"a true virtuoso composer" The New Yorker
The music of Augusta Read Thomas (b. 1964 in New York) is nuanced, majestic, elegant, capricious, lyrical, and colorful — "it is boldly considered music that celebrates the sound of the instruments and reaffirms the vitality of orchestral music." (Philadelphia Inquirer)
In February 2015, music critic Edward Reichel wrote, "Augusta Read Thomas 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 — and say it in a way that is intelligent yet appealing and sophisticated."
The New York Times article of March 6, 2015 states that Thomas had the distinction of having her work performed more frequently in 2013-2014 than any other living ASCAP composer, according to statistics from the performing rights organization. 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."
A Grammy winner, her 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.
An influential teacher at Eastman, Northwestern, Tanglewood, and Aspen Music Festival, she is only the 16th person to be designated University Professor at the University of Chicago (one of only seven currently holding the title). Augusta said, "Teaching is a natural extension of my creative process and of my enthusiasm for the music of others."
Thomas was the longest-serving Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony, for Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez, from 1997 through 2006. This residency 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 orchestral works, but was also central in establishing the thriving MusicNOW series, through which she commissioned and programmed the work of many living composers.
Recent and upcoming commissions include those from the Boston Symphony, the Utah Symphony, Wigmore Hall in London, JACK quartet, Third Coast Percussion, Tanglewood, Spektral Quartet, Chicago Philharmonic, Eugene Symphony, the Danish Chamber Players, Notre Dame University, Janet Sung, Lorelei Vocal Ensemble, and the Fromm Foundation. She won the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, among many other coveted awards. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Ms. Thomas studied composition with Oliver Knussen at Tanglewood (1986, 1987, 1989); Jacob Druckman at Yale University (1988); Alan Stout and Bill Karlins at Northwestern University (1983-1987); and at the Royal Academy of Music in London (1989). She was a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University (1991-94), and a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College (1990-91). 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. She was elected Chair of the Board of the American Music Center, a volunteer position that ran from 2005 to 2008. She is University Professor (one of six University Professors) at The University of Chicago. Augusta was MUSICALIVE Composer-in-Residence with the New Haven Symphony, a national residency program of The League of American Orchestras and Meet the Composer. Augusta has been on the Board of the ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) for many years; is a member of the Advisory Committee of the Alice M. Ditson Fund; is on the Board of Trustees of The American Society for the Royal Academy of Music; is a Member of the Conseil Musical de la Foundation Prince Pierre de Monaco; and is on the Eastman School of Music's National Council.
Augusta Read Thomas founded the University of Chicago’s Center for Contemporary Composition; a dynamic, collaborative, and interdisciplinary environment for the creation, performance and study of new music and for the advancement of the careers of emerging and established composers, performers, and scholars.
Distinguished by its formation within an uncompromising, relentlessly searching, and ceaselessly innovative scholarly environment, which celebrates excellence and presents new possibilities for intellectual dialogue, the Center comprises ten integrated entities: Contempo, CHIME, visiting ensembles, distinguished guest composers, performances, recordings, research, student-led projects, workshops and postdoctoral fellowships.
"...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
Augusta Thomas has received prizes and awards from: the Siemens Foundation in Munich, ASCAP, BMI, the National Endowment for the Arts (1994, 1992, 1988), the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (2001, 1994, 1989), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Koussevitzky Foundation (1999), the New York Foundation for the Arts (1998), the John W. Hechinger Foundation, the Kate Neal Kinley Foundation, The Debussy Trio Music Foundation and Thomas van Straaten, Columbia University (Bearns Prize), the Naumburg Foundation, the Fromm Foundation (2011, 1996, 1992), the Barlow Endowment, Harriett Eckstein, the New York State Council for the Arts, and Chamber Music America; she received a prize in the French International Competition of Henri Dutilleux, The Rudolph Nissim Award from ASCAP, a Finalist Award in the Massachusetts Artists Fellowship Program, and the Indiana State University Orchestral Music Prize. She was awarded the Third Century Award from the Office of Copyrights and Patents in Washington, D.C. In 2001 she was named one of Chicago’s 40 under 40 by Crain’s Business Magazine.
