Augusta Read Thomas, Composer

Augusta Read Thomas

Photo © copyright by Michael Lutch

Augusta Read Thomas (born in 1964 in Glen Cove, New York) was the Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1997 through 2006. In 2007, her ASTRAL CANTICLE was one of the two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Music. Thomas has also been on the Board of Directors of the American Music Center (www.amc.net) since 2000, as well as on the boards and advisory boards of several chamber music groups. She was elected Chair of the Board of the American Music Center, a volunteer position that ran from 2005 to 2008. She is University Professor (one of six University Professors) at The University of Chicago. Augusta was MUSICALIVE Composer-in-Residence with the New Haven Symphony, a national residency program of The League of American Orchestras and Meet the Composer. Augusta has been on the Board of the ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) for many years; is a member of the Advisory Committee of the Alice M. Ditson Fund; is on the Board of Trustees of The American Society for the Royal Academy of Music; is a Member of the Conseil Musical de la Foundation Prince Pierre de Monaco; and is on the Eastman School of Music's National Council.

Teaching (more quotes about teaching by A.R.T.)

Augusta is a passionate and devoted teacher. She is in very close touch with her students. Teaching is a natural extension of her creative process and of her avid enthusiasm for the music of others. She is a devoted listener to the music of others and as such has a broad and deep knowledge of the music of our time. For Augusta, working with students is a joy, a deeply felt commitment, and an integrated part of her creative existence.

Augusta was an assistant, then associate professor of composition at the Eastman School of Music from 1993-2001, and from 2001 until 2006 was the Wyatt Professor of Music (Endowed Chair) at Northwestern University. She currently continues her involvement with Northwestern University by serving on the Dean's Music Advisory Board. In the summers she often teaches at the Tanglewood Music Center. Augusta was the Director of the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood in 2009. Frequently Ms. Thomas undertakes residencies in colleges, universities, and festivals across the country and in Europe. From time to time she teaches private composition lessons for advanced students. For 2009-2011 she is teaching and mentoring 10 high school-aged composers in the state of Connecticut. Each composer will have his or her new piece premiered by the New Haven Symphony in May 2011.

American Academy of Arts and Letters

The American Academy of Arts And Letters (http://www.artsandletters.org) has elected Augusta Read Thomas to membership. She was inducted in May 2009. The American Academy of Arts and Letters is an honor society of 250 architects, composers, artists, and writers. The honor of election is considered the highest formal recognition of artistic merit in the United States.

The citation, given at her induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in May 2009, reads as follows:

"Augusta Read Thomas's impressive body of works embodies unbridled passion and fierce poetry. Championed by such luminaries as Barenboim, Rostropovich, Boulez, and Knussen, she rose early to the top of her profession. Later, as an influential teacher at Eastman, Northwestern and Tanglewood, chairperson of the American Music Center, and the Chicago Symphony's longest-serving resident composer, she has become one of the most recognizable and widely loved figures in American Music."

G. Schirmer, Inc. is the exclusive publisher of Thomas' music, and her discography includes 48 commercially recorded CDs. Please visit www.augustareadthomas.com/recordings.html for a complete list of the recordings.

Ms. Thomas lives in Chicago, IL.

Conductors

Conductors who have conducted the works of Augusta Read Thomas include: Christoph Eschenbach, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Seiji Ozawa, Leonard Slatkin, George Manahan, Oliver Knussen, David Robertson, Lorin Maazel, Sir Andrew Davis, Jeffrey Kahane, Jiří Bělohlávek, Hans Graf, Marin Alsop, Xian Zhang, Andrey Boreyko, Mstislav Rostropovich, William Wiedrich, JoAnn Falletta, Grant Llewellyn, William Boughton, Gil Rose, Gerard Schwarz, John Nelson, Joana Carneiro, Earl Rivers, Tim Weiss, Hans Vonk, Mischa Santora, Markus Stenz, Dennis Russell Davies, George Benjamin, Rand Steiger, Ludovic Morlot, Steven Jarvi, Jonathan Stockhammer, Kimcherie Lloyd, Emily Freeman Brown, Albert-George Schram, Frederick A. Speck, Mark Gibson, Jack Delaney, Kate Tamarkin, Robert Katkov-Trevino, Hannu Lintu, Peter Lipari, Christopher Lyndon-Gee, Josephine Lee, Donald Hunsberger, Mark Laycock, Edwin Outwater, Cliff Colnot, Norman Scribner, Michael Lewanski, Kirill Karabits, Hyo Kang, Kevin Field, Apo Hsu, Mariusz Smolij, Jonathan Yates, Susan McMane, Bradley Lubman, Jahja Ling, David Loebel, Orcenith Smith, Lawrence Leighton Smith, Mallory Thompson, Toshiyuki Shimada, Manfred Honeck, Christian Arming, Morihiko Nakahara, Odaline de la Martinez, Christian Lindberg, Stuart Chafetz, Keith Lockhart, Alan Pierson, Jac Van Steen, Hugh Wolff, Gianpiero Taverna, David Gilbert, and Aaron Holloway-Nahum among others.

