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COMPOSER SHOWCASE

Robert Aitken: Biography

Robert Aitken
1939 -
Region: Ontario

Robert Aitken

Robert Aitken (b. Kentville, N.S., August 28, 1939) began formal composition studies with Barbara Pentland while principal flutist of the Vancouver Symphony (1958-59) and then at the University of Toronto with John Weinzweig for both his Bachelor (1959-61) and Master's degrees (1961-64). As the first composition student admitted to the Electronic Music Studio of the University of Toronto, he became familiar with the latest developments in electronic music and composed a number of prominent electronic works. The first work which established him as a composer in the eyes of the concert public was his Concerto for 12 Soloists and Orchestra. This was performed by the Toronto Symphony, conducted by Seiji Ozawa, in 1968.

Since that time he has completed a number of commissions for such prominent organizations as the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the CBC, the National Youth Orchestra, the York Winds, IRCAM and the Elmer Iseler Singers. Composition time has been at a great premium due to his career as a flutist and his administrative responsiblities as artistic director of the Advanced Studies in Music Program, Banff Centre (1986-89); New Music Concerts, Toronto (1971-present); Music at Shawnigan (1981-1990); and from 1988 until 2004 was Professor of Flute at the Hochschule für Musik, Freiburg, Germany. In 2003 he was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Flute Association (USA). However, composition is still an important activity in his life and each year a period of time is reserved for composing.

Each of Aitken's works deals with particular questions of colour, space and instrumental technique and the music is an attempt to create a memorable, colourful, sonic solution to these problems. The earliest pieces deal with various 12 tone transformations and the spatial moving of sound. But following Aitken's five month journey to the Orient, he undertook four works reflecting his musical experiences there. After these four Shadows he returned again to the extra musical challenge of instrumental extension and amplification with his Spiral for orchestra. Since that time, his music reflects the minimal and harmonic influences of today, mixed with a rhythmic drive from his student years with John Weinzweig and the elaborate melodic structure of numerous Oriental musics.

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