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American Encounters: Augusta Read Thomas

Sonorous Earth: Augusta Read Thomas’ commission for Third Coast Percussion and Eugene Symphony invokes ceremonial bells from world cultures

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Composer in Residence Augusta Read Thomas returns to Eugene with Third Coast Percussion to perform Northwest Premiere of “Sonorous Earth”

Posted on June 1, 2018 by Eugene Symphony Association

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.”

More Updates ▼

Composer in Residence August Read Thomas kicks off residency with Eugene Symphony at September concert

Posted on October 23, 2017 by Eugene Symphony Association

Composer-in-Residence Augusta Read Thomas (who prefers “Gusty”) visited Eugene in September, initiating the beginning of several community collaborations that will take place over the year. Her second visit, in April, will be held jointly with guest artists Third Coast Percussion, and will culminate in the performance of her newly commissioned work Sonorous Earth.

During her visit, Gusty visited more than 70 students at South Eugene High School and Willamette High School, whose bands have begun rehearsing her 2001 work Magneticfireflies to be performed in 2018. She also gave composition lectures to 10 high school students at the Academy of Arts and Academics and 25 composition students at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance. Over 45 Willamette High School band students attended a dress rehearsal on September 27 to hear her piece Aureole, which received its Pacific Northwest premiere the following night performed by the Eugene Symphony and conducted by new Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong.  

Gusty also met with teachers at the Oregon Supported Living Program to develop a “Music and Art” class engaging adults with and without developmental and cognitive disabilities. The class will culminate in a public display of the artwork created during two three-month classes at The Lincoln Gallery and Hult Center Lobby during the April performance.

Gusty also viewed the instrument collections of the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History to select display items for a special exhibit leading up to her return in April, and joined ESA donors and patrons at our inaugural “Symphony Happy Hour with Francesco,” an informal discussion held at a local coffee bar, and at other events throughout the week.

Gusty wrote of her experience in Eugene:

The concert was world-class. The individual and collective music making by all the artists was elegant, colorful, bold, vibrant, inspiring and centered… I loved (LOVED!!!!!!!) the soul, expression and spirit in the all-around amazing music making which made the concert radiant…

…I loved all the events that connect to my next visit in April 2018, including meeting with the Oregon Supported Living Program Arts and Culture Program, the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, the two high schools who will be performing my piece Magneticfireflies, Willamette High School and South Eugene High School, and the young composers at the Academy of Arts and Academics…

Composers throughout history have needed the strong backing of great musicians, colleague composers, conductors, orchestras, music administrators, music scholars music lovers and music supporters who are of the depth, soul, excellence, vision, and care as you all are. Without such support, it is impossible for culture-at-large to improve at musical composition.

As such, 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.

It meant so much to me to be with you all, to work together, and to share our love of and passion for music and life. Here is my heartfelt appreciation! And I eagerly await our SONOROUS EARTH premiere.”

Overview

The latest installment in ESA’s American Encounters initiative, this season-long project is designed to connect regional audiences to major living American composers and current developments in symphonic music, cultivate and deepen appreciation for contemporary American works, and provide aspiring and pre-professional artists with unique artistic development opportunities. Project activities comprise:

–The West Coast premiere of Thomas’ 9-minute orchestral work “Radiant Circles” (2011) in a fall 2017 ESA subscription concert at Eugene’s Hult Center for the Performing Arts, preceded by a weeklong composer residency.

–The West Coast premiere of a new 30-minute Thomas composition for percussion and orchestra, “Sonorous Earth”, in a spring 2018 ESA subscription concert at the Hult Center. Co-commissioned by ESA and the Chicago Philharmonic Society, “Sonorous Earth” builds on Thomas’ 2012 chamber work “Resounding Earth,” originally commissioned for the Chicago-based ensemble Third Coast Percussion by the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. “Sonorous Earth” will incorporate portions of Thomas’ earlier score, which features bells from a wide variety of cultures and historical periods from around the globe along with newly composed material. Inspired by bells as emblems of both diversity (in their range of individual sounds) and commonality (their presence in numerous world societies), “Sonorous Earth” also explores their ritual uses as markers of celebration, sacrifice, remembrance, and the passage of time. “Sonorous Earth” will receive its world premiere with the Chicago Philharmonic in fall 2017. ESA’s subsequent performance, a West Coast premiere, will additionally feature Third Coast Percussion and will be preceded by a weeklong, joint ESA residency by the composer and guest artists.

–Free Symphony Connect chamber concerts of additional works by Thomas and others selected by the composer. Featuring small ensembles of ESA musicians, performances will take place in nontraditional music venues, including human service agencies, across greater Eugene and are designed to broaden community access to high-quality music experiences.

–Regional broadcasts of both subscription concerts on classical music radio KWAX.

Residency activities will serve the general public as well as students/faculty at the University of Oregon (UO) School of Music and Dance and area elementary, middle, and high schools. Activities include:

–Free pre-concert discussions with the composer for ESA patrons and the general public, held prior to each subscription performance (Hult Center).

–“Inside the Composer’s Studio” discussion with a chamber performance of Thomas works at Eugene Public Library.

–Interactive presentations by Third Coast Percussion for students in Eugene/Springfield elementary/middle schools (schools TBD).

–A collaboration with two area high school bands (TBD) to rehearse and perform Thomas’ 2001 work “Magneticfireflies,” originally commissioned by a consortium of the nation’s top high school bands/wind ensembles. During her Eugene residencies, Thomas will conduct rehearsal visits and offer additional guidance to participating student ensembles. The project will culminate with a student performance at each school; ESA will seek further performance opportunities for participants.

–Lectures and master classes by the composer and guest artists for undergraduate/graduate music students at the UO School of Music and Dance (Venues TBD).

Project Media

Augusta Read Thomas Radiant Circle excerpt
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Radiant Earth is an orchestral work by Augusta Read Thomas, which ESA will likely perform the West Coast Premiere of in September 2017.

Augusta Read Thomas Resounding Earth Movement I Invocation excerpt
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Resounding Earth is the original piece by Augusta Read Thomas that Sonorous Earth is based on, performed by Third Coast Percussion

Adams Short Ride in a Fast Machine
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This is the April 2, 2016 performance by the Eugene Symphony of Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine, conducted by Marin Alsop as a part of a special concert entitled SymFest: Marin Alsop Celebrates Eugene.

Start and End Dates

07/01/201706/30/2018

Location

Eugene, Oregon

2 updates
Last update on June 1, 2018

Project Created By

In Collaboration With

Composer
Chicago, Illinois
Guest Artists
Chicago, Illinois
Co-Commissioners
Chicago, Illinois
Residency Partner

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