Since 2004, led by cellist and artistic director Clarice Jensen, the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) has risen to the highest ranks of American new music through a mix of meticulous musicianship, artistic vision, engaging collaborations, and unwavering standards in every regard. The membership of the amorphous collective includes some of the brightest young stars in the field. NPR calls them “contemporary music dynamos,” and Strings reports, “ACME’s absorbing playing pulsed with warm energy. . . Shared glances and inhales triggered transitions in a flow so seamless it seemed learned in a Jedi temple.” ACME was honored by ASCAP during its 10th anniversary season in 2015 for the “virtuosity, passion, and commitment with which it performs and champions American composers.”
The ensemble has performed at leading international venues including Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, BAM, The Kennedy Center, Washington Performing Arts, UCLA’s Royce Hall, Stanford Live, Chicago’s Millennium Park, Duke Performances, The Satellite in Los Angeles, STG Presents in Seattle, Melbourne Recital Hall and Sydney Opera House in Australia, and at festivals including the Sacrum Profanum Festival in Poland, All Tomorrow’s Parties in England, Auckland Arts Festival in New Zealand, Summer Nostos Festival in Greece, Boston Calling, and Big Ears in Knoxville, TN.
World premieres given by ACME include Ingram Marshall’s Psalmbook, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Drone Mass (commissioned by ACME in 2015), Caroline Shaw’s Ritornello, Phil Kline’s Out Cold, William Brittelle’s Loving the Chambered Nautilus, Timo Andres’ Senior and Thrive on Routine, Caleb Burhans’ Jahrzeit, and many more. In 2016 at The Kitchen, ACME premiered Clarice Jensen’s transcription of Julius Eastman’s The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc for ten cellos, the score of which had been lost since the premiere in 1981. Jensen transcribed a recording of the work to recreate the score.
ACME’s collaborators have included The Richard Alston Dance Company, Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance, Gibney Dance, Satellite Ballet, Meredith Monk, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Max Richter, actress Barbara Sukowa, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, Blonde Redhead, Grizzly Bear, Low, Matmos, Micachu & The Shapes, Jeff Mangum, A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Roomful of Teeth, Lionheart, and Theo Bleckmann.
In March 2022, ACME released the world premiere recording of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s contemporary oratorio Drone Mass on Deutsche Grammophon, with Theatre of Voices led by Paul Hillier. Gramophone included the album on its list of Best New Classical Recordings. Of the album, Gramophone wrote, “Since Jóhann Jóhannsson’s death in 2018 at the age of only 48, his label DG has done much to promote the Icelandic composer’s posthumous reputation by releasing several soundtrack albums and retrospective collections. One nevertheless senses there exists among the many musical cues and film themes a work of real vitality, power and significance – a jewel in the crown of Jóhannsson’s creative achievements. Drone Mass may well be that work. On one level, this contemporary oratorio for voices, string quartet and electronics – commissioned by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) led by cellist Clarice Jensen, who are superb on this recording – is typically Jóhannssonian in its uncanny juxtaposition of the strange with the familiar and its rich interplay of multiple meanings.”
ACME’s discography also includes its first portrait album, Thrive on Routine, on Sono Luminus; Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Orphée and Max Richter’s eight-hour piece, Sleep (which the ensemble regularly performs live), both on Deutsche Grammophon; Fantasias with thereminist Carolina Eyck on Butterscotch Records; Joseph Byrd: NYC 1960-63, the first commercial recording of the music of rediscovered American Fluxus composer Joseph Byrd, on New World Records; William Brittelle’s electro-acoustic chamber work Loving the Chambered Nautilus, and Jefferson Friedman’s On In Love with vocalist Craig Wedren, both on New Amsterdam Records.