"[Sonorous Earth] is big, bold and public — a joyous affirmation of commonality across world cultures... Imagine myriad points of light, or multiple showers of shiny metallic objects, flashing across the cosmos, and you get a sense of what this arresting and evocative music sounds like."
— Chicago Tribune (John von Rhein)
"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."
— Chicago Tribune (John von Rhein)
"Ms. Thomas has vivid ear for instrumental color."
— The New York Times (Anthony Tommasini)
"Thomas, a prodigious talent, is the most accessible ambassador of the new modernism, and the piece, a fierce and jagged take on the love poetry of Sappho, Neruda, and Flaubert, among others, shines with passion and color."
— The New Yorker Magazine (Russell Platt)
"Thomas' piece...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."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer (Daniel Webster)
"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."
— Dallas Morning News (John Ardoin)
"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."
— The Independent, London (Robert Maycock)
"The Thomas SINFONIA CONCERTANTE is indeed a winner, a one-movement showpiece that begins with a burst of energy from the saxophone, which retires to mull over its options before working up the musical material to a stunning conclusion."
— New York Magazine (Peter G. Davis)
"[VIGIL] is one of the most compelling new works this listener has heard recently."
— Boston Herald (Ellen Pfeifer)
"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."
— The Boston Globe (Richard Buell)
"...Thomas has created in [LIGEIA] an original and powerful work — intense yet aglow with lovely lyric undercurrents."
— American Record Guide (Wes Blomster)
"WORDS OF THE SEA [is] a vibrant series of aquatic images that had no difficulty standing alongside favorite pieces by Barber and Prokofiev. WORDS OF THE SEA is a healthy example of a work from a composer who is smitten with the chameleonlike qualities of the orchestra and knows how to exploit its myriad facets."
— Cleveland Plain Dealer (Donald Rosenberg)
"Bells were ringing last night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The program opened with the world premiere of the brilliantly imaginative, rich-textured RING OUT, WILD BELLS TO THE WILD SKY of Augusta Read Thomas, a setting of selected texts by Alfred Lord Tennyson, notably "In Memoriam" and "Crossing the Bar." It began, appropriately, with prolonged bell sounds, not only on metallic percussion but also in the choral voices that held the first syllable, "Ring," with a bell-like resonance...using brilliant orchestration and choral fireworks (she) gave soprano Carmen Pelton rich opportunities to display her clear, silver-bright soprano tone. Thomas's work seems destined for a busy future with choruses that, like the Choral Arts Society, can depend on virtuoso technique and strong emotional expression."
— The Washington Post (Joseph McLellan)
[CD Review] THOMAS: IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT
Brandes; Chicago MusicNOW Ensemble, Boulez. English text.
"Augusta Read Thomas (b. 1964), a widely-praised young composer with a long list of prestigious awards and commissions to her credit, is currently the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Mead Composer-in-Residence. IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT, her nineteen-minute cycle of songs for soprano and chamber ensemble, received its premiere in December, 2002 as part of the CSO's MusicNOW series. The sixteen texts, adroitly chosen and interwoven by Thomas, range from a single phrase by the 9th century writer Ono no Komachi ("Ablaze with desire . . . ") to the full text of e. e. cummings' "somewhere I have never traveled," and also include contributions by Sappho, Flaubert, Hopkins, Neruda and both Brownings. All concern themselves with human passion. Thomas' settings are appropriately fervent and hot-blooded, with flashing, tumultuous gestures couched in a distinctively expressive brand of dissonance. There are passages of searing beauty but nothing even remotely sentimental or clichéd. Best of all, the piece is unceasingly engaging on an emotional level; every phrase — vocal or instrumental — is filled with meaning. The orchestral colors Thomas draws from the expert eighteen-member MusicNOWEnsemble are fresh and arresting, forcefully layered but with a neo-classic transparency. Pierre Boulez at the helm contributes mightily to the immaculate clarity of the performance. Soprano Christine Brandes, for whom the work was composed, gives an agile, virtuosic and earnestly human performance. It's a tribute to her command of this difficult piece that one never becomes aware of its considerable technical demands.
