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Matthew Aucoin Looks Forward to Orphic Moments at Lincoln Center on Sunday; Leads Rigoletto and Crossing at L.A. Opera; and Makes Santa Fe Opera Conducting Debut in Doctor Atomic

Composer, conductor, writer, and pianist Matthew Aucoin is “one of the most sought-after young voices in classical music” (Wall Street Journal). The coming months find him active on both coasts, with a string of notable premieres, performances, and conducting engagements. This coming Sunday, his dramatic cantata The Orphic Moment (2014) – a recent hit in Salzburg and at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust – comes to Lincoln Center, once again starring countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (May 6 & 7). Aucoin takes the podium for three major operatic productions, making his Santa Fe Opera conducting debut in a new staging of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic (July 14–Aug 16), and leading both Verdi’s Rigoletto and the West Coast premiere of his own Walt Whitman-inspired opera, Crossing (2015), at Los Angeles Opera (May 12–June 3) where he serves as the company’s inaugural Artist-in-Residence. Beyond the opera house meanwhile, Grammy Award-winning male chorus Chanticleer gives the world premiere performances of his a cappella Dante setting, Treating Shadows as Solid Things (2017); the Orchestra of St. Luke’s gives the East Coast premiere of his orchestral work Evidence (2016) at Caramoor; and violin duo Bow and Hammer gives the Chicago premiere of his violin sonata, Its Own Accord (2017).

Conducting operas in Los Angeles and Santa Fe

While still an undergraduate at Harvard, Aucoin was hired as the youngest Assistant Conductor in the history of the Metropolitan Opera. He has since appeared with orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony, where he studied under Riccardo Muti as the Solti Conducting Apprentice. In a specially created position that fuses his roles as composer, performer, and thinker, he has since 2016 served as Artist-in-Residence at the Los Angeles Opera, to which he returns for back-to-back productions this spring. Next Saturday he takes the podium for the company’s mainstage production of Rigoletto, by Mark Lamos (May 12–19; May 27–June 3). Verdi’s classic is a natural fit for Aucoin, a fluent Italian-speaker whose maternal family is Italian-American, and whose musicianship is rooted in the core repertoire. As the New York Times points out, “It’s not just Aucoin’s youth, versatility and prolific energy that single him out; it’s also the balance that his work strikes between innovation and tradition.” Explaining why Verdi’s music speaks to him so powerfully, Aucoin says:

“What sets Verdi apart is his honesty. Every moment in Verdi’s mature pieces feels real to me, at a visceral level. In Rigoletto, there’s this astonishing union of gorgeous, long-spun melodic writing and ruthless dramatic intensity. It seems almost impossible to have it both ways, yet somehow Verdi does!

   “I think we, as a species, will be nourished by Verdi’s music far into the future, because he operates at the level of deep, deep human archetypes. In Rigoletto alone, there’s the jester, the murderer, the young innocent, the sexy young psychopath, the ruthless avenger, the grieving father. These are deep, often-repressed energies in human nature, like lava bubbling inside a volcano. Verdi shows us both the mask and what’s behind the mask.”

Between Rigoletto performances, Aucoin leads L.A. Opera’s West Coast premiere of his own opera Crossing (May 25 & 26). A writer who studied with poet Jorie Graham and won Harvard’s prestigious Thomas T. Hoopes Prize for his poetry thesis, he created its libretto himself, blending fact with fiction in an account of Walt Whitman’s experiences nursing wounded soldiers during the Civil War. (Read excerpts from Aucoin’s lecture on the poet here.) After premiering at Boston’s American Repertory Theater, Crossing was performed at BAM’s 2017 Next Wave Festival, where the piece prompted the New York Times to observe: “The diverse elements merge into a personal voice, deployed with prodigious technical skills. The music grabbed me from the start.” The L.A. performances will again feature baritone Rod Gilfry, whose Whitman portrayal brought “power and stage presence” (New Yorker) to the opera in both Boston and Brooklyn. See Aucoin and Diane Paulus, Crossing’s original director, discuss its creation here.