Current & Upcoming: Recent Performances & Other Works

Augusta Thomas has two major world premieres scheduled for 2015:

  • EOS: GODDESS OF THE DAWN (A Ballet for Orchestra), composed in honor of Pierre Boulez, has been commissioned and will be premiered by the Utah Symphony, Thierry Fischer conducting, on February 19, 2015.
     
  • A NEW WORK FOR PERCUSSION QUARTET was commissioned and will be premiered by Tanglewood in July 2015.

Augusta Thomas had four major world premieres in 2012-2013:

  • RESOUNDING EARTH premiered on September 30, 2012, featuring Third Coast Percussion, at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center of the University of Notre Dame. Commissioned by the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center and the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, RESOUNDING EARTH is a 25-minute work scored for percussion quartet and featuring over 125 bells from a wide variety of cultures and historic periods. Thomas was in residence at Notre Dame for a youth education outreach for the week prior to the premiere.
     
  • EARTH ECHOES premiered on October 11, 2012 at Carnegie Hall, featuring the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, with mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, and baritone Nathan Gunn. The work's form and instrumentation are an allusion to Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, and was commissioned by Orpheus in remembrance of the 100th Anniversary of Mahler's death in 2011. EARTH ECHOES is a 28-minute symphonic — often operatic — song cycle with texts selected from Das Lied von der Erde as well as from several other poets, including Khalil Gibran, Amy Lowell, Li Shang-Yin, Basho, and Li Po.
     
  • HARVEST DRUM premiered on December 20, 2012, featuring the National Centre for the Performing Arts Symphony Orchestra in Beijing, China. A 13-minute score for full orchestra including four dagu drums, was commissioned by the National Centre as part of its Composing China project. The four contrasting movements are titled "Shimmering Sunlight on Harvest," "Sowing Rituals," "Invocation to Nature Spirits," and "Dragon."
     
  • CELLO CONCERTO NO. 3 premiered on March 14-16, 2013, featuring the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by long-time Thomas champion Christoph Eschenbach, and with solo cellist Lynn Harrell. CELLO CONCERTO NO. 3 is in five parts, and was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra with generous support from Bill and Solange Brown.

AUREOLE premiered on May 29, 2013, in Orchestra Hall, Chicago. DePaul University commissioned the work, and the DePaul University Orchestra presented the premiere performance with Cliff Colnot conducting.

Augusta is currently the MUSICALIVE Composer-in-Residence with the New Haven Symphony.  MUSICALIVE is a national residency program of The League of American Orchestras and Meet the Composer.

Recent projects include HELIOS CHOROS, a triptych for orchestra (2006-2007) (title translation: Sun God Dancers) with a duration of 40 minutes: HELIOS CHOROS I, commissioned by the Dallas Symphony, was composed in 2006 and is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Sir Andrew Davis, Victor Marshall, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and was premiered on May 3, 4, 5, 6, 2007 by the Dallas Symphony, Sir Andrew Davis conducting; HELIOS CHOROS II, co-commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra, with the generous support of Mr. Martin Mellish and Ms. Harriett Eckstein, composed in 2007, received the LSO world premiere on 14 December 2008, Daniel Harding, conducting, and the BSO premiere on 15 October 2009, Ludovic Morlot, conducting; HELIOS CHOROS III, commissioned by the Orchestra of Paris, was composed in 2007 and is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Christoph Eschenbach, was premiered on 12 December 2007 in Paris on a Pierre Boulez Festival.

