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How Matthew Aucoin Balances Conducting and Composing

Matthew Aucoin | Photo by Dario Acosta

Hit play below to listen to our Arts Alive feature on LA Opera artist in residence, Matthew Aucoin, and his opera Crossing.

How Matthew Aucoin Balances Conducting and Composing

LA Opera Artist-in-Residence Matthew Aucoin is currently conducting the run of Verdi’s Rigoletto on stage through June 3rd at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. However, right smack in the middle of the run of Verdi’s middle-period masterpiece, Aucoin will take a couple of days to conduct two concert performances of his opera, based on the story of Walt Whitman tending to wounded soldiers during the Civil War, called Crossing. For today’s edition of KUSC’s Arts Alive, Brian Lauritzen spoke with Aucoin about balancing both of Aucoin’s identities, the composer and the conductor.

A scene from “Crossing” | Photo by Gretjen Helene/A.R.T.

Brian Lauritzen: Composers who also conduct; conductors who also compose: here you are in this long tradition of these dual-lived, dual-careered individuals. They all talk about that balance. I’ve talked many times with Esa-Pekka Salonen about this. He says, “I have to go away, I have to forget everyone else’s music so that I can write my own, and then I have to come back and sometimes I come back and I’m thrown into Mussorgsky and Beethoven and it’s like, who are these guys?” Do you find that you also have to be rigid about compartmentalizing what you’re doing?

Matthew Aucoin: You have to be fierce in guarding your time. Because performing is a lot of responsibility: you have to be rested and there are all these kinds of ancillary responsibilities, for example, meetings can arise. Yeah, when I’m composing, don’t talk to me before 3:00 p.m. The idea of a breakfast meeting? No way! It’s true that when you’re in the middle of a performing project, you actually have a responsibility to give yourself over to the music that you’re performing and have that be in your head. When you’re composing, you can’t have anyone else’s music in your head. So, I agree with my esteemed colleague, Esa-Pekka, about that. So, yes, for example, the last four or five months I haven’t picked up a baton. And now we’ve just begun this intense rehearsal and performance process [for Verdi’s Rigoletto] and that always takes a few days. It’s a little bit like getting the bends. Divers who surface too quickly get the bends. But the great thing about opera is you have a few weeks of staging rehearsals to get into the flow of it. The times that I’ve had to do a week with an orchestra after a long period of composing—it can be a bit of a shock, because these are neural pathways. Conducing is a very physical thing and I do find it takes a few days to slide back into it. So, I’m mid-slide right now.”

Matthew Aucoin is LA Opera’s artist in residence. His opera Crossing tells the story of poet Walt Whitman’s time volunteering in the medical corps during the Civil War. Crossing will be presented in concert at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills on May 25 and 26 as a co-production of LA Opera Off-Grand and The Wallis.

Written by:
Brian Lauritzen
Brian Lauritzen
Published on 10.01.2018