Eric Turnnessen Composer

Sharing the Gift of Live Orchestra Performance

From the moment I began composing at age 14, having my music performed by a live orchestra was a dream of mine. When I finally had the chance to live that dream, it was a profoundly moving experience for me. Having gone through the challenges of making this dream a reality, I'm eager to pass along the gift of this experience to another talented composer who shares this same ambition.

I look forward to hearing what you come up with!

Best of luck,

Eric Turnnessen Composer

Rules of the Contest

No Previous Experience with an Orchestra

To be eligible for consideration, composers must not have had their music performed by a live orchestra with more than 7 musicians, excluding school orchestras below university level or a partial performance as part of a workshop. I want to provide this opportunity to those who haven't yet had the experience of hearing their music come alive through a full-scale orchestral performance.

One Submission

You're only allowed to submit one score.

34-Piece Lineup

Your score must be written for a 34-piece orchestra with the following lineup:

1st Violins (6) 2nd Violins (6) Violas (4)

Cello (4) Bass (2)

Flute (1) Oboe (1) Clarinet (1) Bassoon (1)

French Horn (2) Trumpet (2) Trombone (2)

Timpani (1) Percussion (1 player)

There are 4 timpani drums and they are the standard concert sizes of 23", 26", 29" and 32". For percussion the following instruments are available: Suspended Cymbal, Cymbals, Snare Drum, Bass Drum, Mark Tree, Triangle, Xylophone, Glockenspiel

You're not required to use all the instruments. You should not write for any instruments that aren't in this lineup. Be mindful of logistics when writing for percussion. There's only 1 player and so they can't play two things at once and need time to move between instruments.

3 Minutes Long

Your composition will be recorded within a strict 15-minute time slot. During this time, there will be an initial rehearsal, takes of individual sections, and a final performance (curious about the process? Watch this).

Some pieces may be more complex than others. In order to be feasible to record within 15 minutes, the more complex the piece the shorter it should be. Your piece should not exceed 3 minutes in length regardless of complexity.

Produce PDF & MP3

You must be able to produce a PDF and MP3 audio mockup of your score.

Criteria for the Winning Composition

We are looking for the most musical, creative and realistically orchestrated composition that best utilizes the available orchestra lineup within the 3-minute time limit.

Music that Tells a Story

I'm drawn to music that tells a story and evokes emotions, taking me on a journey. Growing up, I was exposed to classics such as Stravinsky's Firebird, Holst's The Planets, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and the symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven. However, what truly captured my imagination were the works of film composers like John Williams. Please don't take me sharing this to mean that I'm looking for you to copy another composer's style. Musical taste is very subjective so I'm just sharing a little about how my ears were trained. The best advice is to write something that your heart is in.

Practical Considerations

This piece will be performed by real players so a portion of the judging will be focused on practical things like:

  • Is it playable by the musicians?
  • Are the sections of the orchestra well-balanced?
  • Are there sufficient performance markings?
  • Is it composed using a program that will make it easy to print parts for the players (i.e. Sibelius, Dorico, Finale)?

1st Time with an Orchestra Composer Contest Judges

Meet the Judges

Once all submissions have been received Eric Turnnessen will narrow down the group to a smaller pool of finalists before bringing in additional judges for the final decision. Joining in the final round will be Jack Hughes, Orchestrator Manager of the Northern Film Orchestra, Melvin Tay, Conductor of the Northern Film Orchestra and Zach Heyde, Composer & Content Creator.

Prize Package

Composition Performed by the Northern Film Orchestra

The winner of the contest will have their composition performed by the Northern Film Orchestra on May 27th, 2023 at The Stoller Hall in Manchester, England.

Attend the Session

The winner is invited to attend the session in-person. If that's not possible, the winner can attend the session via Zoom.

Professional Recording Setup

To capture the full scope of sound from the orchestra, a combination of up to 40 microphones will be utilized. This includes spot mics on every section for close-up detail, as well as room mics and outrigger mics to capture the unique sound of the space.

ProTools Session

The winner will receive a ProTools session file which includes all the recorded takes of their composition.

Mixed & Mastered Final Performance

The winner will receive a professionally mixed and mastered recording of the final performance of their composition.