To complete his conducting lineup this summer, Aucoin leads a new production of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic from director-librettist Peter Sellars, with bass-baritone Ryan McKinny as J. Robert Oppenheimer. Marking Aucoin’s Santa Fe debut, this engagement follows his leadership of another contemporary American masterpiece at L.A. Opera, where he helmed last season’s long-awaited L.A. premiere of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten in a new production by Phelim McDermott. Written some 22 years later, Adams’s opera is one that Aucoin has long cited as an influence. He says:

“John Adams has been a shining beacon to us younger composers for a long time. His generosity of spirit – both as a composer and as a human being – is exactly what the music world needed in the late 20th century. He’s an artist who transcended the classical-music culture wars: tonal vs. atonal, neo-this vs. neo-that, all those nonsensical squabbles. There’s a fearlessness in his writing: he’s not afraid to write extremely dense, imposing music – there’s plenty of that in Doctor Atomic! – but he’s equally unafraid of wearing his heart on his sleeve.”

The Orphic Moment at Lincoln Center

Aucoin’s literary leanings also inform his cantata The Orphic Moment, another work that draws on his abilities as both composer and librettist. Orpheus is brought to life by a singer, while Eurydice’s wordless calls are portrayed by the violin. In the piece, Aucoin reconsiders the Greek myth so pertinent to music, wondering what it might mean if the protagonist’s fateful backwards glance were seen as deliberate. “If Orpheus does look back out of a sudden impulse,” he wonders, “might that impulse be the aesthetic one?” As he told the New York Times in a recent interview, “It leaves me thinking – in a distressed way as a composer – of music being valued over love.” Presented as a double-bill with Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice under the title Orphic Moments, the pairing was hailed as “one of the most innovative, enjoyable evenings of musical theater I’ve experienced” (Opera News). Now, re-conceived for MasterVoices and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s under Ted Sperling, the double-bill comes to Lincoln Center in Zack Winokur’s production, with scenic design by Doug Fitch. As before, the cantata features countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and violinist Keir GoGwilt, both of whom are longtime collaborators of Aucoin’s.

American Modern Opera Company (AMOC)

Costanzo and GoGwilt are also both members of the new American Modern Opera Company (AMOC). Launched by Artistic Directors Aucoin and Winokur in November, AMOC is at once a traveling theater troupe, new-music ensemble, and collective, combining the artistry of traditional opera with the intimacy and camaraderie of a band. After making its public debut with the first “Run AMOC!” festival at the American Repertory Theater and completing a residency at New York’s Park Avenue Armory, the company looks forward to performing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art next season.

Treating Shadows as Solid Things and other recent work

Due to premiere on Chanticleer’s Bay Area tour next month, Treating Shadows as Solid Things is Aucoin’s new musical setting of selections from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Other recent works include his first Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2016), Finery Forge (2017) for two pianos, Soft Power for string quartet (2018), and the Crossing Suite (2017) for vocal soloists and orchestra. Based on the opera, this premiered under Aucoin’s leadership at Santa Barbara’s Music Academy of the West, where he recently completed a guest artist residency and regularly returns for workshops and performances.


Click here to download high-resolution photos, and here to read some of Aucoin’s writings.


Matthew Aucoin, upcoming events

May 6 & 7
New York, NY
Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center
MATTHEW AUCOIN: The Orphic Moment
Orchestra of St. Luke’s / MasterVoices
Ted Sperling, conductor

May 12, 16 & 19
Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles Opera
VERDI: Rigoletto
Matthew Aucoin, conductor

May 16
Chicago, IL
MATTHEW AUCOIN: Its Own Accord (Chicago premiere)
Bow and Hammer

May 25 & 26
Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles Opera at The Wallis
MATTHEW AUCOIN: Crossing (West Coast premiere)
Matthew Aucoin, conductor

May 27 & 31; June 3
Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles Opera
VERDI: Rigoletto
Matthew Aucoin, conductor

June 9–16
California tour
MATTHEW AUCOIN: Treating Shadows as Solid Things (world premiere)
June 9: Danville, CA (St. Isidore’s Church)
June 10: Sacramento, CA (St. John’s Lutheran Church)
June 15 & 16: San Francisco, CA (San Francisco Conservatory of Music)

June 30
Katonah, NY
MATTHEW AUCOIN: Evidence (East Coast premiere)
Orchestra of St. Luke’s
Ludovic Morlot, conductor

July 14, 18 & 27; Aug 2, 7 & 16
Santa Fe, NM
Santa Fe Opera
JOHN ADAMS: Doctor Atomic
Matthew Aucoin, conductor

July 26
Katonah, NY
MATTHEW AUCOIN: Treating Shadows as Solid Things (New York premiere)


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© 21C Media Group, May 2018

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