YACR Program

Founded 1991 by Barry Jekowsky, Music Director

The only program in the world where emerging composers are able
to hone their craft using a professional orchestra as their laboratory.

About the Program

Mason Bates

2007 – 2010

Kevin Beavers

2003 – 2005

Pierre Jalbert

1999 – 2002


Kevin Puts


Christopher Theofanidis

1994 – 1996

Kamran Ince

1992 – 1996



“It’s just the most intelligent of any attempts I’ve seen to try to put a composer, and in particular a young composer, together with an orchestra.”

– Jacob Druckman

Mason Bates
2010 - 2012 Chicago Symphony Orchestra Composer-in-Residence

“Writing for orchestra means, for almost every composer, learning how to fit an artistic experience into three rehearsals.  Not so with the California Symphony: as their Young American Composer in Residence, I have several opportunities each year to try out anything I'd like with the entire orchestra.  A midnight idea can actually see the light of day, since composer readings are budgeted into the process.  How unusual is this?  Unheard of, in fact - there is simply no other program that gives a composer greater access to an orchestra.

"Beyond the luxury of two or three readings each year, the CSO's composer-in-residence program is wonderful in many other ways.  The musicians, for example, are some of the Bay Area's finest, and they approach each new piece with the best attitude I have ever encountered.  And they have a superb leader in Maestro Barry Jekowsky, whose amazing musicianship is complemented by an unflinching commitment to new American music.  By including an American work on every program, he demonstrates time and again how important it is for orchestral music to stay close to its community."

Christopher Theofanidis
2003 Masterprize winner

“My involvement with the California Symphony was literally the defining opportunity in my career. A composer spends up to nine or ten years in a conservatory or music school learning their craft, and in that entire time, they’re lucky to have one piece on an orchestra reading session, much less an actual performance. That reading session will probably only last a total of thirty to forty minutes – and that is the extent of the composer’s hands-on experience with the orchestra. This leaves precious little room for error and does not encourage much experimentation and invention.

“Another reason why this residency has been so decisive is that in addition to these incredibly beautiful recordings that I have, which I can trace to having led to almost every other orchestral opportunity since, Maestro Jekowsky takes it upon himself to promote and perform your works outside the California Symphony in his guest conducting positions. The year after my residency ended, he programmed an unprecedented two works (one new commissioned piece) for the National Symphony in Washington, D.C., just eight months apart. He also commissioned three works from me since then for the California Symphony! As you can see, this is a program with very long range goals and will cultivate a generation of composers, filling so many of the gaps that exist out there for us.”

Pierre Jalbert
2001 Masterprize winner

“Just like practicing an instrument, one needs to practice writing for orchestras in order to get better at it. As a direct result of my involvement with Barry and the California Symphony, I have received performances from the London Symphony and the Budapest Symphony in Hungary. The first work I wrote under the YACR program, In Aeternam, won the BBC Masterprize. Last year, I was able to write my largest work to date, Symphonia Sacra, a 27-minute symphony. For a young composer to have the opportunity to hear such a lengthy work performed by an orchestra is a rarity these days. All of this has been a direct result of my residency with the YACR program.”

[2002] “I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Barry Jekowsky and the California Symphony over these past three years. The Young American Composer-in-Residence program is one-of-a-kind and is now sought after by composers from all over the country. As a direct result of my involvement with the orchestra, I have received performances from the London Symphony at the Barbican Centre in London and from the Budapest Symphony in Budapest, Hungary. Last year, I was able to write my largest work to date (Symphonia Sacra), a 27-minute symphony. For a young composer to have the opportunity to hear such a lengthy work performed by an orchestra is a rarity these days, so I am greatly appreciative of Barry Jekowsky's support and encouragement. Also, the first work I wrote for the orchestra, In Aeternam, won the BBC Masterprize this past year, one of the world's most prestigious competitions for composers. All of this has been a direct result of my residency with the orchestra.”

[2007] “Being composer-in-residence with the California Symphony was a wonderful, educational, and transforming experience for me as a composer. To have a close relationship with an orchestra over the course of three years and to be able to write and revise pieces for that orchestra as I worked on them was just a tremendous learning experience. The YACR program is extremely unique and unless a composer has many orchestral commissions, it's very rare that one gets to work with an orchestra on a regular basis like this. Just like practicing an instrument, one needs to practice writing for orchestra in order to get better at it. This only comes through much study and experience. The YACR program allows the composer to do this, and the benefits are tremendous. Also, all the successes of its previous composers-in-residence bear this out. (For me, winning the 2001 BBC Masterprize Competition with the work I wrote for the California Symphony was one result of the program). I thank Barry Jekowsky for this unique and wonderful program.”

