Composers Festival Spotlight: Augusta Read Thomas
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.