Ms. Thomas was awarded fellowships from the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, the Rockefeller Foundation (Bellagio), the International Rotary Foundation, L'Ecole Normal in Fountainbleau, France, Tanglewood Music Center, the Gaudeamus Foundation, the Wellesley Composers Conference, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Aspen Music Festival and went twice to June in Buffalo. She was a Junior Fellow in the prestigious Society of Fellows at Harvard University between 1991 and 1994. She was elected and initiated as an Honorary Member of Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity in 1996.
In 2007, Ms. Thomas's composition, ASTRAL CANTICLE, was one of two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Music.
Augusta Read Thomas won the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra's Composer Award for 2015-16. This is the oldest award of its kind in the nation, intended "to recognize and honor living composers who reside in the US who are making a particularly significant contribution in the field of symphonic music, not only through their own creative efforts, but also as effective personal advocates of new approaches to the broadening of critical and appreciative standards." Former winners include Howard Hanson, William Schuman, Walter Piston, Morton Gould, Ned Rorem, David Del Tredici, John Corigliano, Joan Tower, and others.
The Sovereign Prince of Monaco awarded Augusta CHEVALIER of the Order of Cultural Merit. The insignia of this distinction was given by S.A.R. Princess of Hanover at the Prince's Palace on 18 November 2015.
Augusta is a passionate and devoted teacher. She is in very close touch with her students. Teaching is a natural extension of her creative process and of her avid enthusiasm for the music of others. She is a devoted listener to the music of others and as such has a broad and deep knowledge of the music of our time. For Augusta, working with students is a joy, a deeply felt commitment, and an integrated part of her creative existence. She is the 16th ever University Professor (one of five current University Professors) at The University of Chicago.
Augusta was an assistant, then associate professor of composition at the Eastman School of Music from 1993-2001, and from 2001 until 2006 was the Wyatt Professor of Music (Endowed Chair) at Northwestern University. She currently continues her involvement with Northwestern University by serving on the Dean's Music Advisory Board. In the summers she often teaches at the Tanglewood Music Center. Augusta was the Director of the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood in 2009. Frequently Ms. Thomas undertakes residencies in colleges, universities, and festivals across the country and in Europe. From time to time she teaches private composition lessons for advanced students. From 2009-2011 she taught and mentored 10 high school-aged composers in the state of Connecticut. Each composer had their new piece premiered by the New Haven Symphony in May 2011.
"Augusta Read Thomas's music mixes extraordinary clarity and elegance with a bold resonant vitality. Its inventiveness, its lyric turns seem almost magically sustained; and, unfaillingly, result in a beautiful immediacy." American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Citation when winning the Academy Award
The American Academy of Arts And Letters elected Augusta Read Thomas to membership. She was inducted in May 2009. The American Academy of Arts and Letters is an honor society of 250 architects, composers, artists, and writers. The honor of election is considered the highest formal recognition of artistic merit in the United States.
The citation, given at her induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in May 2009, reads as follows:
"Augusta Read Thomas's impressive body of works embodies unbridled passion and fierce poetry. Championed by such luminaries as Barenboim, Rostropovich, Boulez, and Knussen, she rose early to the top of her profession. Later, as an influential teacher at Eastman, Northwestern and Tanglewood, chairperson of the American Music Center, and the Chicago Symphony's longest-serving resident composer, she has become one of the most recognizable and widely loved figures in American Music."
Ms. Thomas lives in Chicago, IL.
In 2012, Augusta was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
G. Schirmer, Inc. is the exclusive publisher of Thomas' music from 1986- 2016; Nimbus Music Publishing is the exclusive publisher of her music from 2016 onward.
Her discography includes 75 commercially recorded CDs. Please visit recordings page for a complete list of the recordings.
Augusta envisioned, spearheaded and led EAR TAXI FESTIVAL, a 6-day-long new music festival, on October 5-10, 2016, celebrating the vital new music scene in Chicago. It incudes performances by the city's amazing new music ensembles and musicians, and features the music of the city's composers. The festival was made possible, in part, by major support from the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia University.
