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Augusta Read Thomas

Chicago, IL   

 

Grammy winning composer, Augusta Read Thomas’s impressive body of works embodies unbridled passion and fierce poetry.  The New Yorker Magazine called her “a true virtuoso composer.” Championed by such luminaries as Barenboim, Rostropovich, Boulez, Eschenbach, Salonen, Maazel, Ozawa, and Knussen, she rose early to the top of her profession.  Later, as an influential teacher at Eastman, Northwestern, Tanglewood, now she is the 16th ever University Professor (one of five current University Professors) at The University of Chicago. Former Chairperson of the American Music Center (now NEWMUSIC USA), she has become one of the most recognizable and widely loved figures in American Music.

Thomas was the longest-serving Mead Composer-in-Residence for Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez with the Chicago Symphony from 1997 through 2006, a residency that culminated in the premiere of Astral Canticle – one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music. During her residency, Thomas not only premiered nine commissioned works, but was central toward establishing the thriving MusicNOW series. Upcoming commissioners are from the Boston Symphony and the Fromm Foundation. She won the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize and many other awards.

In February 2015, music critic Edward Reichel wrote, “She has secured for herself a permanent place in the pantheon of American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. She is without question one of the best and most important composers that this country has today. Her music has substance and depth and a sense of purpose. She has a lot to say and she knows how to say it.”

Former Chairperson of the American Music Center, she serves on many boards, is a generous citizen in the profession at large, and, according to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, “has become one of the most recognizable and widely loved figures in American Music.”  She imagined and spearheaded the Ear Taxi Festival.

The music of Augusta Read Thomas (b. 1964) is majestic, elegant, lyrical, it is “boldly considered music that celebrates the sound of the instruments and reaffirms the vitality of orchestral music.” (Philadelphia Inquirer) The New Yorker Magazine, in October 2012, called Augusta “a true virtuoso composer.” Her deeply personal music is guided by her particular sense of musical form, rhythm, timbre, and harmony. But given this individuality, her music is affected by history – in Thomas’ words, “Old music deserves new music and new music needs old music.” For Thomas, this means cherishing her place within the musical tradition and giving credit to those who have forged the musical paths she follows and from which she innovates. “You can hear the perfumes of my metaphorical grandparents,” Thomas states, “there is a wonderful tradition that I adore, I understand, and care about, but I have my two feet facing forward.” Thomas’ vision toward the future, her understanding of the present, and her respect for the past is evident in her art. Most striking in her music, though, is its exquisite humanity and poetry of the soul. The notion that music takes over where words cease is hardly more true than in Thomas’ musical voice. Donald Rosenberg of Gramophone wrote, “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.”

 

The citation, read at her 2009 American Academy of Arts and Letters induction:

 

“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.”

Helix Spirals for String Quartet (in 3 movements duration 23 min.)

HELIX SPIRALS for string quartet Augusta Read Thomas (1964)

I: LOCI: memory palace
II: INTERLACING: twists and threads
III: SPIRALS: life force

Helix Spirals for string quartet celebrates the Meselson-Stahl DNA replication experiment
“Helix Spirals combines explosive energy, technical virtuosity, and vivid colors and textures with an intellectual rigor of conception that lends it formal continuity and cohesion. This exciting work deserves a place in the repertoire.”
— Matthew Heck, The Boston Musical Intelligencer

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TWO E.E. CUMMINGS SONGS for girls choir

The young girls of the Elm City Girl’s Choir are singing these from memory.
1. sky candy
2. (kiss me)

“Ms. Thomas was in control of every nuance in these vividly colorful pieces”
The New York Times

“a true virtuoso composer”
The New Yorker

“…the vividly imaginative instrumental palette that Thomas has at her fingertips…established her as one of the most distinctive and rewarding US composers…”
The Guardian, London

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Selene – Moon Chariot Rituals (2015) Octet for percussion quartet and string quartet

Lloyd Schwartz, Berkshire Review for the Arts

“One of the most sheerly gorgeous audio experiences of the entire Tanglewood festival: Selene – Moon Chariot Rituals.”

Fonseca-Wollheim, New York Times

“Selene [is] a work alive with dance rhythms and vibrant colors that included both moments of painterly delicacy and comical touches. An ambitious piece taking in a wide range of moods and sonic landscapes, it received a premiere so persuasive and well balanced as to make a case for the percussion-string octet as a new standard form.”

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