Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.
Sound Bites: Matthew Aucoin
Photographed by Dario Acosta in New York
Grooming by Affan Malik
© Dario Acosta 2015
Matthew Aucoin, just shy of twenty-five, is a composer/conductor who has already had dozens of his compositions performed throughout North America and Europe and worked alongside artists such as James Levine and Thomas Adès. In May, the American Repertory Theater will present the premiere of Aucoin’s third opera, Crossing, which he will conduct. His fourth — a children’s opera commissioned by Lyric Opera of Chicago, for which he has written his own libretto — is set for an August premiere at the Lincoln Park Zoo. He also has a forthcoming opera commissioned by the New Works Program of the Met–Lincoln Center Theater. “If you really just focus on the music and don’t try to act like a young hotshot,” he says, “eventually people forget that age ever could have been an issue.”
During the spring of Aucoin’s senior year at Harvard, where he majored in English, a Met administrator heard Aucoin conduct Le Nozze di Figaro (in a production that featured his own English-language translation) and encouraged him to audition for the Lindemann Young Artist Program. “I didn’t really know what I was auditioning for,” he says. “I was just sort of — hanging out.” What he got was an offer of an assistant-conducting position, specifically for the company premiere of Adès’s Tempest in 2012. At the Met, he has since served as assistant conductor for The Nose and this season’s opener, Le Nozze di Figaro.
While working on The Tempest, Aucoin received his graduate diploma in composition from Juilliard, where he studied with Robert Beaser. Since his Juilliard days, he has been adding to his multifaceted training through current posts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (conducting apprentice) and the Peabody Essex Museum (composer in residence).
Composing came first for Aucoin. “I was six, and it started with piano lessons, but I wasn’t the most diligent piano practicer. I just wanted to make something up, and in a way, it’s still all I want to do.” At times highly emotional and romantic, at others transcendental and technically innovative, his compositions, be they études or longer works, are characterized by floating musical lines. “And the only pauses in my composing,” he says, “have been moments when I’ve gone, ‘Gosh, is it possible to survive as a composer?’ And it’s just been so thrilling to realize it’s possible. I’m doing it. And now that I feel like I’ve gotten this chance, I just want to ride it.”
Perhaps this means Aucoin considers himself more of a composer than a conductor. “If there were a gun to my head, yes,” he admits with a smile. “But there’s no gun to my head.”
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