“Ms. Thomas was in control of every nuance in these vividly colorful pieces” The New York Times
Her music has been conducted by: Christoph Eschenbach, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Seiji Ozawa, Leonard Slatkin, Gerard Schwarz, George Manahan, Oliver Knussen, David Robertson, Lorin Maazel, George Benjamin, Thierry Fischer, Sir Andrew Davis, Christian Arming, Ludovic Morlot, Kanako Abe, Jeffrey Kahane, Jiří Bĕlohlávek, Hans Graf, Cliff Colnot, Marin Alsop, Xian Zhang, Andrey Boreyko, Mstislav Rostropovich, Bruno Ferrandis, Victor Yampolsky, Ken-David Masur, William Wiedrich, JoAnn Falletta, Grant Llewellyn, William Boughton, Gil Rose, John Nelson, Joana Carneiro, Earl Rivers, Delta David Gier, Tim Weiss, Hans Vonk, Mischa Santora, Markus Stenz, Dennis Russell Davies, Don Schleicher, Rand Steiger, Zhang Yi, Steven Jarvi, Jonathan Stockhammer, Kimcherie Lloyd, Emily Freeman Brown, Albert-George Schram, Frederick A. Speck, Mark Gibson, Jack Delaney, Kate Tamarkin, Robert Trevino, Hannu Lintu, Peter Lipari, Christopher Lyndon-Gee, Josephine Lee, Donald Hunsberger, Mark Laycock, Edwin Outwater, Norman Scribner, Michael Lewanski, Kirill Karabits, Hyo Kang, Kevin Field, Apo Hsu, Mariusz Smolij, Jonathan Yates, Susan McMane, Bradley Lubman, Jahja Ling, David Loebel, Orcenith Smith, Lawrence Leighton Smith, Mallory Thompson, Toshiyuki Shimada, Manfred Honeck, Morihiko Nakahara, Odaline de la Martinez, Christian Lindberg, Stuart Chafetz, Keith Lockhart, Alan Pierson, Jac Van Steen, Hugh Wolff, Gianpiero Taverna, David Gilbert, and Aaron Holloway-Nahum among others.
"alluring textures and timbres" The New York Times
Thomas's orchestral works have been performed by among others, the Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, London Symphony, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Fulcrum Point New Music Project, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of Paris, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, National Symphony, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Vienna in the Vienna Modern Festival, Strasbourg Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Orchestra of Radio France, Santa Rosa Symphony, Eugene Symphony, Chicago Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, New York Chamber Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, Louisville Orchestra, ORF-Vienna (Austrian Radio Orchestra), Residentie Orchestra of The Hague, Houston Symphony, New Haven Symphony, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Holland Symphonia, Bochumer Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony, Lutoslawski Philharmonic, New Japan Philharmonic in Tokyo, Cleveland Chamber Symphony, Aurora Orchestra, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Washington Choral Arts Society, Soli Deo Gloria, Virtuosi Players, Swedish Chamber Orchestra in Orebro, Marin Symphony, Syracuse Youth Orchestra, Columbus (GA) Symphony, Women's Philharmonic, Boston Civic Orchestra, Long Beach Symphony, Swedish Wind Ensemble, Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra, New York Youth Symphony (First Hearing Commission), Concord Symphony, Memphis Symphony, Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphony, Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of the South Bay, and the Virtuosi Orchestra.
Chamber music works have been performed by the Aspen Music Festival, the Tanglewood Music Festival, Chanticleer, Caramoor Music Festival, St. Paul Ballet, Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, the Parker Quartet, the Argus Quartet, the Eroica Trio, Spektral quartet, Dal Niente Ensemble, ICE Ensemble, Third Coast Percussion, JACK quartet, the NOW Ensemble, Alarm Will Sound, Civitas Ensemble, Riot Ensemble, the New Millenium Ensemble, Amernet Quartet, the Norton Building Series, Sasha Cooke, Jennifer Koh, Joel Fan, Nathan Giem, Sejong Soloists, Nathan Gunn, Twyla Robinson, Heidi Grant Murphy, Christine Brandes, Christine Brewer, Lucy Shelton, Tony Arnold, Claire Booth, the Stony Brook Contemporary Music Ensemble, the San Francisco Contemporary Chamber Players, ETHEL string quartet, the Network for New Music, the Contemporary Chamber Players at the University of Illinois, the Indiana State University Contemporary Ensemble, the Green Umbrella Series, the Syracuse Society for New Music, the Fischer Duo, Heinrich Schiff, Catherine Tait, the Kapell Trio, the Debussy Trio, The Wellesley Composers Conference at the Miller Theater in NY, Trio West, The Lydian String Quartet, Eastman Brass, Jamal Rossi, Axiom Brass Quintet, Laurel Ann Maurer, the Lions Gate Trio, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, John Marcellus, Scott Kluksdahl, Carol Rodland, Judy Siebert, Laura Frautschi, Bonita Boyd, Nicholas Goluses, the Core Ensemble, the Mendelssohn String Quartet, as well as individual soloists and various university ensembles.
