Flutist, composer and conductor Robert Aitken wins the Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts

Ottawa, October 20, 2009 – Internationally renowned flutist, composer and conductor Robert Aitken is the winner of the 2009 Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts. The $50,000 prize, administered and presented by the Canada Council for the Arts, recognizes the highest level of artistic excellence and distinguished career achievement by Canadian artists who have spent the major part of their career in Canada in theatre, dance or music.

Mr. Aitken was selected by a peer assessment committee consisting of Henri Brassard, pianist and professor (St-Charles-sur-Richelieu); Jani Lauzon, multi-disciplinary Metis performing artist (Toronto); and Ian McDougall, trombonist, composer and teacher (Victoria, BC). In awarding the prize to Mr. Aitken, the committee said:

“A masterly force in the world of contemporary Canadian music, Robert Aitken has demonstrated over half a century a tireless commitment to its development, performance and promotion in every corner of the globe. As a flutist, composer, interpreter and teacher, he is a distinguished innovator and continues to exert a strong influence on upcoming generations.”

Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts
Presented for the first time in 2001, the Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts was created as a result of a generous donation of $1.1 million to the Canada Council by Toronto businessman and philanthropist Walter Carsen, O.C. The prize is normally awarded annually on a fouryear cycle: dance, theatre, dance, music. Previous prize winners include dancer/choreographer Margie Gillis, playwright Judith Thomson, choreographer David Earle, composer R. Murray Schafer, principal dancer/producer-director Veronica Tennant and playwright John Murrell.



World renowned Canadian flutist, composer and conductor Robert Aitken has been honoured with the Order of Canada and is a Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France). In 1970, having previously served as principal flute for both the Vancouver and Toronto Symphony Orchestras, Aitken embarked on a solo career that has taken him to virtually every corner of the globe. He has more than 70 recordings to his credit and such notables as John Cage, George Crumb, Elliott Carter, Toru Takemitsu, Gilles Tremblay, John Beckwith and Bruce Mather have dedicated works to him. In 2003 he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Flute Association (USA). In 2004, he retired as Professor für Flöte at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, Germany, a position he had held for 16 years. In 2009 Aitken was the recipient Canada’s largest arts award, the prestigious Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts. As a composer, he holds Bachelor and Masters degrees from the University of Toronto and all of his works are published by Universal Edition, Salabert, Ricordi and Peer Music. Robert Aitken was director of the Banff Centre Winter Program in Music, founder and artistic director of Music Today, Music at Shawnigan and co-founder, with Norma Beecroft, of New Music Concerts which he has directed since its inception in 1971.


Aitken, Robert (Morris)
Flutist, composer, conductor, born Kentville, Nova Scotia, Canada 28 August 1939. B. Mus. (Toronto) 1961, M. Mus. (Composition) (Toronto) 1964. After flute studies with Nicolas Fiore in Toronto (1955-59) he became principal flute of the Vancouver S. O. (the youngest principal in that orchestra’s history) while studying composition with Barbara Pentland at U.B.C. From 1960-64 he served as second flute of the C.B.C. Symphony Orchestra while studying electronic music with Myron Shaeffer and composition with John Weinzweig at U. of Toronto. He considers Marcel Moyse, with whom he studied intermittently for 9 years in Vermont and in Europe, as his most significant flute teacher. However, he also studied with Jean Pierre Rampal (Paris, Nice), Severino Gazzeloni (Rome), André Jaunet (Zurich) and Hubert Barwähser (Amsterdam) during his 1964-65 European sojourn on a Canada Council grant.

In 1964 Aitken, with pianist Marion Ross (his wife) and soprano Mary Morrison, formed the Lyric Arts Trio. He served 1965-70 as co-principal flute of the Toronto S. O. but gave up this position to devote himself to solo performance and to appearances with the trio and with harpsichordist Greta Kraus. He won prizes at the “Concours international de flûte de Paris” (1971) and the “Concours international de flûte pour la musique contemporaine” (1972) in Royan (France).

In 1970 Aitken founded and directed until 1972 the “Music Today” series at the Shaw Festival (Ontario) and in 1971 co-founded with Norma Beecroft “New Music Concerts” serving thereafter as artistic director. In 1977 he was one of 12 instrumentalists invited by Pierre Boulez to present a solo recital at IRCAM (Paris) playing solo pieces of Takemitsu, Morthensen, Fukushima, Globokar, Sigurbjörnsson, Y. Matsudaira, Holliger and himself.

Aitken taught 1960-75 at U. Of Toronto, 1972-82 at the Shawnigan Summer School of the Arts (British Columbia) and in 1981 founded “Music at Shawnigan”, a 3-week festival devoted to advanced chamber music study. From 1985-89 he was director of the Advanced Studies in Music program at the Banff School of Fine Arts (Alberta). He has given master classes in many countries including Cuba, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Sweden and the U.S.A. From 1988 to 2002 he was professor at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, Germany.

He has also been very active as a conductor with New Music Concerts (Toronto), with orchestras in Canada and Japan and in 1987 conducted the first performance of Schafer’s “Patria I” for the Canadian Opera Company.

Critical comment on his playing seems to centre on his incredible variety of dynamics and timbres and on his exquisite sense of phrasing.

Among his many awards are the Order of Canada, The Canada Music Citation, the Wm. Harold Moon Award, the Canadian Music Medal, The Jean A. Chalmers National Music Award and “Chevalier de l¹ordre des Arts et des Lettres” (France).

Some 50 works have been written for him by noted composers including Henry Brant, George Crumb, Elliott Carter, Toru Takemitsu, Roger Reynolds, Arne Nordheim, Manuel Enriquez, R. Murray Schafer, Gilles Tremblay, Bruce Mather, John Beckwith and John Weinzweig. He has more than 40 recordings to his credit.

In spite of his relatively small output, Aitken is one of Canada’s outstanding composers. Like several other Canadian composers who traveled in East Asia (Gilles Tremblay, Claude Vivier and José Evangelista), he has been profoundly influenced by the contact with non-Western musical cultures. On listening to his Berceuse, one is struck by the absolute fresh use of diatonic materials, devoid of clichés, by the poetic and convincing integration of special flute effects and by the clarity of formal and rhythmic structure.

Bruce Mather
(for The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians)