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A Portrait of the Modern Artist as a Young Man

Spotlight on Matthew Aucoin

By Paula Correia

He just turned 27 in April. Yet he has already composed two operas, several concerti, sonatas, published multiple poems and essays, conducted opera at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and LA Opera (LAO), just to name a few feats.

Meet Matthew Aucoin, Artist in Residence at LAO since 2016.

The Boston-born Aucoin delighted and thrilled LAO audiences last fall with his inaugural conducting of the company premiere of Philip Glass’s very modern opera Akhnaten to sold-out houses. In some of his pre-performance talks he interviewed composer Glass, displaying confidence and ease in the subject matter. Of all musical forms, he loves opera in particular “because it encompasses all ranges of the beauty of human expressions and passions—music, singing, costumes, scenery, movements, dance, drama, comedy.”

Seemingly tireless, Aucoin has been hosting a post-show program called After Hours: A Musical Nocturne, presented in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s Founders Room. There he displays up close and personal his virtuoso skills as a pianist spanning from classical to folkloric, accompanying those up-and-comers from LAO’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program in a variety of vocal presentations.

Meeting Aucoin, one gets the feeling of being in the presence of rapidly budding greatness, with his taut, irrepressible energy, enthusiasm and some otherworldly, ineffable aura from which he seems to draw unending inspiration. Being of slight build and stature, sporting a beard and an artistic-looking shock of dark curly hair, and equally dark, alert eyes, he might just be our very own portrait of the modern artist as a young man. Very approachable and accessible, with a disarmingly modest demeanor, he waves away the idea that in some musical circles he is called a “Wunderkind” and compared to Bernstein, Mozart and other legendary composers. “While it’s flattering, I don’t want to be compared to other composers, I want to write my own kind of music.”

To the question of how current and future fame will affect him, he answers, “I’m not interested in being popular and having a position in society. My entire focus is on creating music and teaching. Composing music keeps me humble because every day in the morning I discipline myself to sit down to work and compose. I just start writing something until it flows. Then in the afternoon when my energy ebbs, I work on arrangements and orchestration.”

To keep up his energy, Aucoin runs six miles a day. And when he has free time, he loves to hike in the mountains with his bassoonist partner Clay Zeller-Townson, executive director of the baroque orchestra Musica Angelica. “I love the wide open spaces in Los Angeles and its easy access to nature. When we have time, my partner and I want to train a dog to take along on our treks.”

So when did Aucoin realize he wanted to be a composer? “I was around five or six when I first envisioned this calling.” He has a younger sister Christine who is into theater arts, writing plays, and exploring women’s issues. “Although not professional musicians, my family was very supportive,” he says, “particularly my mother, who plays oboe and piano. I was very lucky.”

Aucoin was discovered in 2015 by a fellow Boston native, LAO President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Koelsch, when Christopher attended the premiere of Crossing, an original opera by Aucoin, at Boston’s American Repertory Theater. He was so impressed with the young composer’s talents that he recommended LAO create a first-ever Artist in Residence position just for him.

In announcing Aucoin’s appointment, Plácido Domingo, LAO’s Eli and Edythe Broad General Director stated, “The three-year appointment, which began in the company's 2016/17 season, represents a major step forward in LA Opera's longstanding commitment to the development of music and composers of our time.…LAO has always fostered emerging artists and emphasized the creation of new works.”

During the 2017/18 season Aucoin will conduct Rigoletto and the local premiere of Crossing. Future seasons will see him conduct the world premiere of his newest opera, commissioned by LAO.

About Matthew: Just the Facts
Matthew Aucoin is a 2012 graduate of Harvard College (summa cum laude), where he studied with the poet Jorie Graham; and a 2013 recipient of a graduate diploma in composition from The Juilliard School, where he studied with composer Robert Beaser. Shortly before he graduated from Harvard, he was hired as the youngest assistant conductor in the history of the Metropolitan Opera, where he worked with Thomas Adès, James Levine and Valery Gergiev. For more info, visit matthewaucoin.com.

PHOTO CREDIT: Steven Laxton

Author: Thomas Lady
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