BMI and the BMI Foundation celebrated the honorees of the 71st annual BMI Composer Awards at a private ceremony held on May 15th at Chelsea Table and Stage in New York City. BMI Foundation President and BMI Executive Director of Classical Deirdre Chadwick, renowned composer and Chair of the Composer Awards Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, and BMI Senior Vice President of Licensing David Levin presented the awards to six emerging composers for excellence in composition.
The BMI Composer Awards recognizes superior ability in music composition with annual awards totaling $20,000. This year, over 500 applications were submitted to the competition from young composers around the world, 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.
“It’s such a privilege for all of us at BMI and the BMI Foundation to help discover the next generation of compositional talent,” said Chadwick. “This accolade is bigger than the award or the event tonight; it lets them know they are on their way, and that we are all excited to hear what comes next.”
This year, the inaugural Ellen Taaffe Zwilich Award was introduced in recognition of the dedication and vision of the longtime chair of the BMI Composer Awards. This distinct honor, formerly known as the William Schuman Award after the renowned American composer and founder of the Awards, was presented to 21-year-old Maxwell Lu, student of Andrew Norman at The Juilliard School, for having the most outstanding score. Lu also received the Carlos Surinach Award for being the youngest winner.
In addition to Lu, the 2023 award winners included the outstanding composers below:
- Christian-Frédéric Bloquert – age 26, student of Richard Carrick, Andrew List, and Matthias Pintscher
- Christopher John Michael Enloe – age 26, student of Kevin Puts at Peabody Conservatory
- Seare Ahmad Farhat – age 26, student of Elizabeth Ogonek at Cornell University
- Natasha Frank – age 25, student of Daria Novo at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Nick Kenworthy-Browne
- Sofia Jen Ouyang – age 21, student of Andrew Norman at The Juilliard School
Honorable mention went to Charlie Zhong, a 16-year-old student of Tak-Cheung Hui and David Hodgkins at the Commonwealth School in Boston.
The evening also featured a performance of “Sadie’s Song” for flute and electronics by Ábel M.G.E., which was an award-winning score from BMI’s 2022 competition. Julianna Eidle of Cincinnati New Music Ensemble and Thrive Hip Hop Orchestra performed the work.
Preliminary judges for the awards included David Schober, Trevor Weston, and Alyssa Weinberg; final judges were George Lewis, Kevin Puts, and Elena Ruehr.
About the Award Winners
Christian-Frédéric Bloquert - Métropole for orchestra
Christian-Frédéric Bloquert is a French composer and a conductor. Born in Paris, he often moved with his family growing up in France, the Dominican Republic, the UK, Australia and he later came to the United States to pursue his music studies. A prolific composer, he is the recipient of many awards including the Israel/Pellman Prize and the Morton Gould Young Composers Award, and he was a finalist of the 2021 Basel and the 2022 Luciano Berio Composition Competitions. His works have been performed by the Ensemble InterContemporain, the Basel Sinfonieorchester, the MIVOS quartet, the PHACE Ensemble and the Juilliard Symphony amongst others. He is a graduate of Berklee College of Music where he studied with Dr. Richard Carrick and Dr. Andrew List, and the Juilliard School where he studied with Matthias Pintscher. He is now the Music Director and co-founder of the New York based BeCommEnsemble.
Christopher John Michael Enloe - Frika for orchestra
Christopher Enloe (b. 1997) is an emerging composer based in Baltimore, Maryland. His works have earned numerous awards and honors from organizations including the American Choral Directors Association, the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, the American Guild of Organists, and the John Ness Beck Foundation. He has collaborated with a diverse array of ensembles and soloists, including soprano Ah Young Hong, violist Nadia Sirota, Ensemble Tacet(i), and the Peabody Symphony Orchestra. Upcoming premieres of his works include scheduled performances in Texas (Rice University), Poland (Polish Chamber Choir), and Lithuania (Jauna Musika). He works as an assistant to film composer Grant Fonda, serves as Director of Music Ministry for Valley Presbyterian Church, and is a graduate assistant for Peabody’s Theory Department. He is currently pursuing a DMA in Composition and MM in Music Theory Pedagogy at Peabody Conservatory in the studio of Kevin Puts.