Thomas has written numerous works for orchestra, but none has been commercially recorded. She produced this disc herself, which is to say, she paid the fees for the musicians, engineers, and packaging. In the absence of a commercial distributor, the disc's availability is limited to Amazon.com and the Chicago Symphony website, www.symphonystore.com. We have reached a sorry state of affairs indeed when such a manifestly gifted and accomplished composer has to finance her own recordings to get her music heard. The disc's very short playing time is reflected in the reduced price ($10.99). Is it worth going online and paying eleven bucks to hear nineteen minutes of music for voice and chamber orchestra by Augusta Read Thomas? Definitely."
— Opera News (Joshua Rosenblum)
[CD Review] AUGUSTA READ THOMAS: 'PRAIRIE SKETCHES'
ART 19912005; CD
"Fortunate and few are the contemporary composers whose works have been documented in a timely manner. But Augusta Read Thomas provides a shining example of self-reliance. She is among the most commissioned and most performed of American composers, yet her representation on disc long lagged her prolific output.
Two years ago Ms. Thomas took matters into her own hands, bravely financing and releasing a disc of two pieces for large ensembles. Last June she released that disc with an additional work; now she follows it with a collection of chamber pieces.
Ms Thomas's compositional idiom is one of modernist complexity, yet the sheer delight she takes in exploring instrumental sonorities proves infectious. Members of the Callisto Ensemble, a string quartet, bring out poetry and drama in a series of brief pieces for one or two players.
RUMI SETTINGS in particular evokes the Persian mystic's characteristic ecstasy in a passionate dialog for violin and cello. Amy Briggs Dissanayake offers elegant, precisely shaded accounts of Ms. Thomas's attractive Piano Etudes, presented in three contrasting. interrelated pairs.
Ms. Thomas once again demonstrates her knack for illuminating text with colorful, evocative gestures in two works for soprano and an ensemble of winds, strings, piano and percussion.
"BUBBLE: RAINBOW - (spirit level)," composed for Elliott Carter's 95th birthday, is a bristling, eruptive setting of passages by Elizabeth Bishop and Emily Dickenson. In PRAIRIE SKETCHES I, which includes harp and a chorus of three female voices, Ms. Thomas revels in the poet Suzann Zimmerman's paean to a sweeping Kansas landscape with music by turns radiant and ethereal.
Tony Arnold, a soprano who specializes in contemporary music, handles Ms. Thomas's leaping vocal lines with intensity and assurance."
— The New York Times, Arts & Leisure; Sunday, December 10, 2006 (Steve Smith)
"(a composer) with one common characteristic: Talent for creating musical gestures far bigger, more colorful and varied than the means at hand would suggest. Her PASSION PRAYERS demands sweat and earnestness from its cello soloist.... The work suggests a deep interior experience that hasn't been fully externalized. Skill is evident, with unmistakable decisiveness."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer (David Patrick Stearns)
About FUGITIVE STAR for string quartet:
"Thomas' new piece, dramatically gripping through its tight, 12 minute length, reiterates the young American composer's abrasive but somehow accessible style – she confronts listeners with hostility and struggle, yet wins us over."
— Los Angeles Times (Daniel Cariaga)
"Thomas has said some agreeably uncompromising things about the business of serious composers in a commercial world; she is in favor of musical independence and does not look to musical schlock and pop tunes for redemption in the concert hall. More power to her. Her Concerto for Orchestra, titled ORBITAL BEACONS, is duly uncompromising in its harmonies, its large aggregates of sound and its tenacious refusal to dip into the treacly reservoir of familiar habits and melodic ideas for inspiration. It was dedicated to the arch-modernist Pierre Boulez, premiered by him and, it seems, influenced by his aesthetic as well."
— Washington Post (Philip Kennicott) Friday March 30, 2001
[Headline] ELEGANT COMPOSITION PAYS TRIBUTE TO MAY 4
"Thomas' new composition held its own next to Beethoven's iconic one. SONG IN SORROW is an elegant work of extraordinary focus and clarity with a wealth of well-chosen texts. Thomas has an ear for the sensuous qualities of the orchestra. Her modernity is organic and never tries too hard to shock."
— Akron Beacon Journal, Monday July 3, 2000 (Elaine Guregian)
"Works like Thomas' taut, haunting concerto (AURORA) grow out of Mahler's universe. Barenboim's long sustained single notes resonated in Symphony Center's large space like luminous stars."
