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Aaron Gervais

San Francisco, CA         

Based in San Francisco, composer Aaron Gervais enjoys frequent performances of his work by leading ensembles, presenters, and festivals in North America and Europe. He draws upon humor, quotation, pop music influences, and found materials to create work that spans the sombre to the slapstick, inspiring a range of critical reactions from “unique, unsettling” to “this is just really great fun” and “I cried tears of laughter.” His output focuses primarily on chamber music and opera but also includes orchestral music, live electronics, solo works, and music for theatre and dance.


Aaron receives a steady stream of commissions and performances by groups around the world, including the Nieuw Ensemble, Tapestry New Opera, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the Knights Orchestra, G27 Orchestra, Ensemble Klang, the London Sinfonietta, Artists’ Vocal Ensemble, and the Arditti Quartet. He has also appeared on prominent festivals, including Amsterdam’s Gaudeamus Music Week, New York’s MATA Festival, and San Francisco’s Other Minds Festival. Awards include the orkest de ereprijs’s International Young Composers Competition, an ASCAP Gould Award, six prizes in Canada’s SOCAN Awards for Young Composers, and numerous other prizes.


In addition to writing music, Aaron blogs on his website aarongervais.com, discussing the philosophical and social issues facing classical music today. He holds a B.Mus from the University of Toronto and a master’s degree in composition from UC San Diego. When not composing, Aaron enjoys undertaking culinary projects and throwing dinner parties. He is represented by Art Music Promotion.

Kiss Around the World

Kiss Around the World was commissioned by Ensemble Resonance. It is the second Around the World piece that I have written, taking a single word—in this case kiss—and presenting it in a wide variety of languages.

The idea of kissing takes on very different connotations in different languages, and I wanted to find a connotation that was as universal as possible. Therefore, I decided to focus on the idea of the nurturing kiss, of parent to child. Romantic kissing, which is what I initially thought would make the best focus, is not universal.

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Televised Address to the Nation on Civil Rights

This piece was commissioned by AVE for a concert that took place on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The entire text of the piece is taken from JFK’s “Televised Address to the Nation on Civil Rights” from June 11, 1963. A sampler controlled by a keyboardist plays back excerpts of Kennedy giving the address, creating a kind of “artificial JFK” that can speak on command and be played like an instrument. The chorus also sings excerpts from the speech, sometimes the same words as the sampler and sometimes different.

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Culture no.2 (or, Shoot Like a Film Star)

This is the middle piece in my Culture series, commissioned by Toca Loca in 2007. The text for the piece is taken from a junk email message, and it attracted me because it is composed entirely of monosyllabic words, with no repetition—a kind of heterogeneous stream.

The middle section of the piece is a structured improv based on a strict set of rules. The written-out opening offers two back-to-back realizations of the rules of the piece, and the coda is also through-composed, but the middle section is indeterminate.

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NewMusicBox Articles

Articles December 12 2017 | By Aaron Gervais
This Is Why Your Audience Building Fails

New music offers the world something unique that is worth sharing as broadly as possible. We desperately need to get better at sharing it.

Articles September 14 2016 | By Aaron Gervais
Some Reflections on Transitioning Out of Being a “Young Composer”

Composing is about who you know...The reasons why you write music will become clearer... Thinking back on the past few years, I suppose I have learned a few things that...

Articles February 24 2016 | By Aaron Gervais
Why Pastiche Has Taken Over Music

Just look at the names: new complexity, neo-romanticism, post-minimalism—three of the broadest trends in contemporary music, all with echoes of pastiche baked right into their labels. Clearly artists have always...

See more of Aaron Gervais's articles on NewMusicBox.