Performance Departments


The Conservatory's Composition Department is committed to developing the complete musician, with performance and musicianship supporting activities in composition. Visiting artists, frequent competitions and inter-departmental collaboration enhance a department directed by world-class faculty, situated in the artistic center of "the composer's city," San Francisco.
Please visit the SFCM Composition Facebook page to see what our students are up to!  You can find the page here
  • Five composition faculty
  • Small department of 30 composers enrolled at any one time
  • Both undergraduate and graduate degrees offered
  • Electronic Composition Studio allows student composers and performers access to the latest electronic instruments and equipment
  • Scholarly courses in composition technique, style and theory offered at both the undergraduate and graduate level
  • Close collaboration between faculty, students and visiting artists
  • Annual collaboration between composition students and specific instrumental departments
  • Extensive performance opportunities
  • Three or more annual concerts of student composer works performed by the New Music Ensemble
  • Annual Highsmith Competition for composition students, with winning piece performed by the Conservatory Orchestra in the season's final concert
  • Annual Conservatory Choral Competition for composition students
  • Annual Conservatory Art Song Competition for composition students and vocalists
  • Annual San Francisco-Shanghai International Music Festival Trio Competition
  • Annual Kris Getz Composition Competition awards a commission to compose a work for young musicians, to be premiered by students in the Preparatory Division
  • San Francisco is described as a "composer's city," with many opportunities to be involved in premieres, work with visiting composers and shape the future of new music
  • Recent guest composers in residence include John Adams (2007-08)
Composition Department Events: 2013-2014
  • Masterclass with John Adams, 2013
  • The Viola Project, spearheaded by Viola teacher and String Department Chair Jodi Levitz with a concert in February, 2014
  • New Music Ensemble Concerts, includes both an open reading session of student composer works and a public concert each semester
  • Composition Department Concerts
  • The Hot Air Music Festival, our fifth annual, student/alumni-run all-day New Music Marathon
  • Orchestra Reading Sessions of student works held each semester
  • Highsmith Award, winning piece to be performed by the SFCM Orchestra.
  • Choral Composition Competition
  • Shanghai Festival Competition: possible opportunity for one composer to have their winning piece performed in the Spring at our annual Shanghai Festival (held in San Francisco this season)
  • Other student-produced events 
 Composition Department Concerts: 2013-2014
  • Alumni Showcase: featuring alumni composers Mark Ackerley ('10), Ian Dicke ('04), Mario Godoy ('13), Joseph Stillwell ('10), Kevin Villalta ('13), and Frank Wallace ('74) and alumni ensembles Friction Quartet, Mobius Trio, New Keys and Valinor Winds. (Friday, September 6th at 8 PM)
  • Conservatory Orchestra Performance of Highsmith Award Winner Justin Ralls ('14), Tree Ride. (Saturday, September 28th 8 PM; Sunday, September 29th 2 PM)
  • Conservatory Orchestra Performance of Faculty David Conte, A Copland Portrait. (Saturday, November 23rd, 8 PM; Sunday, November 24th, 2 PM)
  • BluePrint New Music Series: featuring recent and new compositions inspired by novels, plays and documentaries. Meet the composers at shop talks and informal "tête à tête" pre-concert events. 
    • BluePrint Concerts
      • David Del Tredici, Dracula. Stephen Hartke, Meanwhile: Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays. Tobias Picker, Selected Songs. Tête à tête with Tobias Picker at 7:20 PM for casual conversation and a glass of wine in the Deleage area. (Saturday, October 5th at 8 PM)
      • Lembit Beecher, And Then I Remember (a documentary oratio). Poulenc, Le bal masqué. Tête à tête with Lembit Beecher. (Saturday, November 16th at 8 PM)
      • Ryan Brown ('05), The Exact Location of the Soul (Hoefer Prize Winner). Terry Riley, Y Bolanzero. John Adams, Son of Chamber Symphony. Tête à tête with Ryan Brown. (Sunday, March 16th at 8 PM)
    • Composer's Talk Shop (Fridays, 3 PM Recital Hall)
      • October 4th: Tobias Picker, composer of Dolores Claiborne, a San Francisco Opera commission and world premiere.
      • November 15th: Lembit Beecher, composer-in-residence at the Opera Company of Philadelphia
      • March 14th: Ryan Brown, Hoefer Prize winner and co-founder of Switchboard Music Festival.
  • Faculty David Conte with Brian Thorsett ('04), tenor and Steven Bailey, piano, and Friction Quartet. Yeats Songs, Three Poems of Christina Rossetti, String Quartet No.2. (Saturday, February 8th at 8 PM)


Elinor Armer
David Conte chair, composition department
David Garner
Mason Bates

 We encourage prospective students to contact the composition faculty to arrange a consultative lesson. The composition faculty and the Office of Admission are happy to answer any specific questions that you have about our program. 




New Music Ensemble

Composition Workshop

Composition Seminar