On Friday, June 12, CEO Vanessa Rose accepted the League of American Orchestras’ Gold Baton Award on behalf of ACF at their conference’s closing event (online). Read her acceptance speech below.

Hi everyone,

It is my pleasure to join you today and gratefully accept this award on behalf of the American Composers Forum’s Board, staff, founders, and the many composers, artists, and advocates who have contributed to us being here today. Of special note, I want to acknowledge our founders Libby Larsen and Stephen Paulus as well as my immediate predecessors John Nuechterelein and Linda Hoeschler. Libby and John are watching right now and would have certainly joined me in person.

In our original form, as the Minnesota Composers Forum, the mission was to provide a platform and an audience for the creation and performance of new music composed by Minnesota composers. As we have evolved to support artists around the country – using a broad definition of the term “American” – we continue to develop a platform to amplify both the music being created today and the artists themselves. And we strive to cultivate curious listeners like you to experience the music of our time.

I’ve been honored to lead ACF over the past year-and-a-half as part of this creative ecosystem. Accepting this award in front of an audience of mentors, colleagues, and friends, is personally significant as well. I trained as a classical violinist and sought a career as an orchestral musician. But it was my first internship and later full-time position at the League that catalyzed my move to administration. The life-changing experience of being an Orchestra Management Fellow 15 years ago was a foundation for the leader I am today.

When I moved from New York to Minneapolis last year I could not have foreseen the magnitude of being in this city at this time. To see how our artistic community has responded and galvanized action in the spirit of our city’s protests and calls for systemic reform make me proud. This can be a tipping point for our country and our field. We’ve created, followed, and probably questioned the various responses to this movement. As you look inside your orchestras to enact greater racial equity, I ask you to consider context. The music we play reflects any commitment to demonstrating that Black lives matter. And the beauty of programming works by living composers is that, well, they are alive! Each creator has a unique story and a unique journey. When you program a living composer, you are collaborating with that person as well as their music. Together the orchestra and composer design a musical experience for performers and listeners alike – and done well can engage a truly diverse audience.The commission and premiere at the beginning is a special experience, but it’s the second, third, and fourth performances that support a composer’s livelihood.  

I invite you to join me in asking, whose music are we missing out on? The most recent data I can find is from the Institute for Composer Diversity, which looked at 120 orchestras’ programs this season. Sixteen percent of the pieces included were by living composers. Only 6% of those were by an under-represented race/ethnicity/culture or heritage (as defined by the survey). So, as we’ve done for many years – let’s work together. At our convening last September that some of you attended or streamed, we heard music creators leading conversations with other artistic leaders of orchestras, venues, media, ensembles, and schools. Know that you are not alone. Our ecosystem thrives because of the diversity of people and the forms of music they create and perform. We have the people sharing this session with me as well as many amazing Black artists and BIPOC-led organizations in our field. It is because of this kind of deep investment in artists as well as the partnerships to share their music that ACF exists today.

Thank you to the League of American Orchestras’ Board and Staff for this award. And congratulations to my co-super woman, Vanessa Reed and New Music USA for their award. (I’m Vanessa Rose. We get confused too!) I gratefully acknowledge the League’s support of ACF, New Music USA, the Sphinx Organization and artists like today’s featured speaker, Valerie Coleman, and so many others who share my love for orchestras.