EarShot ICO Readings & Competition: Composer Spotlight – Aaron Severini

Composer Aaron Severini has written works for concert, dance, film, television, and new media. Aaron earned his Bachelor of Music degree at The Juilliard School, studying composition with Christopher Rouse. After a successful career dancing professionally with New York City Ballet, he is now pursuing his Master of Music degree in composition at Juilliard where he is studying with John Corigliano. Aaron’s unique background and talents have drawn special attention – most recently Hilary Hahn and Cory Smythe premiered Aaron’s Catch as an encore during their recital at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA. The San Francisco Examiner called it, “a lively bundle of manic energy that could not have made for a better encore.” Previous awards and honors include the 2015 Juilliard Orchestra Competition for Sleet, the ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Award, and multiple ASCAP Plus awards. A native of Greenfield, Massachusetts, Aaron lives in New York City.

Aaron was selected for the 2016 EarShot Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra Readings & Competition for his piece Sleet. He answered these questions for SoundAdvice. 

The readings are free and open to the public on Friday, September 23, 7PM at the Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts.

Composer Aaron Severini 

American Composers Orchestra: Can you talk about the ways dance and your career as a ballet dancer influence your music?
Aaron Severini: That’s a great question. My knowledge about music originated early on from my training as a dancer. Certainly, moving to music and learning about timing, phrasing, and syncopation as a dancer all impact the music I write today. As well, the adrenalin rush and energy I felt later in my career as a performer often finds its way into many of my compositions. When I first joined New York City Ballet (NYCB) I became obsessed with Stravinsky ballets and would often go to their orchestra rehearsals in the David H. Koch Theater to listen and watch from the edge of the stage. Those experiences were very influential for me as I began to compose more music. Additionally, while at NYCB, I would find time to study various scores and play or imitate them at the piano, including Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements and Concerto in D (The Cage), Hindemith’s Kammermusik No. 2, Adam’s Fearful Symmetries, Gottschalk’s Tarantella, Gould’s Interplay, Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19, Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales (La Valse), and many Hershy Kay orchestral arrangements. For me, it was an invaluable learning experience to have been immersed in NYCB’s repertoire for so many years.
ACO: You write that Sleet is influenced by your experiences as a dancer with New York City Ballet and studying composition at Juilliard – the “power, nerve, excitement, anticipation, fear, femininity, masculinity, and childlike exuberance.” What are the major similarities between your experiences as a dancer and a composer? What are the major differences?
AS: There are definitely numerous similarities I have found between my experience as a professional dancer and as a composer. Both require a similar intensity in discipline and focus. They both draw on one’s musicality and creativity. As well, the feeling of mental exhaustion after composing without pause for a long period of time likens itself to the way the body feels after performing a difficult ballet or a program of several demanding ballets. One main difference between the two art forms, and a quite obvious one, is physical activity. There can be hours of physical stagnation when composing a piece and it is important to find a healthy balance. I realized this after experiencing lower back problems about two years ago. Funny enough, I ended up seeing the same physical therapist that I had gone to while dancing with NYCB. Of course, it was humorous this time around because it was due to a lack of physical activity rather than over exertion. An additional difference is that composers tend to work in isolated environments during their creative process. By contrast, dancers work in a much more social environment. They collaborate in the moment with their fellow colleagues and create new works directly with the choreographer or learn previous works from a répétiteur.
ACO: Your piece Sleet won the 2015 Juilliard Orchestra Competition, so it’s safe to say the work already holds tremendous merit. What about it do you hope to improve upon at the ICO Readings?
AS: It was an amazing experience to have Sleet performed by the Juilliard Orchestra under the direction of Jeffrey Milarsky in 2015. To have the piece played again by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Matthew Kraemer this year is a tremendous honor. In preparation for the readings, I adapted Sleet to accommodate ICO’s instrumentation requirements. The composition originally included a larger wind, brass, percussion, and string section. Therefore, I reworked musical material and revised dynamics and various markings throughout the piece. During the ICO Readings, I hope to improve upon technical and musical elements within the revised score as well as apply what I have learned to the original orchestration of Sleet.
ACO: What are you most looking forward to about the readings?
AS: Being a part of the ICO Readings is an extraordinary and unique opportunity. I am most looking forward to hearing all the new works and learning as much as I can from my fellow participants as well as from Music Director Matthew Kraemer, principal ICO musicians, and mentor composers Melinda Wagner, Michael Schelle, and ACO’s Artistic Director Laureate Robert Beaser.

Learn more about Aaron at www.aaronseverini.com

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