Students Awarded Top SFCM Composition Prize

jameson caps jose vargas

SFCM students Jameson Caps (left) and José Vargas (right).

SFCM’s Highsmith Competition contest grants the winner a performance with the SFCM Orchestra. This year's winner is student Jameson Caps, with runner-up José Vargas.

By Mark Taylor

Writing for orchestras is one of the biggest challenges facing young composers, and SFCM is recognizing two of its own budding musicians for achieving this daunting task, its top prize in composition.

Jameson Caps was chosen as the 2023 winner for the annual SFCM Highsmith Competition for Orchestral Composition. Caps won for his piece Rumination

"The opening note of Rumination strikes with damning certainty, a single thought that sears the brain with universal truth. The music that follows is an attempt to tame, repress, and distract, transforming that singular truth through wild escapades of evasion and subversion," Caps said of his work. Caps is a second-year Master's student working with professor David Conte.  

As part of the prize, Rumination will be performed by the SFCM Orchestra during the 2023-24 season. The runner-up this year is José Vargas for his piece Icarus. Jose is a junior in David Conte’s studio. Vargas' piece will receive an hour-long reading and recording by the SFCM Orchestra during the 2023-24 season. 

“Please join the Composition Department and me in congratulating Jameson and José on this important achievement!” said Dean & Chief Academic Officer Jonas Wright. The Highsmith competition is endowed by Jim Highsmith, who passed away in 1986. The competition is open to all enrolled students in the SFCM Composition Department, and alumni who have graduated within three years.

This year’s competition had eight entries. Last year alum turned faculty Lukáš Janata took home the top prize and had his piece Catch premiere last October with the SFCM Orchestra. This year's judges included Martin West, conductor of the San Francisco Ballet, as well as composers (and past Highsmith winners) Jeffrey Parola and Aleksandra Vrebalov.

Learn more about studying composition at SFCM.