Saturday, March 31, 2018

WINNING COMPOSERS: opera/theater/film/dance, 2017-18

The American Prize is honored to announce the winners, runners-up and honorable mention of The American Prize in Composition, 2017-18, in the opera/theater/film/dance divisions. Congratulations!

Complete listings of finalists and semi-finalists in The American Prize competitions may be found elsewhere on this blog. Please use the chronological tool in the right-hand column to find specific results.

QUICKNOTES: Although The American Prize does not usually provide written evaluations to semi-finalists, some semi-finalist composers will receive in their certificate packets short comments, suggestions or overall impressions made during the judging. We hope they will prove valuable. All finalists receive written evaluations from a member of The American Prize judging panel.

REMINDER: The final postmark deadline for composers to apply for The American Prize, 2018-19, is APRIL 30, 2018.  There is no need to email in advance to take advantage of the April date. Please note that although the deadline date on application forms will not be changed, your application will be accepted through the final deadline.

Please make us aware of any misprints:

The American Prize in Composition—OPERA/THEATER/FILM/DANCE, professional division, 2017-18

The American Prize winner:
Jocelyn Hagen   Plymouth MN
    Test Pilot 
Jocelyn Hagen
Jocelyn Hagen composes music that has been described as “simply magical” (Fanfare Magazine) and “dramatic and deeply moving” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis/St. Paul). Her melodic music is rhythmically driven, texturally complex, and has recently become more experimental in nature. Her commissions include Conspirare, The Minnesota Orchestra, the American Cantus, the Boston Brass, The Metropolitan Symphony, and The Houston Chamber Choir, among many others. Her work is independently published through JH Music, as well as Graphite Publishing, G. Schirmer, Santa Barbara Music Publishing, Fred Bock Music Publishing, and Boosey and Hawkes. Visit for more information.

2nd Place:
William David Cooper   Cambridge MA
    Hagar and Ishmael
William David Cooper
William David Cooper (b.1986) is the composer of three operas, and has also written music for orchestra, chamber ensembles, Baroque instruments, voice, chorus, film, and electronics. His operas have been featured by West Edge Opera, the National Opera Association, Black House Contemporary Ensemble at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, and with the UC Davis Early Music Ensemble. Upcoming performances include world premieres by the Berlin Philharmonic's Scharoun Ensemble, the New York Virtuoso Singers, and Cello Loft at the 2017 World Harp Congress in Hong Kong. Cooper is the recipient of awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and ASCAP and fellowships from the the Aspen Music Festival, the Wellesley Composer's Conference, Ucross, I-Park, VCCA and Brush Creek. A graduate of the Juilliard School and the University of California, Davis, he has studied with Samuel Adler, Robert Beaser, Kurt Rohde, Ross Bauer and Pablo Ortiz. Cooper has taught at Purdue University, Vincennes University, and the Interlochen Arts Camp. He is organist and choirmaster at St. James Episcopal Church, New London, and is also an avid scholar of Renaissance polyphony and Wagner.

3rd Place:
Frank LaRocca   Oakland CA A
    Rose in Winter—the Life of St. Rita of Cascia
Frank LaRocca
The recent winner of the ORTUS international choral composition competition, Frank La Rocca has received grants, commissions and awards from the NEA, California Arts Council, S.F. Girls Chorus, Foundation for Sacred Arts, ASCAP, USC Thornton Chamber Singers, London Festival of Contemporary Church Music and many others. His CD In this Place was ranked in the top ten classical CD sales on Amazon and was a 2013 "Critic's Choice" at American Record Guide. Trained as an academic modernist during his degree studies at Yale and U.C. Berkeley, he came to see modernism as a barrier to free musical expression, and spent years in search of a personal creative language. His catalog includes works in all genres, especially a cappella sacred choral works. At a recent University of Notre Dame conference, "The Musical Modes of Mary and the Cross" he presented a talk, "The Apologetics of Beauty: a Musical Theology of the Incarnation," based upon his choral work O Magnum Mysterium.

