First Music

Soloist Profile

London-based clarinetist Sarah Beaty appeared with the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra on November 22, 2009.

First Music

"The most impressive record for championing new music of any ensemble in the United States." -The New York Times

First Music, the New York Youth Symphony’s young composer competition, commissions America’s best emerging orchestra, chamber music, and jazz composers under the age of 30. It has been acknowledged widely as one of the leading forces in the United States for bringing the work of gifted young composers to the public’s attention.

First Music was initiated in 1984 by then-music director David Alan Miller (now the music director of the Albany Symphony Orchestra) and former executive director Barry Goldberg. The object was to “wake up” our audiences, the critics, and our own musicians to the currents of music swelling among the emerging composers of the same generation.

"During the last two decades, no youth orchestra in the country has been more relentlessly committed to generating new music than the New York Youth Symphony." -Symphony Magazine

First Music has awarded commissions to 139 of America’s best young composers since 1984. The winner of numerous awards and accolades, this ongoing project introduces traditional audiences, as well as the musicians themselves, to new trends in music. Three awards are given seasonally for orchestral and jazz compositions and one for chamber music.


Orchestra Awardees

Three composers under the age of 30 will be awarded commissions of $1,000 each and premières in Carnegie Hall. The commissioned works must be previously unpublished and unperformed.

Chamber Music Awardees

One composer will be awarded a commission of $1,000. The director of the Chamber Music Program in conjunction with the awardee will determine the instrumentation of the commissioned piece. The commissioned work must be previously unpublished and unperformed, and it will be given its première in Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall.

Jazz Awardees

Three awards will be given to jazz composers. One composer will be awarded a commission of $1,000 and a première in The Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Two selected composers will be awarded a commission of $500 each and their works will be given their premières at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola by the NYYS Jazz. The work must be previously unpublished and unperformed.

The Commissioned Composer's Role as Guest Educator

Commissioned composers play an integral role in helping the organization to fulfill its mission to educate and inspire young musicians. The composition itself serves as the basis for myriad interactions for the composer with the New York Youth Symphony stakeholders, including the artistic and administratve staff, the students, and the audience.

Working with the Artistic Directors

Composers meet with the music directors to discuss various technical and musical aspects of their piece in order to help the directors get the most out of rehearsals with the NYYS ensemble performing the work.

Working with NYYS Students

The crux of the NYYS mission is to educate and inspire young musicians. Composers will speak directly to membes of the ensemble performing their work about the inspiration for and meaning of their piece. This is a unique opportunity for NYYS students to experience a "teaching moment" from contemporary composers and learn from their insights. It also helps composers achieve their artistic vision for the premier performance of their work.

Written Notes

These notes are a meaninful component of the commission, and will guide the composer's collaboration with the music directors, direct interaction with students, and the program notes that audience members will read.

First Music Staff

Christopher Theofanidis is chair of the First Music Advisory Committee for orchestra and chamber music. Rufus Reid, a leading string bass player with over 250 recordings in his discography, chairs the advisory committee for jazz.

The musicians are principal beneficiaries of First Music. They become partners in the exploration of these new works, growing musically as they rehearse them and giving them life onstage. Audiences, too, learn to appreciate what emerging generations of composers seek to express in their creations.


To qualify for the 2018/19 Season, First Music Commission applicants must be under the age of 30 on December 22, 2017 and be able to provide the following materials:

i) A five-minute audio excerpt of an original composition
ii) A full recording of the same original composition (or MIDI file)
iii) PDF version of the score of the same original composition
iv) Proof of US Citizenship or legal permanent residency
v) Resume/List of Previous Works

Please note:  Previous awardees of a First Music commission are not eligible to apply again.


The application for the 18/19 Season will be made available in November. The deadline for applications will be December 22, 2017. 



First Music Video

First Music Audio