Biography | Aaron Gervais, composer


In brief, in depth, curriculum vitae

© 2013 Stella Kim


Just the Basics

Aaron Gervais is a composer based in San Francisco, originally from Edmonton, Canada. Chamber music, vocal music, and opera feature most prominently in his output, which critics often describe as eclectic and playful. Aaron also writes avidly about issues facing classical music in the 21st century, publishing to his blog and a number of music journals. His music is performed across North America and Europe, and he has been featured on major festivals, including Gaudeamus, MATA, and Other Minds. Aaron’s formal training includes a B.Mus from the University of Toronto and an M.A. in composition from UC San Diego. When not working on musical projects, Aaron likes to cook.

Full-length Biography

Based in San Francisco, composer Aaron Gervais works with ensembles and presenters across North America and Europe. He is particularly interested in humour, found materials, quotation/collage, and the sociological aspects of how people use music. As such, Aaron’s output ranges from the introspectively sombre to the irreverently slapstick, and critics have described his musical approach with statements from “I cried tears of laughter” to “unique, unsettling” and “this is just really great fun.” Over the past few years, Aaron’s work has centered around chamber music, vocal music, and opera, although orchestral music, live electronics, and pieces for dance and theatre also feature in his work.

Groups that have presented Aaron’s music include G27 Orchestra, the Nieuw Ensemble, Artists’ Vocal Ensemble, Quatuor Bozzini, Momenta Quartet, Tapestry New Opera, Orkest de Ereprijs, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the Knights Orchestra, Ensemble Klang, and the London Sinfonietta among others. He has also appeared on prominent festivals, including Amsterdam’s Gaudeamus Music Week, Toronto’s New Wave, soundaXis, and SHIFT fes­ti­vals, Aberdeen’s Sound Fes­tival, 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, and six prizes in Canada’s SOCAN Awards for Young Composers among others.

In addition to composing, Aaron is also an avid critical writer, publishing articles on the economic and philosophical issues facing new music. In particular, his pieces on the problematic nature of arts entrepreneurship have garnered widespread attention and are among the most viral articles on the subject anywhere online. In addition to posting on his blog at, several music publications have published his writing, including MusicWorks, Music-on-Main, NewMusicBox, and CultureBot.

Aaron holds a B.Mus from the University of Toronto and a master’s degree in composition from UC San Diego. He has also studied at the Koninklijk Conservatorium in the Netherlands. When not composing, Aaron enjoys undertaking culinary projects and throwing dinner parties. The Art Music Promotion agency represents his music.

Curriculum Vitae

Professional Experience

May 2014–present

President, Executive Director
Elevate Ensemble

Devise strategies to grow a core audience for the outside of the niche new music community and to increase revenue streams via crowdfunding, philanthropy, and grant writing.

May 2014–present

Board Member
Mobius Trio

Provide with consultative services on strategic development, audience building, marketing, grant writing, and so forth.

Oct 2014–May 2015

SoundStreams Canada

Composition of a new piece, educational outreach, and blogging on themes related to contemporary classical music.

Jan 2015–May 2015

Vancouver Pro Musica

Conduct masterclasses and outreach, participate in musical discussions, rehearse with musicians, and present some of my music as part of the annual Sonic Boom festival.

Apr 2011

Quatuor Bozzini Composers Kitchen
Montréal, Canada

Workshop and residency with the string quartet. Development and performance of new work.


Adjudicator/judge, numerous occasions

JUNO Awards, Classical Composition of the Year Category
Jules Leger Prize for New Canadian Chamber Music
Multiple other composition awards/competitions

Sep 2009–Apr 2010

Consultant and Web Writer
San Francisco Contemporary Music Players

Developing and implementing strategies for audience building. Involving graduate students from San Francisco–area music departments in volunteer publicity activities for the ensemble. Writing interviews.

Jul 2009

Composition Fellow
Chamber Music Conference and Composers’ Forum of the East
Bennington VT, USA

By invitation. Duties include composing a work for amateur musicians and coaching the ensemble.

Feb 2009

orkest de ereprijs Young Composers Meeting
Apeldoorn, the Netherlands

Winner of the 2009 competition. Wrote a piece for the ensemble, participated in masterclasses.


Artistic Director
Recycled 80s Live

Conceived and organized the creation of a concert-length, amplified piece for nightclubs based on quotations of ‘80s pop songs, including composition of the score, hiring of musicians, arranging for performances, and creating audio–video support materials.

