Aaron Helgeson, composer

Aaron Helgeson headshot

Aaron Helgeson’s music—described by Sequenza 21 as “beautifully ethereal” and the New York Times as “simultaneously virtuoso display and engaging instrumental drama”—draws on the diverse fields of philosophy, acoustics, literature, and cognitive science to find new ways of engaging with old musical traditions.

In 2013, Helgeson was commissioned by Grammy-winning soprano Susan Narucki to write Poems of sheer nothingness, a song cycle for voice and chamber ensemble that re-imagines Occitan troubadour lyric poetry, set in its original language with consultation from the University of Toulouse. With an award from the Aaron Copland Fund, the cycle was recently recorded by Narucki and the Talea Ensemble and released on Innova Recordings.

His recent “anti-cantata” for chamber orchestra and choir, Snow requiem, was premiered in 2015 with soloists David Bowlin and Alice Teyssier of ICE, and subsequently honored with a 2016 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award. Based on author David Laskin’s book The Children’s Blizzard about the Homestead-era snowstorm of the same name, the work combines original transcriptions of Norwegian-American immigrant folk music with sonifications of weather data using orchestral tone clusters, wordless vocal chorales, and percussive noise.

With recent performances across the US and Europe 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 ensembles like the Arditti String Quartet, Yarn/Wire, The Crossing, Ensemble Reconsil, Uusinta, Argento Ensemble, loadBang, Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, Wild Shore, SONAR New Music, Les Cris de Paris, and the Formalist Quartet.

Helgeson earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in composition from the University of California, San Diego, where he was awarded the Fletcher Jones Dissertation Fellowship. He holds a B.Mus. in composition and B.A. in theater from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where he returned from 2013–2016 as Clinical Assistant Professor of Composition. In addition, he has served as Program Director for the Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra Young Composer Program, Teaching Fellow at the University of California Washington Center, and as a composition and music theory instructor at the Third Street Music School Settlement in New York. In 2016 he joined the faculty at the Longy School of Music of Bard College, where he continues to enjoy helping others to be creative.