For 2010-2011, Augusta held the Fulbright professorship: McIlroy Family Visiting Professorship in the Performing and Visual Arts at the University of Arkansas' J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.

On January 16, 2009, VIOLIN CONCERTO NO. 3 co-commissioned by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the BBC Proms, and Mr. and Mrs. Bill Brown, and the National Symphony Orchestra, with Frank-Peter Zimmermann as violin soloist, was premiered in Salle Pleyel, Paris, with Andrey Boreyko , conducting.  September 9, 2009 was the UK premiere, at the BBC Proms, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jiri Belohlavek, Frank Peter Zimmermann, soloist. The US premiere will be in June 2011 at the Kennedy Center, Christoph Eschenbach, conducting the National Symphony Orchestra, Jennifer Koh, soloist. JUBILEE for orchestra, commissioned by the Juilliard School, premiered on April 30, 2010, Xian Zhang conducting, in Alice Tully Hall, New York.

Other recent projects include ABSOLUTE OCEAN, commissioned, with a generous gift by the daughter of Shirley and Jay Marks, by the Houston Symphony, was premiered on January 22, 2009, Hans Graf conducting, with Paula Page, solo harp and Twyla Robinson solo soprano; DREAM CATCHER for solo violin, commissioned by Voices of Change in Dallas, Texas was premiered on May 3, 2009, Maria Schleuning, violin; The ASCAP FOUNDATION commissioned a work for cello and piano entitled CANTOS FOR SLAVA, IN MEMORIAM MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH, which was premiered and recorded by Matt Haimovitz in summer 2008. TWO E. E. CUMMINGS SETTINGS, commissioned by the San Francisco Girl's Chorus for the occasion of their 30th Anniversary, for their Chorissima chamber choir, was premiered in October 2008. CAPRICIOUS ANGELS, commissioned by the Angel Fire Ensemble in New Mexico, was premiered on September 6, 2009.

Premieres that took place during the 2005-2006 season included two new concerti for the Chicago Symphony: ASTRAL CANTICLE for violin, flute and orchestra featuring the principal players Robert Chen and Matthieu DuFour; and CARILLON SKY for violin and large ensemble. Other new works are SHAKIN' for orchestra (a tribute to Elvis Presley and Igor Stravinsky), commissioned by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and the Music Library Association in honor of its 75th Anniversary; THE REWAKING for male chorus commissioned by Cornell University Glee Club; BERKSHIRE SONGS for chorus commissioned by the Nebraska Choral Arts Society; and ANGEL TEARS AND EARTH PRAYERS for organ and trumpet commissioned by the American Guild of Organists for their national convention. Two new solo piano etudes join the existing four and the full set is first presented by Stephen Gosling in New York City.

Ms. Thomas studied composition with Oliver Knussen at Tanglewood (1986, 1987, 1989), Jacob Druckman at Yale University (1988), with Alan Stout and Bill Karlins at Northwestern University (1983-1987), and at the Royal Academy of Music in London (1989). She was a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University (1991-94) and a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College (1990-91) — which is now The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University — and taught composition at Tanglewood during the summers of 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. Thomas has also been on the Board of Directors of the American Music Center (www.amc.net) since 2000, as well as on the boards and advisory boards of several chamber music groups.