Nov–Dec 2009

Banff Centre Fall Creative Music Residency
Banff, Canada

Sep–Dec 2007

Koninklijk Conservatorium Residency
the Hague, the Netherlands

Professional development residency and composition masterclasses with Martijn Padding.

Aug 2007

Domaine Forget Academy New Music Seminar
St-Irénée QC, Canada

Participated in masterclasses. Rehearsals and performance with the Nouvel ensemble moderne.

Feb 2007

Arditti Quartet Residency, UC San Diego Visiting Artist Program
San Diego, USA

Composed a piece for the Arditti Quartet. Rehearsals, recording, and masterclasses with the quartet.


Teaching Assistant
University of California, San Diego

Preparation: Three-month, intensive pedagogy seminar on teaching critical reading and writing to undergraduates.

Duties: Attending lectures and meetings with professors, creating lesson plans based on course reading, teaching classes, holding office hours, helping students develop research papers, and grading written assignments and exams.

Classes Taught: (Music) MUS1B Music Theory, MUS12 Intro to Opera, MUS4 Introduction to Western Music History, LTEN159 Popular Music of the ‘60s; (World Literature) MMW2 The Great Classical Traditions, MMW3 The Medieval Heritage.


Composer in Residence
Ensemble contemporain de Montréal Génération 2006
Montréal, Canada

Wrote a piece for the ensemble, gave a masterclass on my music at the École de musique Vincent d’Indy, rehearsals with student musicians, workshop and rehearsals with the ensemble, cross-Canada tour.

Aug 2005

Tapestry New Opera Works Composer–Librettist Laboratory
Toronto, Canada

Composition of four short opera scenes with four librettists, daily masterclasses and discussions, rehearsals with performers, performances.

Sep 2004–Jan 2005

University of Toronto Contemporary Opera Showcase Programme
Toronto, Canada

Only undergraduate student invited to participate. Wrote a chamber opera for U of T students, rehearsed with the singers and ensemble, held meetings with the music director.

Spring 2004

Artistic Director, Organizer
University of Toronto – Harvard Composition Exchange

Organized a student-run exchange between composition students at both universities. Curated a concert of student works.



M.A. in Composition, University of California, San Diego
Composition study with Chinary Ung and Philippe Manoury.


B.Mus. in Composition, University of Toronto
(Additionally: Jazz Performance, 2002–2003)
Graduated with honours. Composition study with Chan Ka Nin, John Hawkins, and Alexander Rapoport; percussion study with Bob McLaren.


B.A. in Composition, University of Alberta
Composition study with Howard Bashaw; percussion study with Brian Jones. Transferred to the University of Toronto in 2002.


Music Diplomas in Composition and Jazz, Grant MacEwan College
Graduated with honours. Composition study with Gordon Nicholson; percussion study with Brian Thurgood.

May–Jun 2001

Composition and Folkloric Cuban Percussion Studies, Havana, Cuba
Composition: Guido López-Gavilán, Instituto Superior de Arte.
Batá drumming: Tony Urdaneto, Ballet Folklórico Nacional.
Rumba drumming: Raul González, Conjunto Clave y Guaguancó.


2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007
  • Canada Council for the Arts, Commissioning Grants (multiple years)
2010, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2004, 2004
  • SOCAN Awards for Young Composers (multiple years)
  • ASCAP Foundation, Morton Gould Young Composer Awards, honorable mention
  • Dilettante, International Digital Composer-in-Residence Competition (London, UK), finalist
  • Alberta Creative Development Initiative Grant
  • orkest de ereprijs Young Composers Competition, first prize
  • Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award
2008, 1999, 1998
  • Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Music Grant
  • Culture no.3 selected by the ISCM Canadian Section as part of their submission to the 2008 ISCM World Music Days in Lithuania
  • International Gaudeamus Music Week, Amsterdam, finalist
  • SOCAN Foundation, Composer Residency Grant (Ensemble contemporain de Montréal)
  • Neil D. Graham and William Erving Fairclough Graduating Scholarships (University of Toronto)
  • George Coutts and Gwendolyn Grant Academic Scholarships (University of Toronto)
  • TrypTych Toronto Young Composers’ Competition, first prize
  • Monica Ryckman and Ben McPeek Academic Scholarships (University of Toronto)


  • English – Mother tongue, completely fluent, principal language of study
  • French – Spoken at home since childhood, completely fluent, used for research and study
  • Spanish – Strong reading, writing, and oral fluency; used for research and study


  • Art Music Promotion (agency), represented by
  • Center for New Music San Francisco, founding member
  • Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN)
  • Canadian Music Centre, Associate Composer
  • Canadian League of Composers

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