BMI Composer Awards

for classical composers

Ralph Jackson, Untitled (2019)

The BMI Composer Awards is an annual competition open to young composers 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 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 over 600 scholarships 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 totaling $20,000 are determined annually for vocal, instrumental, and/or electronic compositions submitted by students of classical music. All works are judged anonymously 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, and Ingram Marshall 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, Nina C. Young and Tonia Ko.

The Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center houses the BMI Student Composer Awards Archive, a permanent collection of winning scores dating back to the 1953 inaugural competition. Scores are donated by composers to the Archive on a voluntary basis and are available for study within the library. The Archive is overseen by George Boziwick, BMI composer and Chief Librarian of the Music Division at New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.


Eligibility requirements:

  1. Currently studying music, either in an educational institution or privately

  2. Age of 27 or younger as of the submission deadline.

  3. Not a previous winner of the BMI Composer Award more than two times (Honorable Mention excluded)

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