Recent Premieres

Augusta Read Thomas, Leonard Bernstein, and George Perle

Augusta Read Thomas, Leonard Bernstein, and George Perle

Recent past projects include: FLOATING TEMPLES — BASHO HAIKU SETTINGS, composed for a mixture of student musicians from the choruses, orchestra and band of the University of Arkansas' J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences playing alongside some of their faculty artists, which premiered on 15 April 2011. Ms Thomas held the McIlroy Family Visiting Professorship in the Performing and Visual Arts at the University and the Walton Arts Center in the 2010-2011 academic year. PILGRIM SOUL, commissioned by Matthew Kuhn in honor of his wife's 50th birthday, which premiered at Weill Hall of Carnegie Hall on February 10, 2011, with Matthew Kuhn on English horn, Alyssa Kuhn on violin, and Michael Barta on violin.  The University of South Florida commissioned FLASH for large chorus and orchestra, commissioned by to celebrate and inaugurate their new concert hall, with Dr. William W. Wiedrich conducting the world premiere on April 3, 2011. RADIANT CIRCLES for orchestra, commissioned by the New Haven Symphony with support from the Music Alive program of the League of American Orchestras, Meet the Composer, and the Barlow Endowment, premiered March 10, 2011, with William Boughton conducting. DAYLIGHT DIVINE, for children's chorus and orchestra, commissioned by Soli Deo Gloria and premiered in June 2001 at the St-Denis Festival in France. MURMURS IN THE MIST OF MEMORY, commissioned by the International Sejong Soloists, premiered in 2001 at the Aspen Music Festival. SONG IN SORROW for orchestra and chorus, commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra, had its premiere in June 2000. FUGITIVE STAR for string quartet was commissioned by the Caramoor Chamber Music Festival for the Avalon String Quartet. RING OUT WILD BELLS TO THE WILD SKY (text by Tennyson), for chorus and orchestra, commissioned by the Washington Choral Arts Society, had its premiere on February 25, 2000, at the Kennedy Center. AURORA: CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA, commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, had its premiere with Daniel Barenboim as pianist and conductor on June 10, 2000; the work received its UK premiere on September 8, 2001 at the BBC Proms, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim as pianist and conductor once again. INVOCATIONS for string quartet, commissioned by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival for the Miami String Quartet (with funding from Chamber Music America), had its premiere on March 19, 2000 in Santa Fe. CEREMONIAL for orchestra, was commissioned and premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim conducting, on January 6, 2000. RITUAL INCANTATIONS, a cello concerto for cellist David Finckel, commissioned by Thomas van Straaten with the Aspen Music Festival, premiered during its fiftieth anniversary season on July,16 1999, with Hugh Wolf conducting. ORBITAL BEACONS: CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA (for re-seated orchestra - divided into ten sections - 8 concertino groups with 9 soloists and two chamber orchestras), commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, premiered with Pierre Boulez conducting on November 27, 1998. WORDS OF THE SEA, commissioned and premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez conducting, in December 1996.

Additionally, Augusta wrote a work entitled SERENADE for chamber orchestra, commissioned by the Shedd Aquarium for the Seahorse Symphony exhibit, which was recorded on CD by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and which is playing as a tape loop in the Seahorse exhibit for many years.

Pierre Boulez and Augusta Read Thomas

Pierre Boulez and Augusta Read Thomas

 

Upcoming Premieres

See the News & Performances page for upcoming premieres.

Recorded Works

In addition to 48 CDs of her music that have been released by commercial record companies, Thomas has also self-produced five recordings, together representing excellent performances of 23 of her compositions. The five CDs, more information on which can be found on the Recordings page, are:

Words of the Sea (ARTCD19952006)
Terpsichore's Dream (ARTCD2007)
Traces and Magneticfireflies (ARTCD20002007)
Sun Threads (ARTCD19992007)
Prairie Sketches (ARTCD19912005)


Awards and Honors

Augusta Thomas has received prizes and awards from: the Siemens Foundation in Munich, ASCAP, BMI, the National Endowment for the Arts (1994, 1992, 1988), the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (2001, 1994, 1989), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Koussevitzky Foundation (1999), the New York Foundation for the Arts (1998), the John W. Hechinger Foundation, the Kate Neal Kinley Foundation, The Debussy Trio Music Foundation and Thomas van Straaten, Columbia University (Bearns Prize), the Naumburg Foundation, the Fromm Foundation (Zoll, 1996, 1992), the Barlow Endowment, Harriett Eckstein, the New York State Council for the Arts, and Chamber Music America; she received a prize in the French International Competition of Henri Dutilleux, The Rudolph Nissim Award from ASCAP, a Finalist Award in the Massachusetts Artists Fellowship Program, and the Indiana State University Orchestral Music Prize. She was awarded the Third Century Award from the Office of Copyrights and Patents in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Thomas was awarded fellowships from the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, the Rockefeller Foundation (Bellagio), the International Rotary Foundation, L'Ecole Normal in Fountainbleau, France, Tanglewood Music Center, the Gaudeamus Foundation, the Wellesley Composers Conference, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Aspen Music Festival and went twice to June in Buffalo. She was a Junior Fellow in the prestigious Society of Fellows at Harvard University between 1991 and 1994. She was elected and initiated as an Honorary Member of Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity in 1996.

