‘Genius award’ composer and director team up for world premiere of ‘Music for New Bodies’ at Shepherd School

April 20 performance will feature five vocal soloists and 18-instrument ensemble


Described as a “360-degree portrait of the moment we are living in,” “Music for New Bodies” is a major new work and first collaboration between MacArthur Fellow and composer Matthew Aucoin and legendary opera director Peter Sellars. On April 20, Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music will host the co-commission with DACAMERA, the American Modern Opera Company (AMOC), the Los Angeles Opera and Aspen Music Festival and School. Tickets are available now.

Inspired by the poetry of Jorie Graham, “Music for New Bodies” explores what humans have done to the planet and themselves in their quest for immortality. Graham, whose mother Beverly Pepper created “Occam’s Wedge,” a 5,600-pound Cor-ten steel sculpture that stands adjacent to the Brockman Hall for Opera, tackles some of the most urgent questions of our time such as the dualities and polarities of life, the creative and destructive and the real and mythical. The libretto, assembled by Sellars and Aucoin, explores environmental responsibility, scientific progress and the ethics of humanity’s questionable quest to surpass the human with inspiration from the ideas of environmentalist Rachel Carson.

“We are thrilled to bring this world premiere to life,” said Matthew Loden, dean of the Shepherd School. “Working with such a collection of artists brings invaluable learning to our students and exemplifies the innovation and excellence that define our school.”

The evening-length song cycle will be brought to life by an 18-instrument ensemble of Shepherd School students and DACAMERA Young Artists conducted by Aucoin and five vocal soloists: Tenor Brenton Ryan, who received a Master of Music from the Shepherd School in 2011, will be joined by bass-baritone and 2020 Shepherd School graduate Cory McGee along with Kathryn Lewek, soprano; Meryl Dominguez, soprano; and Rachael Wilson, mezzo-soprano.

Aucoin, a trailblazing figure in contemporary opera composition, has garnered widespread acclaim and prestigious commissions from renowned institutions such as the Metropolitan Opera and LA Opera. A recipient of the 2018 MacArthur Fellowship, Aucoin’s “Eurydice” premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 2021 and his multifaceted talents extend beyond composition to include conducting, writing and piano performance. He co-founded AMOC and serves as artist-in-residence at LA Opera, where he seamlessly integrates his roles as composer and conductor. Aucoin has also written instrumental music for such ensembles as the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Brentano Quartet. He continues to push the boundaries of contemporary opera with his visionary works and contributions to the genre’s evolution.

Music for New Bodies
Tenor Brenton Ryan (second from right), who received a Master of Music from the Shepherd School in 2011, will be joined by bass-baritone and 2020 Shepherd School graduate Cory McGee (far right) along with (from left) Kathryn Lewek, soprano; Meryl Dominguez, soprano; and Rachael Wilson, mezzo-soprano in Music for New Bodies, the first collaboration between composer Matthew Aucoin (top left) and director Peter Sellars (top right).

Renowned for his bold reinterpretations and transformative collaborations, Sellars stands as a titan in the realms of opera, film, theater and festivals. He has pushed artistic boundaries with productions for the Salzburg and Glyndebourne festivals and inventive stagings of Mozart’s classics, including “Don Giovanni” set in an urban ghetto. Collaborating closely with composers like John Adams, Sellars has brought to life operatic masterpieces such as “Nixon in China,” which made its world premiere at Houston Grand Opera, and “Doctor Atomic.” As a distinguished professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Sellars continues to explore the intersections of art, morality and social action, earning accolades including the MacArthur Fellowship and the Erasmus Prize.

For more information about “Music for New Bodies," click here.