Kevin Puts
2001-2002 Rome Prize winner

“I can only say that I would not have the career I have were it not for the opportunity the YACR program gave me. The hard thing about embarking on an ‘orchestral’ career is that no one will commission you unless they are convinced you can navigate the challenges of writing for this amazing instrument. And the only way to convince someone is to play a recording – and usually only a really high-quality one works. The California Symphony produced three such archival recordings for me, and they continue to be a personal source of pride. Barry Jekowsky and the fine players in the orchestra clearly take this program very seriously. They play these brand new works by young composers with the same passion and commitment they bring to Brahms or Mahler. This is a unique and wonderful place to be for a young composer. I know of no program in the world that even comes close. Every time an orchestra programs a work of mine or commissions a new one, I feel very fortunate and I always remind myself that without the California Symphony I would not be living the composer's life I dreamed of.”


About the Program

Profoundly influenced by his close association with such legendary composers as Leonard Bernstein, Lou Harrison and Jacob Druckman, Jekowsky worried about where the next generation of American classical composers would come from.

Jekowsky had a vision of a program that would fill the gap between formal training and the reality of writing for an actual orchestra. The result: the groundbreaking California Symphony Young American Composer-in-Residence (YACR) program, founded in 1991 – which nurtures the development of new American classical works through three-year residencies for emerging composers to hone their craft, using a professional orchestra as their laboratory.

The program has been so successful that YACR alumni have gone on to win many of the world’s top honors and competitions – including two of the three BBC International Masterprizes awarded to date (Pierre Jalbert and Christopher Theofanidis), and five Rome Prizes, (Kamran Ince, Chris Theofanidis, Kevin Puts, Pierre Jalbert and Mason Bates). Each of the composers careers have continued to flourish with either major commissions and/or residencies, putting them at the forefront of contemporary contributors to the American symphonic repertoire. Among them, Bates was appointed to the prestigious position of a CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, beginning fall 2010.

As significant, CSO’s Young American Composer-in-Residence program has made possible the creation of 28 new works by American composers – an unparalleled achievement for a regional orchestra.

The only hands-on training ground of its kind, the YACR program provides resident composers with three world premieres, up to four weeks of annual on-site residency with the California Symphony, audio recordings of reading rehearsals with each commission that gives them enough time for revisions before a work’s public debut; direct interaction and feedback from both Jekowsky and members of the orchestra; and a permanent recording of each premiere performance for use by the composers to secure future commissions and positions, among other benefits. “We consider it a model for how an orchestra should work with young composers to develop their talents, business acumen and music,” says Jekowsky.

To celebrate YACR’s 15th anniversary in 2007, Jekowsky set another precedent by commissioning the first known symphonic work created through a collaboration of composers. The historic piece, called the Young American Composers Concerto for Orchestra, premiered in May 2007. The concerto consists of four movements – each one emphasizing a different section of the orchestra – composed exclusively by YACR alumni Pierre Jalbert (Music of Air and Fire; percussion), Kevin Beaver (Tipsy; woodwinds), Kevin Puts (Furioso; strings), and Christopher Theofanidis (Hymn to Music; brass).

“It was a very exciting project. One of a kind,” says Jekowsky, whose only direction to the collaborators was: “I told everyone, the orchestra is yours – however you wish to use it. I did not ask any of them to write for a particular section of the orchestra, because each of them would be spectacular in any role that they took.”

Said Kevin Beavers, the 2003-2005 YACR, at the time: “There's something very appealing about the interdependence of it in that the success of this piece depends upon each of us making equal and worthy contributions that will find serendipitous balance. I certainly had all the faith and trust in my colleagues to believe this would happen in an amazing way.”

Of his contribution to the concerto, Kevin Puts added: "The piece is only a small token of thanks for the incredible opportunity I had when Barry asked me to be a Young American Composer-in-Residence. I truly believe I owe the career I have as an orchestral composer to Barry's early belief in me, at a time when he had little to go on (I think I had only written one orchestra piece)! My deepest thanks go to Barry, the amazing musicians in the orchestra, the administration, and the many generous supporters who make the California Symphony one of the greatest cultural assets I know."

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