Behind-the-Scenes Video Footage

The winner will receive video footage of the whole session captured from multiple camera angles.


Have a question? DM me on Instagram

Do we need to prepare individual parts for the instruments?

Not as part of the contest submission. To submit for the contest you just need to upload a concert score which includes all instruments. If you're selected as the winner individual parts will need to be prepared at that point.

Can my submission include instruments that aren't listed in the 34-piece lineup?

No. Scores that include instruments not a part of the 34-piece lineup will not be considered.

How many timpani drums will be available and what are the sizes?

There are 4 timpani drums and they are the standard concert sizes of 23", 26", 29" and 32".

Watch this interview with Bryan Waters from The Cue Tube for more details about the contest.

Contest Update Apr 10, 2023: 21 Days Left!

Contest Results

There were 143 submissions from 35 countries. I’m so proud of all of you! Just submitting your work is an accomplishment. If you’re like me, sharing your music can feel exposing and vulnerable. It takes courage to put these intimate parts of you out into the world.

I’ve listened to each of your pieces at least once. Every piece I’ve listened to and every story I’ve read was touching to me in some way. I wish we could record all this music!

Contest Stats

Here are some interesting stats from the composer contest.

1st Time with an Orchestra Composer Contest Stats
1st Time with an Orchestra Composer Contest Stats
1st Time with an Orchestra Composer Contest Stats
1st Time with an Orchestra Composer Contest Stats

Here’s the full country list (Country | # of entries): United States 38, England 27, Canada 10, Germany 7, France 6, Austria 5, Netherlands 5, Spain 4, South Africa 4, Greece 3, Italy 3, Scotland 3, Indonesia 2, Singapore 2, Finland 2, Wales 2, Brazil 2, Nepal 1, India 1, Israel 1, Budapest 1, Australia 1, Chile 1, Colombia 1, Brussels 1, Jamaica 1, Peru 1, Switzerland 1, Serbia 1, Turkey 1, Hungary 1, Armenia 1, Mexico 1, Ireland 1, Belgium 1

The Challenge of Judging

In a field of wild flowers, how do you pick which flower is the most beautiful? Amongst a litter of puppies, how do you choose which one to take home with you? And surrounded by all this beautiful and powerful music, how am I supposed to choose?

There are of course technical things to consider and craft, but everyone is at a different place in their journey. The innocence of music that comes from the heart without any formal training can be just as moving as proficient writing by someone with a masters degree. To me, it comes down to how it feels to experience the music and what kind of journey it takes me on.

I certainly have a preference for musical styles and I also tune into each composer’s intention and what they’re communicating through their music. I’ve felt moved by so many of your pieces and it’s been really hard to switch on my mind to narrow things down to a group of finalist.

Top 10 Finalists

After listening to the 143 submissions these 10 compositions stood out for their creativity, compositional structure, orchestration and practicality of being recorded in the 15-minute time slot. In this video I share 1-minute snippets from each of the top compositions.

Here are the full recordings of the top 10 finalists (ordered alphabetically by song title).

Winner & Top Rankings

Please join me in congratulating, Andrés Hernández, a pianist and composer from Santiago, Chile. All the judges and I unanimously agreed that his piece was the clear winner. This is a well-deserved accomplishment for Andrés and I’m so happy for him and very excited to hear his piece recorded by the 34-piece ensemble of the Northern Film Orchestra on May 27th. Check out the video below to experience a behind-the-scenes look at the final judging session and hear an interview with Andrés during which he is unaware that he is the winner (this is a secret I share with him later in our discussion and his raw reaction is priceless).

Andres Hernandez Winner of the 1st Time with an Orchestra Composer Contest
Top 10 Finalists in 1st Time with an Orchestra Composer Contest
Top 25 Rankings in 1st Time with an Orchestra Composer Contest

Final Performance

I'm really excited to share the final performance of the contest winner's piece! We recorded Andrés Hernández's winning composition "Village of Lumina" with the 34-piece ensemble of the Northern Film Orchestra on May 27th, 2023. In the video below, I share the final performance of his piece followed by an interview where we talk about his experience recording with an orchestra for the first time. Finally, I’ll share a "fly on the wall" perspective of the 15 minute recording session. In this segment you’ll see how the conductor works with the musicians to record a piece of music they've never seen before from start to finish.