Composer Aaron Helgeson uses transcription, adaptation, and collage to find new ways of engaging with old musical traditions.
Described by Cleveland Classical as “eerily beautiful” and the New York Times as “virtuoso display and engaging instrumental drama,” Helgeson’s music has received numerous awards and grants from institutions like the Aaron Copland Foundation, the Barlow Endowment, ASCAP, the Eiler Foundation, and American Composers Forum.
In 2016 he received an Ohio Arts Council Award for his Snow Requiem, an “anti-cantata” based on author David Laskin’s book The Children’s Blizzard about the Homestead-era snowstorm of the same name combining original transcriptions of Norwegian-American immigrant folk music with sonifications of weather data using orchestral tone clusters, wordless vocal chorales, and percussive noise.
His upcoming choral cycle The Book of Never, commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for Grammy Award winning chorus The Crossing, collages ancient hymns from the Novgorod Codex (a medieval book of Russian psalm chant overwritten hundreds of times with heretical sermons by an excommunicated Pagan missionary) with contemporary texts by writers in various states of exile.
Other recent projects include Poems of Sheer Nothingness commissioned by soprano Susan Narucki using fragmented realizations of ancient Occitan troubadour poems, Calls of Close and Away for Imani Winds on 19th-century French hunting calls and 20th-century American military signals, and Echoes of Always for Ensemble Dal Niente assembled from scraps of Baroque opera entr’actes and bits of Helgeson’s own previous music.
With performances at venues including the Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles, IRCAM’s Manifeste in Paris, the World New Music Days in Vienna, and the MATA Festival in New York, his music has been championed by such ensembles as the Arditti String Quartet, Yarn/Wire, Ensemble Reconsil, Uusinta, Argento Ensemble, loadBang, Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, Wild Shore, SONAR New Music, Les Cris de Paris, and the Formalist Quartet. Recordings of his music are available on Carrier Records, Oberlin Music, and Innova Recordings.
Currently serving as Chair of Composition and Theory at Longy, he previously taught at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, with additional visiting appointments at University of Hartford, New York University, University of Chicago, and the University of California Washington Center. Helgeson is also Executive Director of the Look + Listen Festival in New York, and has given lectures and masterclasses at institutions like Northwestern University, Mannes School of Music, Stanford University, and the Internationale Musikinstitut Darmstadt. A former Fletcher Jones Dissertation Fellow, he holds degrees in music and theater from the University of California San Diego (PhD, MA) and Oberlin College (BMus, BA).