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Augusta Read Thomas

Chicago, IL   


A composer featured on a Grammy winning CD by Chanticleer and Pulitzer Prize Finalist (2007,) 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 seven 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 founded and directs the Center for Contemporary Composition at the university of Chicago supporting the work of countless composers. “…unique among the world’s most prominent living composers for the consistent attention she [Thomas] devotes to projects on the broad behalf of other composers and curious listeners. The envisioning is not only meticulous in detail but also breathtakingly big in scope.” — Nancy Malitz, Classical Voice North America

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.  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.”

Not only is Thomas a very active composer, with commissions, performances, recordings, awards, and honors, but she is also a long-standing, exemplary citizen of the profession at large. Augusta has an extensive and deeply committed  history as a model citizen of the profession. A brief summary of her citizenship work includes:

  • Founder and Director of The Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition
  • Vice President for Music, The American Academy of Arts and Letters
  • Member of the Board of Directors of The Koussevitzky Foundation
  • Member of the Board of Directors of The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc.
  • Member of the Board of Directors of the Alice M. Ditson Fund, Columbia University
  • Member of the Conseil Musical de la Foundation Prince Pierre de Monaco
  • Member of the Board of Trustees, American Society for the Royal Academy of Music, London
  • Member of the Eastman National Council – Eastman School of Music’s top leadership board
  • Member of the advisory board of Third Coast Percussion
  • Member of the advisory board of the Civitas Ensemble
  • Member of the advisory board of the Picosa Ensemble
  • Member of the Board of Directors, ICE – International Contemporary Ensemble, 2007- 2013
  • Chair of the Board, American Music Center, 2005-2008
  • Board Member, American Music Center, 2000-2011
  • Envisioned, created, spearheaded EAR TAXI FESTIVAL, October 5 – 10, 2016 in Chicago

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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