In 2007, Ms. Thomas's composition, ASTRAL CANTICLE, was one of two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Music.

Performances of Note

Augusta Read Thomas at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra - photo by Stephen Belth

Augusta Read Thomas at the
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Photo by Stephen Belth

Thomas' orchestral works have been performed by the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the National Symphony, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Residentie Orkest of The Hague, the Dallas Symphony, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Minnesota Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the Louisville Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, ORF-Vienna (Austrian Radio Orchestra), Bochumer Symphoniker, the Fort Worth Symphony, the New York Chamber Symphony, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, the Washington Choral Arts Society, Soli Deo Gloria, the American Composers Orchestra, the Virtuosi Players, the Marin Symphony, the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, the Berkshire Symphony, the Eastman Philharmonia, the Moscow Conservatory Orchestra, the Syracuse Youth Orchestra, the Columbus (Georgia) Symphony, the San Francisco Women's Philharmonic, Boston Civic Orchestra, the Long Beach Symphony, the New York Youth Symphony, the Concord Symphony, the Memphis Symphony, Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphony Orchestras, Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra (with Gerardo Ribeiro, soloist,), Chamber Orchestra of the South Bay, and the Virtuosi Orchestra.

Chamber music works have been performed by the Aspen Music Festival, the Tanglewood Music Festival, Chanticleer, Caramoor Music Festival, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, the Eroica Trio, the Stony Brook Contemporary Music Ensemble, the San Francisco Contemporary Chamber Players, the Network for New Music, the Contemporary Chamber Players at the University of Illinois, the Indiana State University Contemporary Ensemble, the Green Umbrella Series, the Syracuse Society for New Music, the Fischer Duo, Heinrich Schiff, Catherine Tait, the Kapell Trio, the Debussy Trio, The Wellesley Composers Conference at the Miller Theater in NY, Trio West, The Lydian String Quartet, Eastman Brass, Jamal Rossi, Laurel Ann Maurer, the Lions Gate Trio, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, John Marcellus, Scott Kluksdahl, Judy Siebert, Laura Frautschi, Bonita Boyd, Nicholas Goluses, the Core Ensemble, the Mendelssohn String Quartet, as well as individual soloists and various university ensembles.

What the Press is Saying about Augusta Read Thomas

Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone

"...Thomas' music from the outset [has] clarity of conception and precision of gesture (whether in the briefest of instrumental miniatures or in large-scale orchestral works), which act as the focus of her often intricate textures and iridescent harmonies — thereby ensuring that her work exudes an immediacy and a communicativeness whatever its degree of complexity and dissonance.

"Another reason why Thomas' music has been easy to underrate is its sheer consistency. There are few minor or peripheral works in her now sizeable catalogue, while the achievement of her major pieces is seldom outstripped by their ambition. Whereas others of her contemporaries, moreover, have tended either to fulfill their high-profile commissions with a uniformity that borders on dullness, or to attempt changes in stylistic direction with an obviousness that borders on the superficial, Thomas has stayed true to those principles evident in her earliest acknowledged works — so making the trajectory of her output one of incremental and subtle evolution, which in turn enhances its sense of being an integrated and self-sustaining unity."

Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise blog (music critic for The New Yorker)

"Augusta Read Thomas's recent Jubilee is an electric, joyous piece."

Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone

Heart and soul in the breathtaking music of a thoughtful contemporary composer.
Thomas's brainy brand of modernism reveals a lively, probing mind allied to a beating heart.

"So many artistic ideas percolate in Augusta Read Thomas's brain that the listener almost needs to take a series of big breaths to absorb them all. Fortunately, this new disc of chamber works demonstrates that the American composer's music is striking in concept, texture and timbre. No danger, in other words, of anyone being tempted to stop listening. Thomas's brainy brand of modernism may not be for every taste but her music reveals a lively, probing mind allied to a beating heart.