“Augusta Read Thomas writes precisely calibrated music of refined beauty. Her works are in the repertory of several A-list players and ensembles.” David Weininger, Boston Globe
EOS for Orchestra, Thierry Fischer conducting the Utah Symphony. HELIX SPIRALS for string quartet “in celebration Meselson-Stahl experiment,” commissioned by Jeanne Guillemin, premiered by the Parker String Quartet at Harvard University. SELENE, MOON CHARIOT RITUALS for octet: percussion quartet and string quartet premiered by Jack Quartet and Third Coast Percussion as part of a “portrait concert” at miller theatre of Columbia University. Co-commissioned by the Tanglewood Music Center in honor of its 75th Anniversary Season, with generous support from Deborah and Philip Edmundson; and by Miller Theatre at Columbia University; and by Third Coast Percussion with the generous support of Sidney K. Robinson. DAPPLED THINGS for men’s choir, commissioned by Notre Dame University to honor the tenth anniversary of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. OF BEING IS A BIRD for soprano and ensemble, Nick Collon conducting the Aurora Orchestra with Claire Booth, solo soprano. PRISMS OF LIGHT, SAXOPHONE CONCERTO premiered by the New haven Symphony, Frederick L. Hemke, soloist, William Boughton Conducting. The Boston Symphony, with generous support from Bill and Solange Brown, commissioned CELLO CONCERTO #3 for cellist Lynn Harrell, which premiered with Christoph Eschenbach, conducting. The National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing commissioned a HARVEST DRUM for orchestra. The Koussevitzky Music Foundation at the Library of Congress commissioned EARTH ECHOES, Homage to Gustav Mahler, for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, with Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano soloist and Nathan Gunn, baritone soloist, which premiered in Carnegie Hall. AUREOLE for orchestra, for the DePaul University Orchestra premiered in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, Cliff Colnot, conducting.
Additionally, Augusta wrote a work entitled SERENADE for chamber orchestra, commissioned by the Shedd Aquarium for the Seahorse Symphony exhibit, which was recorded on CD by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and which is playing as a tape loop in the Seahorse exhibit for many years.
“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.” Donald Rosenberg of Gramophone
In addition to 75 CDs of her music that have been released by commercial record companies, Thomas has also self-produced five recordings, together representing excellent performances of 23 of her compositions. The five CDs, more information on which can be found on the Recordings page, are:
Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone
"...Thomas' music from the outset [has] clarity of conception and precision of gesture (whether in the briefest of instrumental miniatures or in large-scale orchestral works), which act as the focus of her often intricate textures and iridescent harmonies — thereby ensuring that her work exudes an immediacy and a communicativeness whatever its degree of complexity and dissonance."
"Another reason why Thomas' music has been easy to underrate is its sheer consistency. There are few minor or peripheral works in her now sizeable catalogue, while the achievement of her major pieces is seldom outstripped by their ambition. Whereas others of her contemporaries, moreover, have tended either to fulfill their high-profile commissions with a uniformity that borders on dullness, or to attempt changes in stylistic direction with an obviousness that borders on the superficial, Thomas has stayed true to those principles evident in her earliest acknowledged works — so making the trajectory of her output one of incremental and subtle evolution, which in turn enhances its sense of being an integrated and self-sustaining unity."
Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise blog (music critic for The New Yorker) "Augusta Read Thomas's recent Jubilee is an electric, joyous piece."
Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone
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.
"So many artistic ideas percolate in Augusta Read Thomas's brain that the listener almost needs to take a series of big breaths to absorb them all. Fortunately, this new disc of chamber works demonstrates that the American composer's music is striking in concept, texture and timbre. No danger, in other words, of anyone being tempted to stop listening. Thomas's brainy brand of modernism may not be for every taste but her music reveals a lively, probing mind allied to a beating heart."
"Poetry often inspires this composer, as the four RUMI SETTINGS for violin and cello vividly reflect. The instruments evoke the emotions and images in the 800-year-old texts. There conversations are harrowing and tender, pensive and fierce. SIX PIANO ETUDES, presented in pairs throughout the disk, are piquant and mysterious explorations of rhythm, motion and keyboard colors. Thomas achieves a kaleidoscope of shapes and shading with clusters, terraced dynamics and myriad other devices."