— The Sun Times (Wynne Delacoma) September 22, 2000
"(In AURORA, for piano and chamber orchestra) bits of Bart&ocaute;k, Webern and Messiaen here, a quasi-jazz riff there. The five continuous sections set delicate and luminous sounds alongside flurries of spiky, eruptive rhythmic energy in slow-fast alternation. Thomas wrote AURORA so that every softly resonating piano chord, every shimmering sting of instrumental color, would register. Barenboim and company took obvious pains to realize this fineness of detail and were applauded for their efforts, as was the composer."
— Chicago Tribune (John von Rhein) September 23, 2000
"The programming of this disc (CHRONICLES OF DISCOVERY: AMERICAN MUSIC FOR FLUTE AND GUITAR Albany Troy #379) saves the high point for last. Augusta Read Thomas's ECLIPSE MUSINGS, in which the soloists are joined by chamber ensemble, is a real find. In just over 10 minutes, the composer sends the soloists on a journey through a multicolored landscape, created with great economy by her tiny ensemble, in her wonderful two-part concerto."
— Fanfare (John Story) September/October 2000
"The second was a passionate and impeccably crafted and conceived new quartet, FUGITIVE STAR (2000), written for and dedicated to the Avalon Quartet by the young but by no means unknown Augusta Read Thomas. Though only eight minutes in length, Augusta Read Thomas' FUGITIVE STAR was the high point of the program. It is not only a stunning piece but was stunningly played, this time by the Avalon Quartet alone. The work is simple and direct, stretching as a single gesture from beginning to end. It profited from the timbral breadth of the Avalon, and their commitment to the work is understandable."
— San Francisco Classical Voice (Keith Chapin) 2001
"Boulez led the premiere of Thomas's work and listening to the electrically bright, percussively scintillating instrumental texture of IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT, the affinity becomes clear. Thomas's piece is arresting and [her] style of text-setting is traditional and expressive. The work's structure is ingenious, too. Thomas has selected 16 lyric fragments spanning virtually the entire history of poetry and woven them together so that the seams essentially disappear. The music takes shape from the texts' progression of moods and styles, and the result sits halfway between a traditional song-cycle and a dramatic cantata. Very strongly recommended."
— Gramophone (Andrew Farach-Colton)
"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 INCANTATIONS, 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."
— Newsday Newspaper (Justin Davidson) June 2001
"Credit Augusta Read Thomas, the CSO's composer-in-residence, with translating her own enthusiasm for new music into a consistent artistic vision."
— Chicago Tribune (John von Rhein)
[Headline] TANGLEWOOD MUSIC FEST CLOSES WITH A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING
"Augusta Read Thomas composed her ORBITAL BEACONS for Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony, a circumstance compelling ambition, a quality never in short supply with this composer. The striking acoustical result of an ingenious reseating of the orchestra was to create revolving orbits of sound, or something like the sweeping of a lighthouse beacon around the orchestra. Each of the seven movements is a response to a different starry constellation and the mythology behind it. One was struck, as always, by the composer's imaginative ear and her virtuoso skills. ...the central movement about Leda and the swan is strong in image, atmosphere, and musical storytelling."
— Boston Globe (Richard Dyer) August 17, 2001
[Headline] WINTER CHAMBER MUSIC FEST IS BEST GAME IN TOWN
"... Augusta Read Thomas' RUMI SETTINGS for violin and viola, played by the Kavafian sisters last Tuesday. Based on a poem by Persian mystic Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-73) — founder of the Sufi order of whirling dervishes — this brilliant color study shares with its poetic inspiration a mystical power to move that transcends spoken language and enters the realm of pure feeling. It was passionate, bold and expressive at times, quietly edgy to frantic at others, and transcendental as smoke as thematic material passed from instrument to instrument in the same range to accent subtle differences in color. A moment of silence separated its four movements, which closely followed the spirit of Rumi's text in the same way that the Schoenberg followed the emotional contours of Richard Dehmel's poem. In the end, I felt both moved and anxious to hear it again. It went by too quickly to fully drink in. But then, so poetry takes multiple readings to grasp with any real meaning, yet it's the blur of imagery and the emotions it evokes within us that make that journey so worthwhile. The same is true of Thomas' RUMI SETTINGS."
