The Top 10 Colleges for Classical and Contemporary Composition

10. Northwestern University Bienen School of Music – Evanston, IL

Notable Faculty: Hans Thomalla, Jay Alan Yim

A unique composition program that brings aspiring students together with some of the top composers in the world via Northwestern’s heralded residency program, the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize, Northwestern’s program is one of the very best schools for music composition in the midwest. Hans Thomalla and Jay Alan Yim lead a department where student composers are paired with student chamber ensembles in year-long collaboration programs. Other performance opportunities include readings by the Northwestern University Contemporary Ensemble, several student composer concerts per year, and even the chance to have music read by the student orchestras.

9. Bard College Conservatory of Music – Annandale-On-Hudson, NY

bard college music photo
Gehry Recital Hall: Photo by bobistraveling

Notable FacultyGeorge Tsontakis, Joan Tower

A highly regarded composer and teacher, George Tsontakis,  former winner of the most coveted prize in all of music, is an active teacher at both Bard and also at the Aspen Music Festival and School, where he has taught since 1976. In 2006-2007 alone, he had over 100 performances of his works, and his catalogue and popularity only continue to grow.

Joan Tower is recognized as one of the leading female composers of her generation. She cites her upbringing in Bolivia as being a major contributing factor to her music, and seems to have an interesting sense of music herself. Here is an interesting quote from an interview way back in 1987:

“I think that classical music is suffering under the weight of being too much in the past as compared to pop music which is very much in the present and is a quite healthy art, at least in that sense. That new stuff is being presented all the time and tossed around and competed with and bought and sold. But classical music is still too much living in the past.” I agree Joan.

Listen to the Faculty: Check out George’s Grawemeyer-winning Violin Concerto No. 2

8. Curtis Institute of Music – Philadelphia, PA

Notable Faculty: Richard Danielpour, Jennifer Higdon

The Curtis Institute of Music has, from a historical standpoint,  produced many of the most important composers in the 20th century, including Samuel Barber, Gian Carlo Menotti, Lukas Foss, Lee Hoiby, and Daron Hagen.

Now headed by Richard Danielpour, who is only one of three composers to ever land an exclusive recording contract with Sony Classical (along with Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland), as well as Jennifer Higdon, one of the leading female composers in the entire world, the department is incredibly selective and accepts only the most accomplished talent. Typically, Curtis takes just one or two composition students every year, with applicants from all over the world. Like in any other department at Curtis, accepted students receive completely free tuition to this historical institution.

Listen to the Faculty: Check out Hilary Hahn Performing Jennifer Higdon’s Pulitzer Prize Winning Violin Concerto


7. Indiana University Jacobs School of Music – Bloomington, IN

Notable Faculty: Claude Baker, P.Q. Phan, David Dzubay

The graduates of IU Jacobs School of Music, particularly at the doctorate level, have held an unusually high success rate in finding employment at top colleges and in the commercial music industry. The amount of opportunities for students to hear their works at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music is higher than most other top-level schools; with ten composition recitals scheduled per year, as well as “reading” sessions of student composer’s works by the school’s orchestras every semester, the opportunities for varied performance opportunities are rich. 

Also – the school has eleven choirs, six orchestras, and a very, very enthusiastic attitude for modern music. Led by accomplished composers such as Claude Baker and David Dzubay, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music is an excellent choice for the most talented of music students.


  1. Jeremy November 14, 2014
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