C California Style

MATTHEW AUCOIN at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. PHOTO: Ben Gibbs Photography.
Aucoin conducting during his residency at the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts, 2013. PHOTO: John Andrews

Face the Music

by C California Style

Forget what you know about opera: Wunderkind Matthew Aucoin is out to win hearts and minds in his new role.

While teaching a vocal master class at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara this summer, Matthew Aucoin looked every bit the college kid himself. Clad in dark jeans and a button-down, the 26-year-old Boston native was in constant motion—bursting from his seat to infuse his students’ singing with imagination. “Good composers follow the poetry,” he enthused, instructing a student to enunciate each “sticky Italian” word. “Great composers set the poetry on fire!”

Aucoin has already been hailed by The New York Times Magazine as “opera’s great 25-year-old hope,” thanks to a résumé that spans a post as the youngest assistant conductor in the history of New York’s Metropolitan Opera/Lincoln Center; conducting debuts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Rome Opera’s Orchestra; commissions from the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass.; and a collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma (he is also a pianist, a poet and an essayist). With degrees from Harvard and The Juilliard School, Aucoin (pronounced OH-coin) is now sharing his widely lauded talent with the West—as LA Opera’s first-ever artist in residence.

In a bid to shift the genre’s stuffy image, he has dreamt up a late-night concert series for this fall, as well as gatherings in more intimate venues through LA Opera’s initiative Off Grand, such as The Theatre at Ace Hotel, where he’ll present a new live score to the 1922 silent film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror on October 29 and 31. The vibe will be more akin to cabaret. “The thing that only classical music can do is intimacy,” he says. “It’s best experienced up close.”

He’s taken what he calls an “unconventional path,” devoting himself fully to both composing and conducting. Landing in a city with its own unusual approach feels meant to be. “L.A. is the center of the new music universe,” he says. “The L.A. Philharmonic and Chamber Orchestra are both pioneers—I want LA Opera to do a similar thing.”

During a three-year appointment created especially for him, Aucoin will conduct the ancient Egypt-set, Philip Glass-scored Akhnaten (which opens at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on November 5) as well as two of his own productions—including a world premiere commissioned by LA Opera—while curating music and engaging new audiences. It’s a tall, energy-demanding order, but Aucoin seems particularly suited to it. “I’ve never felt especially young,” he says. “And I don’t think I’ll feel especially old.” • JENNIFER BLAISE KRAMER