Jens Ibsen Selected as Winner of Second Annual Emerging Black Composers Project Prize

Jens Ibsen

Composer Jens Ibsen.

Ibsen will receive a $15,000 commission and mentorship, and his piece will premiere with the San Francisco Symphony during the 2023-2024 season

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), in partnership with the San Francisco Symphony and the SFCM President’s Advisory Council on Equity and Inclusion, announced today that Jens Ibsen is the winner of the second annual Emerging Black Composers Project (EBCP). The San Francisco Symphony, led by Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, will give the world premiere of his work during the 2023-2024 season.

As winner of the Emerging Black Composers Project prize, Ibsen will receive a $15,000 commissioning fee, mentorship from committee members, and resources to workshop his piece with SFCM, along with a premiere of the work at Davies Symphony Hall. Ibsen joins Trevor Weston, Sumi Tonooka, Jonathan Bingham, and Shawn Okpebholo as winners of the ten-year project.

Ibsen was selected through an anonymous review process overseen by a selection committee led by EBCP Chair Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser and including SFCM Music Director Edwin Outwater and Salonen.

“Jens’ music made me feel things with immediacy,” Bartholomew-Poyser said. “He grasped me and had me in tears at moments; at others, I laughed out loud at the ingenuity. And then, when I looked at the score, I saw the craft beneath. The craft and the potential. I really wanted to hear this person's music, and wanted them, in particular, to have no barriers moving forward!”

A self-described opera lover and metalhead, Jens Ibsen is a multidisciplinary artist whose vocal talents have led him to performances from Dubai to Shanghai. As a composer, his works range from solo repertoire to orchestral works, as well as electroacoustic music. 

Born in Accra, Ghana to a Ghanaian mother and an American father, his works are influenced by early exposure to Ghanaian drumming and classical Arabic and Indian music, as well as later influences like progressive metal and other distortion-heavy genres. He made history as the first African-born member of the world-renowned Vienna Boys Choir, where he was a principal soloist.

“Eclecticism is quite literally in my veins,” Ibsen said. “I strive to make work reflective of this as I explore diverse musical languages and weave them into a tapestry entirely unique, yet familiar. I am constantly dissecting the harmonies and rhythms of whatever I listen to and looking for opportunities to add them to my vocabulary. I especially enjoy replicating the timbres of this music through extended techniques—whether it’s scratchy string overpressure, or having a singer wail like a metal frontman." 

“Jens' compositions have an enthralling balance of rhythmic drive, elegant tonality, and beautiful settings of words,” Outwater said. “His music connected with me deeply on an emotional level, and is linked to contemporary life in a vital and compelling way. He writes in a variety of settings and styles, but his overall voice as a composer is never in doubt. I'm excited to meet Jens and learn more about his music!”

Ibsen completed his B.A. in music composition at Pepperdine University. He received his M.M. in music composition at the Mannes School of Music. He is based in San Francisco and New York. 

The Emerging Black Composers Project intends to spotlight early-career Black American composers and their music. It was launched in 2020 with the inaugural first-place commission given in June 2021 to Trevor Weston.