Seare Ahmad Farhat - ...ka spoojmai shwa poh hala ke… for string quartet
Seare Ahmad Farhat strives to create music that connects a listener to the visceral imagination, energy, and transformation within narrative forms while challenging strict notions of textual, historical, and cultural boundaries. His varied musical background ranges from indie rock, to classical, to Afghan folk music. Seare has received commissions from prominent ensembles such as the JACK Quartet, IU New Music Ensemble, Metropolitan Youth Symphony and has held residencies at Avaloch Farm, Banff Centre, and with the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music. Recently, Seare received the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Seare holds a B.M. in Composition and B.A. in Mathematics from Oberlin College and Conservatory, M.M. from IU Jacobs School of Music where he served as Assistant Director of the New Music Ensemble, and is currently pursuing a D.M.A. as a Sage Fellow at Cornell University studying with Elizabeth Ogonek, Kevin Ernste, and Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri.
Natasha Frank - Riven for cello and electronics
Natasha is a multi award-winning composer from London, currently completing her graduate studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Since graduating from the University of Oxford in 2019, she has had her music premiered throughout the USA and Europe. Natasha is a two-time Pigott/BAFTA scholar, and is also the winner of the Track 15 Film Scoring Contest and a Genelec Prize winner. Recently, her piece Americanah was selected as a contest winner for the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and her piece The Spinning Wheel (co-composer Lina Harrison) was covered by CBS news for its insight into brain functions during sleep, in collaboration with neuroscientists at UCSF. Natasha has also been part of the music team on a number of projects for clients such as Meta, Sony, and Netflix.
Maxwell Lu - arboreal for orchestra
Maxwell Lu is an undergraduate composer studying with Andrew Norman in the Columbia-Juilliard Exchange. His music is inspired by aesthetics from minimalism to impressionism, jazz, spectralism, electronic music, and film. As a concurrent computer science student, he constantly looks for ways to create traditional concert music with new sounds and environments inspired by nature, art, poetry, dance, and philosophy, as well as electronic, algorithmic, and analysis tools in composition. He is passionate about exploring new sounds in orchestral writing and his music has been recognized in awards and programs including the Arthur Friedman Prize, the American Prize, the National Youth Orchestra, and the ASCAP Morton Gould Award.
Sofia Jen Ouyang - As if sharing a joke with nothingness for orchestra
Sofia Jen Ouyang (b.2001) is interested in the intersection of musical, literary, and philosophical concepts. Winner of the 2022 American Prize in Composition and the 2022 Juilliard Gena Raps Prize, Sofia is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Philosophy at Columbia University, and studying with Andrew Norman at The Juilliard School. Sofia is selected to attend Lucerne Festival Composer Seminar 2023 and the Serbian 31st International Review of Composers. She is a BluePrint fellow with National Sawdust (2021) and has received honors from BMI (2021) and Society of Composers Inc (2021). Sofia’s music has been performed at venues and festivals such as Columbia’s Miller Theatre, Lincoln Center, Lake Champlain Music Festival, New Music On The Point, and Atlantic Music Festival. She has received commissions from New York Virtuoso Singers, Columbia’s New Opera Workshop, violist Hsin-Yun Huang, and has collaborated with JACK Quartet, Trio Immersio, and members of International Contemporary Ensemble.
Charlie Zhong - Illusions of Tranquility for orchestra (honorable mention)
Charlie Zhong is a composer based in Boston, Massachusetts. His music often explores themes of attention, memory, transformation, and balance, in a way that is accessible to audiences while still pushing the boundaries of unconventional sounds and techniques. Most recently, Charlie was recognized as the winner of the 2023 DeKalb Symphony Orchestra Young Composers Competition. Charlie was also a winner of the 2021 National Young Composers Challenge, which resulted in a world premiere by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra in 2022, and he was the 1st place winner of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York’s Emerging Composers Competition (2022-23). Charlie is currently a sophomore at the Commonwealth School in Boston, and his teachers include Tak-Cheung Hui, David Hodgkins, Julien Siino, and Marco Flores-Villanueva.