Conducting this group of musicians is like driving a high-performance car that accelerates really fast and can turn on a dime They’re open to almost anything. I mean you can throw anything at them. The composers throw all kinds of things at them– even literally. American Composers Orchestra was founded by a quartet of unbelievably visionary guys. There was a composer named Nicolas Roussakis and our first associate conductor, Paul Lustig Dunkel. Paul is not only a wonderful conductor, but also a great flutist. And he’s also a composer. Dennis Russell Davies: the combination of the ACO musicians and Dennis was a perfect fit. He has remarkable baton technique, a perfect ear, and he’s a beautiful pianist. He’s the whole package. Finally, and maybe most importantly I think all of them would agree, was our founder composer, Francis Thorne. Francis was really the vision of, you know, what a program of new music could be like. These guys got together in 1977 and said: Hey, we think American composers need to be heard more. At that time really very few American composers were being played by orchestras. American composers really didn’t have a shot. It’s so important for our culture to know what a lot of our members of our society are up to and composers have a voice that’s important. It’s the only orchestra, professional orchestra, that’s dedicated to performing new works and living composers. It gives young composers really an extraordinary opportunity to hear their music and workshop it. I learned so much not only from the mentor composers and the other participants, but also from the musicians themselves. They were very open about, you know, giving feedback and suggestions. You know, if I had a dollar for every time an ACO player took time from their break and went up to a composer and said, “Is this really what you wanted? Were you thinking of that?” I think in many traditional, you know, traditional big orchestras, there are a lot of people there that look at this, they’ll see something and they’ll say, “That’s really actually not, it’s not possible to do well.” That’s not the attitude of almost everybody in ACO. That’s certainly not my attitude. I’ve written a few orchestral pieces that are limited by or they were limited by the performers, but I felt like with ACO, I could take some risks. What do you want to do? Let your imagination run wild and let us see how we can support that. ACO was always prepared to start with people at an earlier stage, you know, before they proved themselves and they were prepared to work with composers who really were complicated to produce. Today’s composers are writing in multimedia ways with video, with electronics. They’re conceptualizing pieces that don’t just call for orchestra, but call for dancers or visual artists or actors. They have a sort of sense of responsibility to the future of American music I think the way American Composers Orchestra has changed over the past 40 years is really reflective of how America has changed actually. It’s not a museum. It’s living and the orchestra is constantly changing the idea of what the orchestra is, is constantly changing. It’s because ACO follows the composer and composers’ minds go wherever the world is. I’ve always thought, okay I will make it as a composer if I have some connection to this orchestra, because what other orchestra has composer in its name.