A vital force for innovative programming
Miller Theatre at Columbia University is one of New York City’s most acclaimed music venues, widely celebrated for its innovative programming and its success building new audiences for the arts. In partnership with Columbia University School of the Arts, Miller is dedicated to producing and presenting unique events, with a focus on contemporary and early music, jazz, chamber opera, and multimedia performances.
For over 30 years, Miller Theatre has helped launch the careers of myriad composers and ensembles, serving as an incubator for emerging artists and a champion of those not yet well known in the United States.
"What I strive for in all of the programming at Miller is to create world-class, one-of-a-kind experiences that people can't have anywhere else. We sit uniquely at the intersection of two enriching worlds — Columbia University's vibrant campus and the incredibly rich cultural landscape of New York City.
Music should be for more than special occasions, and I'm passionate about creating more opportunities for people to enjoy the communal experience of sitting in a room together to really listen. There's something incredibly beautiful about gathering together with a collective purpose that enables a very human connection. Putting creators front and center in public life is an important part of these connections. Art matters. I’m so fortunate to be a part of it."
Melissa Smey, Executive Director
A four-time recipient of the ASCAP/Chamber Music America Award for Adventurous Programming, Miller Theatre continues to meet the high expectations set forth by its founders—to present innovative programs, support the development of new work, and connect creative artists with adventurous audiences.
Miller Theatre's mission is to develop new audiences; foster enthusiasm for the arts by pioneering new programming approaches; educate the public by presenting specialized programs to a broad audience; discover diverse repertoire and commission new works; and share the University’s intellectual riches with the public. Miller’s commitment to presenting music not heard elsewhere makes it a vital part of the cultural landscape of New York City.
“One of the city’s essential destinations for unusual programming, an unlikely concoction of contemporary music, early music, and jazz.”
Miller Theatre was established as Columbia University's performing arts producer in 1988. Its founding followed an extensive renovation and rededication of the space, which had previously housed McMillin Academic Theatre. Built in 1924, McMillin was itself an important venue for groundbreaking contemporary artists, notably in the 1940s and 1950s when it hosted the premiere performances of landmark works by Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, and Martha Graham. Schuyler Chapin, former Dean of Columbia University’s School of the Arts, championed the restoration of the theater; on the occasion of its opening in 1988, Columbia University President Michael I. Sovern remarked, "At last we have a setting worthy of the talent that thrives here.”
Melissa Smey is Associate Dean and Executive Director at Columbia University School of the Arts, where she leads the Arts Initiative, Miller Theatre, and oversees the Lenfest Center for the Arts. Passionately dedicated to creating new work and fostering audience development, Smey has commissioned over 40 new works from leading international composers including Marcos Balter, Courtney Bryan, Chaya Czernowin, Tyshawn Sorey, Augusta Read Thomas, and John Zorn, launched a visual art commissioning project for the theater’s lobby, produced free programs serving tens of thousands of audience members, and commissioned critically acclaimed chamber operas from Hannah Lash and Missy Mazzoli. In 2020, she created Live from Columbia, a free series of streaming concerts that attracts a global audience for Miller’s programming. A two-time recipient of the ASCAP-Chamber Music America Award for Adventurous Programming for her work at Miller Theatre and one of Musical America’s 2019 Top-30 Professionals of the Year, Smey has served as speaker and panelist for organizations including the Canadian New Music Network, Chamber Music America, The Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, New York University, Philadelphia New Music Project, and Works and Process at the Guggenheim. Smey is also the co-creator and host of the acclaimed podcast Mission: Commission, which demystifies the process of how classical music gets made.