"There is nothing austerely contemporary about INCANTATIONS, a piece for solo violin that ventures through wistful and desolate territory, or another work for the instrument, PULSAR, which makes the most of compact materials. Two cello works also speak in animated, expressive voice: the solo BELLS RING SUMMER, a tone-poem of poignant gestures, repeated notes, and dramatic extremes; and CHANT, in which the cello teams with the piano in a series of ruminative and pungent dialogues."
"In orchestral works, operas and here in two intimate pieces, Thomas shows a keen ability to employ texts in passionate, unyielding settings. The brief BUBBLE: RAINBOW - SPIRIT LEVEL is an apt 95th birthday present for Elliott Carter. The disc's eponymous work, PRAIRIE SKETCHES, places a solo soprano in shimmering relationships with a small instrumental ensemble and two sopranos who occasionally echo or compliment the soloist's lines."
"The members of the Callisto Ensemble and colleagues advocate strongly for Thomas's uncompromising art. The performances are models of cohesion, character and detail."
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune "If the Boulez works by extension, Thomas' "songs of love and passion" work by accretion — layering a colorful, often sensuous array of sonorities from 18 strings, winds and percussion under the ecstatic leaps and lamenting descents of her lyrical, expressionistic vocal lines. Thomas' texts jump across the centuries, forming a poetic patchwork."
Justin Davidson, New York Newsday
"And today there is a new cohort of composers who share with their modernist predecessors a particular seriousness and passion, an utter lack of irony and, above all, a belief that profound music requires an active mind to be properly heard, not just a passive set of ears. Augusta Read Thomas, the 37-year-old composer-in-residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, chooses elusive titles, suggestive of obscure rites and private cosmologies: ORBITAL BEACONS, RING OUT WILD BELLS, CEREMONIAL and ECLIPSE MUSINGS. Thomas writes music that is inflamed but not obvious. Her vinelike ideas grow and propagate, hiding the framework underneath. In her 1999 cello concerto for David Finckel, RITUAL INCANTATION, the cello begins like a preacher, eliciting murmurs of agreement from a small group of instruments clustered at the front of the stage. The harmonies bristle and the message is indistinct, but the scene has an unmistakable air of theatricality and impassioned grandeur. Gradually, the rest of the orchestra is drawn in by the cello's rhetoric, until it becomes a vast resonating chamber, echoing, amplifying, colorizing and embroidering what the soloist has uttered."
"Other instruments, too, develop solo flights, and the texture becomes more and more rococo, full of trumpet calls, bass excursions and triangle tremolos. But the music always resolves back to the focal cello. However distended the melody, however perplexing the chords, this is ultimately an old-fangled piece — even Brahms might have nodded at the balance of sounds, the heroic eloquence, the measured unfolding of a narrative and the symphonic sense of gravitas."
"And yet Thomas might bridle at such an antique reference. "Modernism to me is about always looking forward, seeking the new, treasuring the unexpected, loving the abstract," she says. "It has to do with things that are in transition, things that are fugitive. I'm trying to pursue some unknown future. That's why modernism has to have hope. If you're going to build something brand new, you have to have some hope that it's out there — or that anyone cares."
Richard Buell, The Boston Globe "It seems that with every new Thomas piece one has occasion to remark that this is a gifted young composer who will be heard from. It happens again."
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune "Thomas' music, particularly her orchestral music, fairly explodes with an extroverted boldness of utterance audiences and musicians alike find challenging yet immediate. It's music that doesn't sound like anybody else's — music that insists you pay attention."
Robert Maycock, The Independent, London "Thomas has more experience with orchestra than others and it shows in an unmistakable air of knowing what she wants to say and how to say it. Balances work, blends succeed. There is a powerful lyrical instinct at work, resulting in some well sustained melodic lines."
John Ardoin, Dallas Morning News "This young composer...already has amassed many honors, commissions and hearings by major orchestras. It is not difficult to understand why. Her music.. is evocative and shows a well-developed feeling for, and a mastery of, orchestral colors."
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times "Ms. Thomas has vivid ear for instrumental color."
Daniel Webster, The Philadelphia Inquirer "Thomas' piece [GLASS MOON]...was about 11 minutes of boldly considered music that celebrated the sound of the instruments and seemed to reaffirm the vitality of orchestral music in general."
Wes Blomster, American Record Guide "...Thomas has created in [LIGEIA] an original and powerful work — intense yet aglow with lovely lyric undercurrents."