Archive for July 15th, 2013

Composers Festival Spotlight: Augusta Read Thomas

Augusta Read Thomas

It is a pleasure for everyone associated with the Mizzou New Music Intiative to welcome Augusta Read Thomas as one of the guest composers for the 2013 Mizzou International Composers Festival.

Thomas, 49, is University Professor of composition at the University of Chicago, and is only the 16th person ever to hold the title of University Professor. She was composer-in-residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from May 1997 through June 2006, a residency that culminated in the premiere of Astral Canticle, one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music. One of the most acclaimed composers of her generation, she has won praise for the dramatic, spontaneous quality of her work and her masterful use of instrumental color.

Born in Glen Cove, New York, Thomas studied composition with Jacob Druckman at Yale University, with Alan Stout and Bill Karlins at Northwestern University, and at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

From 1993 to 2001, she was an assistant professor, then associate professor of composition at the Eastman School of Music. In 2001, she became Wyatt Professor of Music at Northwestern University, serving there until 2006. In 2007-2008, Thomas was a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Music in the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago.

In addition to teaching in Chicago, she frequently undertakes short-term residencies in colleges, universities, and festivals across the United States and in Europe. For example, in March of this year Thomas served as guest composer for East Carolina University School of Music’s NewMusic@ECU Festival, and last month she was part of the composition faculty of June in Buffalo 2013. Both events featured masterclasses, workshops and performances of her works.

Also in March of this year, the Boston Symphony Orchestra premiered “Legend of the Phoenix,” a concerto written by Thomas on a commission from cellist Lynn Harrell and the BSO, and the third Thomas piece the BSO has premiered. For more about that work, check out the coverage from Boston’s NPR affiliate WBUR.

During her residency with the Chicago Symphony, Thomas premiered nine commissioned works, and also co-founded and curated the MusicNOW series. Her music has been championed by leading conductors including the CSO’s Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Oliver Knussen, Seiji Ozawa, Mstislav Rostropovich, Leonard Slatkin, David Robertson, Christoph Eschenbach, Ludovic Morlot, and Xian Zhang.

Thomas has had works commissioned by leading ensembles and organizations around the world, including Chanticleer, NDR [German Radio] Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, La Jolla Chamber Music Society, National Symphony, Radio France and the BBC Orchestra, Dallas Symphony, London and Boston Symphony Orchestras, Orchestre de Paris, BBC, Utah Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the ASCAP Foundation.

In addition to the numerous commercial recordings of her music available on major record labels, Thomas has released five of her own albums independently.

In May 2009, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, considered the highest formal recognition of artistic merit in the United States. Thomas has also been on the Board of Directors of the American Music Center since 2000, as well as on the boards and advisory boards of several chamber music groups.

You can hear samples of August Read Thomas’s music on her website. In the embedded video windows below, you can see and hear Thomas talking about her music and the creative process, as well as performances of several of her works.

“Earth Echoes,” a Franke Institute for the Humanities talk by Thomas on February 13, 2013 at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center. Thomas discusses her creative process and topics including rhythm, counterpoint, harmony, text setting, motivic development, organic transformation, nuance, color, improvisation, spirit, and gestalt.

Thomas talks more about the creative process and the inspiration for her violin duet “Double Helix.”

Thomas’ composition “Of Paradise and Light for String Orchestra,” played by the University of Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction Barbara Schubert on May 26. 2012.

Thomas’ “Cathedral Waterfall,” performed in June 2011 by pianist Nicolas Horvath

The University of Illinois New Music Ensemble plays Thomas’ second violin concerto “Carillon Sky.”

Percussionist Ruud Roelofsen playing Thomas’ “Silhouettes” at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels

Rachel Barton Pine introduces and performs “Caprice” in 2006. The piece was written by Thomas in 2004 as a wedding present for Rachel Barton Pine and Gregory Pine.

Composers Festival Spotlight: Greg Simon

Greg Simon

We start the week with a look at another of the resident composers for the 2013 Mizzou International Composers Festival. Greg Simon holds a B.A. from the University of Puget Sound and an M.M. from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and currently is pursuing a doctorate at the University of Michigan. Before arriving in Michigan, he served on the faculty at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Simon has studied composition with Kristin Kuster, Carter Pann, Daniel Kellogg, and Robert Hutchinson; and with Kevin Puts and Robert Aldridge at the Brevard Music Institute, where he was awarded a fellowship. His works have been performed or commissioned by the Corvallis Youth Symphony; the Playground Ensemble of Denver; the Fifth House Ensemble of Chicago; and groups in California, Washington, Oregon, West Virginia, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and more.

