Special Reports

MA Top 30 Professional: Melissa Ngan

December 5, 2023 | By John Fleming

President and CEO
American Composers Orchestra

Since its founding in 1977, the American Composers Orchestra has been a leading performer of new work by American composers, as its Carnegie Hall concerts have long attested. In addition to those, the current season will offer  the New York premiere of An American Soldier, an opera by composer Huang Ruo, with a libretto by David Henry Hwang, at the Perelman Arts Center.

The profile of the organization is evolving under Melissa Ngan, who became president and CEO in 2021. “ACO has made a lot of strides in refreshing its purpose as a national gateway for composers to enter the field,” says Ngan, former executive director of Fifth House, an innovative chamber music ensemble she founded in Chicago. “Now we’re kind of a hybrid between a performing organization and a service organization in the sense that while we do perform at Carnegie Hall and have our own activities in New York, we also develop relationships between composers and other symphony orchestras. And we partner with orchestras nationally on composer readings, residencies, and commissions.”

For example, ACO collaborated with the League of American Orchestras and the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation to establish a 30-orchestra consortium that has commissioned works by six women and nonbinary composers: Anna Clyne, Sarah Gibson, Angel Lam, Gity Razaz, Arlene Sierra, and Wang Lu. The results are being performed across the U.S. A longstanding ACO program is EarShot, which gives composers reading sessions of their works and has helped boost the early careers of many now-prominent composers, such as Jennifer Higdon, Jessie Montgomery, and Carlos Simon.

“The opportunity to have your music performed by live humans on live instruments is still very rare at the scale of a symphony orchestra,” Ngan says. “For me, one of the most joyful things is to sit with a composer when that happens for the first time. It’s a beautiful moment.”




Law and Disorder by GG Arts Law

Career Advice by Legendary Manager Edna Landau

An American in Paris by Frank Cadenhead



Search Musical America's archive of photos from 1900-1992.