Composer-in-Residence Augusta Read Thomas (who prefers “Gusty”) returned to Eugene in April, joined by guest artists Third Coast Percussion (TCP), continuing several community collaborations that began during her initial visit in September and culminating in the performance of her newly commissioned work Sonorous Earth.
During her second visit, Gusty visited more than 45 students at Willamette High School, whose band had been rehearsing her 2001 work Magneticfireflies since September 2017. Gusty hosted a composition intensive with University of Oregon School of Music and Dance composition students, building on a master class she hosted in September, and culminating in nine world-premieres of the students work in the Hult Center Studio. The Willamette High School band students received complimentary tickets to attend the performance on April 19 to hear the Pacific Northwest premiere of her piece Sonorous Earth, performed by the Eugene Symphony and guest artists TCP, and conducted by Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong.
Gusty also returned to the Oregon Supported Living Program (OSLP) to view the culminating gallery showing of works created during their “Music and Art” class which engaged adults with and without developmental and cognitive disabilities. At the gallery showing, DanceAbility International performed original choreography to Gusty’s work “Double Helix” for an audience of OSLP and Symphony patrons and donors.
TCP joined ESA donors and patrons at “Symphony Happy Hour with Francesco,” an informal discussion held at a local brew pub, hosted a percussion master class, delivered a lecture called “A World of Bells” in partnership with Gusty and the University of Oregon Museum of Cultural and Natural History, as well as several other community events throughout the week.
Gusty and TCP’s joint residency marks one of the most robust extended artist residencies in ESA history. Residency activities reached over 1,225 community members, working across artistic mediums and organizations to engage with partners who may not typically consume ESA’s flagship product. Combined with the two concerts, the project reached 4,910 community members and patrons.
Local reviewer, Terry McQuilken wrote of the April 19 performance:
“Concertgoers with sharp memories recall that the Eugene Symphony’s current subscription season opened in September with a short, colorful work by American composer Augusta Read Thomas. The composer returned to Eugene last week for a second residency that culminated Thursday with the West Coast premiere of a full-length work co-commissioned by the Eugene Symphony and the Chicago Philharmonic.
Thomas’ “Sonorous Earth” is a 32-minute concerto, not for one instrument, but for 300.
Three hundred bells, that is, precisely arrayed on racks, tables and the floor, played by Third Coast Percussion, a stunningly virtuosic quartet based in the Chicago area…
…The first and third movements began relatively slowly and softly, allowing the listener to bathe in the beauty of each bell’s timbre.
When the orchestra join in and tempos picked up, melodic threads built on semiquavers were traded quickly from one instrument to the next, resulting in a kind of kaleidoscope of orchestral tone color.
Kudos to music director Francesco Lecce-Chong and the members of the orchestra, who delivered the careening and perilously syncopated lines with energy and… an impressive degree of ensemble precision.
[In the second movement]… Using an array of 26 prayer bells (or rin bells) and 12 crotales, soloists David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and Sean Connors imparted a sense of timelessness, as the composer’s wordless poetry unfolded peacefully.
… The last movement employed every bell on stage, and Third Coast’s frenzied playing on everything metallic in sight produced not so much a “United Nations-of-Resonances,” as much as a musical Tower of Babel, as each bell’s resonance was eclipsed by the tintinnabulation of the next…”
Gusty wrote of her experience in Eugene:
“TCP, FLC and ESO were all exemplary. As I said before, the individual and collective music making by all the artists was elegant, colorful, bold, vibrant, inspiring and centered…
… I loved all the events: Arts and Culture Program, the Support Living Program, the library, the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, DaceAbility International, meeting the Board members, and the magnificent, ambitious project with the UO Composition students and performers.
… The audience tone and mood was so welcoming and vibrant for which I feel pleased.
… I feel fortunate for your personal belief in my life’s work. Our art form at large greatly needs visionary leaders, such as you all, so that all can work together to further music’s flexible, diverse capacity and innate power.”