It was announced today that Matthew Aucoin – “one of the most sought-after young voices in classical music” (Wall Street Journal) – has been named a 2018 MacArthur Fellow. Selected for his extraordinary originality and dedication in his creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction, the composer, conductor, writer, and pianist is one of 25 recipients of this year’s “genius grant.”
On learning of the award, Aucoin commented: “When I look at past MacArthur fellows, I’m struck not just by their brilliance but, in so many cases, by their humaneness and wisdom. Claudia Rankine, Peter Sellars, Claire Chase – these people are not just good at what they do: they are also good and wise human beings. I feel a deep responsibility to use this fellowship to help make the world a kinder, wiser place, and I'm honored to be granted this opportunity.”
The announcement comes at a busy time for Aucoin, who has served since 2016 as the inaugural Artist-in-Residence of LA Opera, a specially created new position that fuses his roles as composer, conductor, and thinker. In addition to leading mainstage productions that range from Verdi’s Rigoletto to the L.A. premiere of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten, the residency has seen him founding the new late-night concert series AfterHours, coaching singers in LA Opera’s Young Artist program, advising the company on new music, and conducting examples of his own work.
These include the West Coast premiere of his Walt Whitman-inspired opera, Crossing (2015), about which the New York Times’s Anthony Tommasini observes: “The diverse elements merge into a personal voice, deployed with prodigious technical skills. The music grabbed me from the start.” Aucoin’s extensive oeuvre also includes the opera Second Nature (2015), a Lyric Opera of Chicago commission, as well as a variety of orchestral, choral, and chamber music, as commissioned and performed by such artists as Yo-Yo Ma, Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra, Salzburg’s Mozarteum Orchestra, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the Brentano Quartet, tenor Paul Appleby, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, and Chanticleer.
Similarly sought after for podiums beyond L.A. Opera, Aucoin recently made his Santa Fe Opera conducting debut in a new production of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic, and looks forward to conducting and curating the 2018-19 edition of San Diego Symphony’s annual citywide festival, Hearing the Future. Aucoin has also appeared with orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony, where he studied under Riccardo Muti as the Solti Conducting Apprentice, and was previously hired as the youngest Assistant Conductor in the history of the Metropolitan Opera, while still an undergraduate at Harvard.
Aucoin’s newest venture is the American Modern Opera Company (AMOC), of which he is a co-founder and co-artistic director. Drawing on the talents of some of today’s most innovative young singers, instrumentalists, and dancers, AMOC is at once a traveling theater troupe, new-music ensemble, and collective that combines the artistry of traditional opera with the intimacy and camaraderie of a band. After last season’s public debut at Boston’s American Repertory Theater and residency at New York’s Park Avenue Armory, this season the company makes its West Coast debut with the world premiere of With Care, an evening-length dance piece featuring new music by Aucoin, besides giving its first performances at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust and returning to Boston for the second annual “Run AMOC!” festival. Aucoin is currently at work on AMOC commissions from the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and San Francisco’s ODC Theater.
An accomplished writer who studied with poet Jorie Graham and won Harvard’s prestigious Thomas T. Hoopes Prize, it was Aucoin who created Crossing’s libretto, blending fact with fiction in an account of Whitman’s experiences nursing soldiers in the Civil War. Later this season, excerpts from the opera will be featured in an evening of spoken word and music that Aucoin is curating – and in which he will showcase his skills at the piano – in conjunction with the “Walt Whitman at 200” exhibition at New York’s Morgan Library.