"Poetry often inspires this composer, as the four RUMI SETTINGS for violin and cello vividly reflect. The instruments evoke the emotions and images in the 800-year-old texts. There conversations are harrowing and tender, pensive and fierce. SIX PIANO ETUDES, presented in pairs throughout the disk, are piquant and mysterious explorations of rhythm, motion and keyboard colors. Thomas achieves a kaleidoscope of shapes and shading with clusters, terraced dynamics and myriad other devices.

"There is nothing austerely contemporary about INCANTATIONS, a piece for solo violin that ventures through wistful and desolate territory, or another work for the instrument, PULSAR, which makes the most of compact materials. Two cello works also speak in animated, expressive voice: the solo BELLS RING SUMMER, a tone-poem of poignant gestures, repeated notes, and dramatic extremes; and CHANT, in which the cello teams with the piano in a series of ruminative and pungent dialogues.

"In orchestral works, operas and here in two intimate pieces, Thomas shows a keen ability to employ texts in passionate, unyielding settings. The brief BUBBLE: RAINBOW - SPIRIT LEVEL is an apt 95th birthday present for Elliott Carter. The disc's eponymous work, PRAIRIE SKETCHES, places a solo soprano in shimmering relationships with a small instrumental ensemble and two sopranos who occasionally echo or compliment the soloist's lines.

"The members of the Callisto Ensemble and colleagues advocate strongly for Thomas's uncompromising art. The performances are models of cohesion, character and detail."

John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

"If the Boulez works by extension, Thomas' "songs of love and passion" work by accretion — layering a colorful, often sensuous array of sonorities from 18 strings, winds and percussion under the ecstatic leaps and lamenting descents of her lyrical, expressionistic vocal lines. Thomas' texts jump across the centuries, forming a poetic patchwork."

Justin Davidson, New York Newsday

Augusta Read Thomas at the premiere of LIGEIA in Evian, France

Augusta Read Thomas, Mstislav Rostropovich, and the cast of Ligeia at the work's premiere in Evian, France, in July 1994
Photo © by A.R.T. Musings Publishing Co.

"And today there is a new cohort of composers who share with their modernist predecessors a particular seriousness and passion, an utter lack of irony and, above all, a belief that profound music requires an active mind to be properly heard, not just a passive set of ears. Augusta Read Thomas, the 37-year-old composer-in-residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, chooses elusive titles, suggestive of obscure rites and private cosmologies: ORBITAL BEACONS, RING OUT WILD BELLS, CEREMONIAL and ECLIPSE MUSINGS. Thomas writes music that is inflamed but not obvious. Her vinelike ideas grow and propagate, hiding the framework underneath. In her 1999 cello concerto for David Finckel, RITUAL INCANTATION, the cello begins like a preacher, eliciting murmurs of agreement from a small group of instruments clustered at the front of the stage. The harmonies bristle and the message is indistinct, but the scene has an unmistakable air of theatricality and impassioned grandeur. Gradually, the rest of the orchestra is drawn in by the cello's rhetoric, until it becomes a vast resonating chamber, echoing, amplifying, colorizing and embroidering what the soloist has uttered.

"Other instruments, too, develop solo flights, and the texture becomes more and more rococo, full of trumpet calls, bass excursions and triangle tremolos. But the music always resolves back to the focal cello. However distended the melody, however perplexing the chords, this is ultimately an old-fangled piece — even Brahms might have nodded at the balance of sounds, the heroic eloquence, the measured unfolding of a narrative and the symphonic sense of gravitas.

"And yet Thomas might bridle at such an antique reference. "Modernism to me is about always looking forward, seeking the new, treasuring the unexpected, loving the abstract," she says. "It has to do with things that are in transition, things that are fugitive. I'm trying to pursue some unknown future. That's why modernism has to have hope. If you're going to build something brand new, you have to have some hope that it's out there — or that anyone cares.""

Richard Buell, The Boston Globe

"It seems that with every new Thomas piece one has occasion to remark that this is a gifted young composer who will be heard from. It happens again."

John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

"Thomas' music, particularly her orchestral music, fairly explodes with an extroverted boldness of utterance audiences and musicians alike find challenging yet immediate. It's music that doesn't sound like anybody else's — music that insists you pay attention."

