Aaron Helgeson at the Center for Contemporary Composition
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Aaron Helgeson at the Center for Contemporary Composition

September 15, 2019

(music) AARON HELGESON: When I was a teenager, I would sneak out of school, and I’d get on the bus and I’d go to this CD store that had a Used Classical section. And among all of these tattered and worn down recordings of Bach and Mozart were these little gems of contemporary music. So I would get a stack of about 10 of ‘em and listen to all this music by people that I would come to know later as massively important composers. But I didn’t have any clue who they were! I just related to the music on this intuitive, kinesthetic level. Thinking back on it, those were really some of the most important composition lessons I had. (music) AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: Aaron is an incredibly sincere, thoughtful, generous-spirited, very creative, brilliant artist. His works are very clean. Every sound that he wants he carefully prepares and sculpts, and places it right in the composition where it’s meant to be. So, I’m interested in the way that one sonic experience gives us a really compelling and emotional reaction, and how to translate that into music that’s made in the concert hall. The music that I’m working on right now deals with these kind of found objects: a piece for Imani Winds or Spektral Quartet based on 18th Century hunting calls, wax cylinder records that are transcribed then for string quartet, or taking sounds from the San Francisco Bay Area and translating those into clarinet sounds. (music) For me, it’s impossible to separate what I see as the composer, the teacher, and the citizen. And, in imagining the Center for Contemporary Composition, it occurred to me that there’s such a need for a Postdoctoral Fellowship specifically for contemporary classical composition. And I really think that it’s important that the University of Chicago has this unique position. Not only is there an extremely strong culture at the University of Chicago which is very very positive and interactive, and creative, and broad, and diverse, but also in the city of Chicago you have the same. It’s a very vibrant community, and Aaron seemed like such a wonderful fit for the inaugural Postdoc of the Center for Contemporary Composition. (music) You know John Cage says, “I have a slow way, and I have a fast way. And these days, I only ever have time for the fast way.” And I feel like a lot of us these days only ever have time for the fast way. That we get all of our music in little 30-second bites. Being here at the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition is the slow way. And it allows all of us to take a step back from that, and slow that down, to do our work in an uninterrupted way, but to also open the doors to people in Chicago. And to be able to have that trust that a community puts in an artist to make the most of that time is just priceless. (music)

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