He has presented work at conferences for the American Band College, the College Band Directors’ National Association, the World Saxophone Congress, and the North American Saxophone Alliance, and has been featured in radio and digital broadcasts from Pendulum New Music and WFMT.

Simon has won the Edward Levy and George Lynn Prizes for excellence in composition from the University of Colorado, and received recognition for his works from the Pacific Chorale, CBDNA, the Fifth House Ensemble, and ASCAP. His piece Foolish Fire for wind ensemble, written for Loveland High School, has received more than 20 performances in ten different states since its Colorado premiere. His work also is featured on recordings by the California State University, Fullerton Wind Ensemble and the Fifth House Ensemble of Chicago.

Earlier this month, Simon was named the winner of the POLYPHONOS 2014 Composer Competition sponsored by the Seattle new music vocal ensemble The Esoterics. Meanwhile, his piece “Dragonfly,” for mallet trio, has been named the Grand Prize Winner of the 2013 TorQ Percussion Seminar Composition Competition, and will be premiered this week by the TorQ Percussion Quartet in a performance at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

A jazz trumpeter as well as composer, Simon has studied with Bill Lucas, Brad Goode, and Darmon Meader of the New York Voices. He has played with the Jodi-Renee Band, the Park Hill Brass, and others at jazz venues in Denver, Boulder and elsewhere. He is active as a proponent of new music for improvising musicians, and has performed as featured soloist in world premieres from composers Michael Theodore, Hunter Ewen, Liz Comninellis, and Kari Kraakevik.

You can hear samples of Greg Simon’s music on his website, and he also maintains an active presence on Twitter as @gregsimonmusic. .

In the embedded video window below, you can see and hear a performance of the first section of Three Portraits, a 2008 piece by Simon that he called “my attempt to combine my two sound-worlds, jazz and concert music.”

Each of the work’s three parts is inspired by and uses elements of a specific jazz standard. Part I, “Stella’s Dance,” is based on “Stella by Starlight” by Ned Washington and Victor Young. Part II, “In Memoriam,” is based on Joe Henderson’s “Recorda-me” and can be seen here; while part III, “Speaking of Love,” is inspired by “Secret Love” by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster, and can be seen here.

The performances were recorded at the University of Colorado by a group including Julia Barnett, flute; Kristen Denny, clarinet; Filip Lazovski, violin; Psyche Dunkhase, cello; Christopher Hatton, piano; and Adams Collins, percussion, with Michael Boone as conductor.

In keeping with the idea of spontaneous music-making, this clip shows a performance of Simon’s “Le Bateau et Le Soleil,” created in 2008 for Iron Composer. Adapting a notion from the TV cooking competition show Iron Chef, Iron Composer is a music competition held at the Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory of Music in Berea, Ohio, in which five composers are given just five hours to write a piece of music. This performance by the Monument Piano Trio helped Simon’s piece win third prize, as judged by David Gompper, James Arey & Bob Fischbach.

Simon’s “27,” as performed by Andrew Allen, tenor sax & electronics

“Kites at Seal Rock,” written by Simon as part of his 2009 Piano Quintet and used as the soundtrack to the final chapter of “Black Violet Act I: The Leagues of Despair.” “Black Violet…” is an original illustrated story/live music event with narrative and art by Ezra Claytan Daniels, produced in collaboration with the Chicago-based chamber group Fifth House Ensemble.

Follow the MICF on Facebook and Twitter

As the 2013 Mizzou International Composers Festival gets closer, you can get the latest news right up to the minute by following the Mizzou New Music Initiative on Facebook and Twitter.

The Missouri New Music Facebook page will have behind-the-scenes photos, links to media coverage of the Festival, and much more. To get updates from the page in your Facebook news feed, go to http://www.facebook.com/moNEWmusic and click the “Like” button on the right-hand side near the top.

Meanwhile, we’ll also be posting frequent updates, schedule information, and relevant links to the Mizzou New Music Twitter account. You can receive all the latest updates by following us at http://twitter.com/mizzounewmusic.