Robert Maycock, The Independent, London

"Thomas has more experience with orchestra than others and it shows in an unmistakable air of knowing what she wants to say and how to say it. Balances work, blends succeed. There is a powerful lyrical instinct at work, resulting in some well sustained melodic lines."

John Ardoin, Dallas Morning News

"This young composer...already has amassed many honors, commissions and hearings by major orchestras. It is not difficult to understand why. Her music.. is evocative and shows a well-developed feeling for, and a mastery of, orchestral colors."

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times

"Ms. Thomas has vivid ear for instrumental color."

Daniel Webster, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Thomas' piece [GLASS MOON]...was about 11 minutes of boldly considered music that celebrated the sound of the instruments and seemed to reaffirm the vitality of orchestral music in general."

Wes Blomster, American Record Guide

"...Thomas has created in [LIGEIA] an original and powerful work — intense yet aglow with lovely lyric undercurrents."

Augusta on Jazz Influences on her Work

Quoting Augusta Read Thomas on jazz influences in her work and on her personal term: "CAPTURED IMPROVISATION":

"My favorite moment in any piece of music is that of maximum risk and striving. Whether the venture is tiny or large, loud or soft, fragile or strong, passionate, erratic, or eccentric — the moment of exquisite humanity and raw soul!"

"All art that I cherish has elements of order, mystery, love, recklessness, and desperation. For me, music must be alive and jump off the page and out of the instrument as if something big is at stake."

"It is clear, in all my works, that I have been listening to jazz for 30 years. I am not a composer who does empty-headed "cross-over" jazz pieces- where the jazz bits make all the jazzer"s blush with embarrassment.... rather, there is a deeply integrated and digested set of references and perfumes which can be sensed. That"s all I mean — set of references and perfumes — I am certainly not implying that I am a Jazz artist, nor anything of the sort."

"Although my music is highly notated, precise, carefully structured —and proportioned, etc.... and you may have 80 to 100 musicians all working elegantly together —from my specific text....I like my music to have the fee ling that it is organically being self propelled on the spot. Like we, the audience, were overhearing A CAPTURED IMPROVISATION. Comes from all my Jazz listening. I like my music to be played so that the "inner-life" of the different rhythmic syntaxes are specific, with characterized phrasing of the music- keeping it very alive —so it has a spontaneous energy — always within the frame work of the sublime, utterly precise TECHNICAL MASTERY OF THE MUSICIANS that is needed to play the notations. For this, I deeply thank the musicians who play my music."

Stephen Brookes, The Washington Post

[on DANCING HELIX RITUALS] "The standout piece was Augusta Read Thomas's Dancing Helix Rituals from 2006. It's a dance, certainly — but a wild, driving, exhilarating dance that hurtled out of the gate and built into a riot of jazzy rhythms and colorful gestures. Like all good rituals, it was intoxicating — and the trio brought it off with a fine, eloquent frenzy."

Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News

[on HELIOS CHOROS I] "...a logical connection: Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Helios Choros I is a brightly scored, and made much of jazzy figures."

Alan Rich, Los Angeles Weekly

[on CANTICLE WEAVING] "Some of the concerto teeters on the edge of jazziness, and does so quite nicely."

Clarence Fanto, The Berkshire Eagle

[on SCAT] "Scat employs some gestures and elements typical of jazz, but comes across as a free-form, propulsive chamber work infused with tightly-coiled energy. The Walden performers successfully captured the improvisational spirit of the eight-minute work. Thomas has created a fascinating piece that honors the jazz tradition while avoiding imitative "crossover" techniques. Scat is well worth additional hearings."

John von Rhein, The Chicago Tribune

[on AURORA] "...bits of Bartok, Webern and Messiaen here, a quasi-jazz riff there."

Photos for Press and Promotional Reproduction

Click on the desired photo below for a high resolution copy to download.
Please credit photograph 1 (blue silk top) as follows: "Photo © by Young Lee"
Please credit photographs 2 and 3 (pink blouse, top row) as follows: "Photo © by Michael Lutch"
Please credit photographs 4 and 5 (pink blouse, middle row) as follows: "Photo © by Jason Smith"
Please credit photograph 6 (multicolored jacket, gold collar necklace) as follows: "Photo © 2014 by Tony Rinaldo"

 

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