Finalist Honorable Mention
Jesse Ayers   Canton OH
    Beneath Suspicion 
Jesse Ayers
JESSE AYERS was the winner of the inaugural American Prize for Orchestral Composition in 2011, and was named an "Honored Artist" of the American Prize in 2014. Recent honors include First Prize in the 2016 Opera Kansas Zepick Modern Opera Composition Competition, a 2014 Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Excellence Award, the 2013 Boston Metro Opera Concert Award, the 2011 Dayton Ballet “New Music for New Dance" award, and a 2010 MacDowell Fellowship. Recent commissions include those from the Akron Symphony, Soprani Compagni, the Indiana Bandmasters Association, the Ohio Private Colleges Instrumental Conductors Association, the Wisconsin Lutheran National Honors Band, and Milligan College. His music has been performed in more than 100 U.S. cities and eight foreign countries.  website:

The American Prize in Composition—OPERA/THEATER/FILM/DANCE, student division, 2017-18

The American Prize winner:
Michele Cheng   San Jose CA
    To Be Heard X Unheard—An Interdisciplinary Experimental Music Theatre
Michele Cheng
Michele Cheng is a Taiwanese-American composer, multimedia producer, improviser-performer, and arts activist. Her music explores a diversity of compositional approaches, aesthetics from different cultures, and interdisciplinarity. She produces experimental music theatre as a medium to reflect humanity, to question clich├ęs with humor, and to connect different communities. Her recent works include a documentary she directed and composed called OMW which focuses on 1.5 generation cultural identities, and an experimental music theatre project titled "To Be Heard X Unheard" which which combines music, theatre, art, and dance to reveal experiences of Asian women in the U.S. Her works have been performed by groups such as Amaranth Quartet, Taipei Symphony Orchestra, Tone Melody Flute Ensemble, Baroque Camerata, and Yunlin Sharing Chamber Orchestra where she has been a composer in residence since 2007. Michele received her M.F.A in Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology from University of California, Irvine in which she studied with Nicole Mitchell, Chris Dobrian, Michael Dessen, Kojiro Umezaki, and Lukas Ligeti. She received her B.F.A in Music Theory and Composition from National Sun Yat-sen University where she studied with Szu-Hsien Lee and Kwang-I Ying.

2nd Place:
Lucas Marshall Smith   New London OH
    A Psalm of Silence: An Opera in One Act
Lucas Marshall Smith
Lucas Marshall Smith writes for a variety of musical styles and genres including experimental art music, music for theatre, and electroacoustic composition.  As a classically trained vocalist, Smith’s affinity for vocal lyricism and dramatic tension are two markers of his unique style.  Active as a composer of both acoustic and electroacoustic music, Smith has had his music performed at the 30th and 31st Annual SEAMUS National Conferences (2015-16), the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (2015-16), the 46th Annual Ball State Festival of New Music, the 2016 RED NOTE New Music Festival, the SCI Student National Conference (2016), and the National Student Electronic Music Event (2017).  Smith has also received premieres and commissions from numerous new music groups including the New York based ensemble loadbang, the Illinois Modern Ensemble, the Heartland Sings chorale, and ensemble mise-en.  Smith’s music is recorded on the RMN Classical music label. 

3rd Place:
Olga Amelkina-Vera   Plano TX
    All That Glitters 
Olga Amelkina-Vera
Olga Amelkina-Vera’s works have been called “the discovery of the evening” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune),  “brilliant” (The Royal Gazette), “incandescent” and “hypnotic” (Fort Worth Star Telegram), and “exotic” (Soundboard).  A native of Belarus, Olga has resided in the United States since 1997. She is currently finishing her Master’s in Composition at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.  She also holds MM and DMA degrees in guitar performance from the University of North Texas, as well as a BA Summa Cum Laude from the University of St. Thomas. Olga won first prize in the Japan Guitar Ensemble Composition Competition (2013) and Austin Classical Guitar Society Composition Competition (2009 and 2012).  Most recently, she was named the Irving Symphony Orchestra 2016-2017 SMU Student Composer-in-Residence.  Her compositions for guitar are published by Les Productions d’Oz. She is faculty at Collin College in Plano, TX. To learn more about Olga, please visit


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