGill University where she studied composition with John Rea and harp with Jennifer Swartz. She received her bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University where she graduated with first honors as the Blair School of Music Founder’s Medalist. Amy has also studied at the European American Music Alliance-Nadia Boulanger Institute, and her works have been selected for performances through the McGill University Composer-in-Residence program and the Tennessee Valley Music Festival Young Composer’s Forum. Active as a harpist as well as a composer, Thompson is a former winner of the Vanderbilt University Concerto Competition and has been featured as a soloist with the McGill Contemporary Ensemble. This fall she will begin graduate composition studies at the Eastman School of Music.

Miles Walter - Eighteen figments after Joanna Newsom, Side A for violin, viola, cello, double bass, & piano

Miles Walter is a composer and performer from New Hampshire. He's currently finishing a BA in Music at Yale College, where he studies composition with Kathryn Alexander. Next year, he'll start an MM in Composition at the Yale School of Music, where he presently studies piano with Wei-Yi Yang and composition with Hannah Lash.

Walter has previously been recognized with a Joseph Lentilhon Selden Memorial Award, a Terry E. and Irene Sharp Prize, and an R. J. R. Cohen Fellowship for Musical Study, and is a two-time winner of the Yale Friends of Music Competition. In 2017, he was a recipient of an E. B. Storrs Piano Scholarship and a finalist in ASCAP's Morton Gould Young Composer Awards. Miles is principal pianist of the Yale Symphony Orchestra and has been a regular pianist for the Yale Percussion Group, the Black Church at Yale, and the Yale Jazz Initiative. As a pianist, he is an eager collaborator, and an active performer of new music, old music, classical music, theatre music, and anything between.

In summer 2017, Walter attended the Bowdoin International Music Festival as a student of Derek Bermel, and the Ostrava Days Institute in the Czech Republic, where he received private lessons from Richard Ayres, Kate Soper, Marc Sabat, Miroslav Srnka, Christopher Butterfield, and Pavel Zemek Novák. Recent composition projects include a cycle of Dickinson settings and a new score for “Brecht’s Mother Courage” and “Her Children”. When not composing or playing, he loves hiking, running, and the theatre; this summer, you can find him playing piano in the Norfolk Contemporary Ensemble, and biking across some sizeable swath of the U.S.

Honorable Mention

Avik Sarkar - From Voices for string quartet and tape

Avik Sarkar, a 2018-2020 Lang Lang International Music Foundation Young Scholar, is a seventeen-year-old pianist, cellist, and composer. He studies composition with Prof. Alla Cohen, and piano with Mana Tokuno and Prof. Alexander Korsantia at the New England Conservatory (NEC).

Sarkar is a two-time laureate of both BMI and ASCAP Morton Gould student composition competitions. His piece, Mirror for chamber orchestra, won the 2015 Carlos Surinach BMI student composer prize, awarded to the youngest winner. His compositions have received awards and recognition from Robert Avalon International, Tribeca New Music, Webster University Young Composer, and National Young Composers competitions, and he was a National Young Arts winner twice in a row. His orchestral piece Purvi was performed by the Janáček Philharmonic in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

He has also won top prizes at several international and national piano competitions, including the American Prize, Future Stars International, and Forte International Music piano competitions. Sarkar enjoys bringing music to the community and raised over $5,000 for refugees in the Boston area by organizing a benefit concert this January. Aside from music, he enjoys competition math, writing poetry, and watercolor painting. His poem Illegal was published in the Best Teen Writing anthology of 2016. Website:

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