— Tucson Citizen Newspaper (Daniel Buckley) March 14, 2002
[Headline] KNUSSEN AT 50 CONCERT, QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL
"Other composers turned in pieces almost as fizzy or ingeniously scored as OK's own. You needed sunglasses for Augusta Read Thomas's LIGHT THE FIRST LIGHT OF EVENING."
— The Independnet Newspaper (Geoff Brown) June 14, 2002
[Headline] A CLASS ACT COMES TO THE PROMS
Chicago SO/ Barenboim, London Brass Royal Albert Hall, London
"AURORA is a concerto for piano and small orchestra by the CSO's current composer-in-residence Augusta Read Thomas, written for Barenboim to conduct from the keyboard. Slowly decaying notes in the piano are contrasted with sharply attacked chordal sequences; it moves towards a reconciliation of the two ideas and then unexpectedly transcends them with a female voice that emerges to pronounce a final, mysterious benediction. Conception and execution are beautifully judged; Barenboim's and his orchestra's performance (the UK premiere) was exemplary."
— Guardian Unlimited (Andrew Clements) Monday September 10, 2001
In May 2001, Augusta won an ACADEMY AWARD from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. The citation read:
"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, unfailingly, result in a beautiful immediacy."
"Augusta Read Thomas's PASSION PRAYERS is an extraordinarily lustrous and intensely mystical piece with a radiant shimmer that recalls the music of Olivier Messiaen, although Thomas's means are her own. The chief mediator is the cello, which draws the other six instruments into its ecstatic orbit."
— Boston Globe (Richard Dyer) July 24, 2002
"Thomas' IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT, a collection of texts about love and loss, was no less intense, but her palette was broader and its passion more wild. Brandes often rode triumphantly with the full ensemble, her expressive voice plunging and soaring amid the constantly shifting, glowing textures. IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT is a rhapsodic work, its headlong rush tempered and refined by Thomas' impeccable ear for matching text and music."
— Chicago Sun Times (Wynne Delacoma)
"If the Boulez works by extension, Thomas' IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT 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."
— Chicago Tribune (John von Rhein)
About CHANTING TO PARADISE in NDR performance:
Die Welt wrote that "the interaction between the soloist and the choir is masterful, and the orchestral structure in between remains transparent, even when the manifold lines seem to devour each other."
— Zur aktuellen Channel-Übersicht Tagesübersicht
[Headline] PHILLY ORCH PREMIERES A.R. THOMAS WORK
"The lynchpin of Eschenbach's first program of the year here was the U. S. premiere of Augusta Read Thomas' CHANTING TO PARADISE, which he commissioned and then premiered two months ago with his Hamburg forces. Thomas was hailed in a mid-concert speech by Eschenbach Jan. 10 as "one of the best composers not only in the country, but in the world."
While CHANTING TO PARADISE scored for an orchestra rich in percussion as well as harp, solo soprano, and chorus merits a hearing, it leaves an equivocal impression. Thomas is highly skilled in matters of shaping orchestral texture and detail. Mahler, Debussy, and early Stravinsky were cited by her as models, and a striking solo for English horn indeed evokes "Das Lied von der Erde." Britten would seem another model from some choral writing recalling "Peter Grimes" and "Billy Budd." Midway through the work, attention focuses on a plangent and moving cadenza for cello (the excellent William Stokking), joined in turn by the concertmaster (David Kim) and the soprano soloist (German lyric soprano Simone Nold), creating the work's most involving melodic development.
The solo vocal writing recalled Mahler's for the soprano in the Second and Fourth symphonies, with occasional overlays of Berg's "Altenberg Lieder" and "Lulu," as Nold pulled those vertiginous phrase launches out of the air and popped out some high D-naturals toward the work's end."
— MusicalAmerica.com (David Shengold) January 17, 2003
[CD REVIEW] American Music in the 1990s [Fischer Duo GASPARO GSCD-349/www.gasparo.com]
"Somewhat more elusive is CHANT for cello and piano by Augusta Read Thomas (composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony). It is fleeting yet intense, sudden outbursts erupting then fading. The duo maintains the tension throughout, sketching the work's finely crafted and bountifully expressive cello lines with delicate artistry."
— The Strad Magazine (Catherine Nelson) May 2001
[Headline] YOUNG COMPOSERS POISED TO BECOME OLD FAVOURITES
Soundstreams Canada, at Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto on Thursday
"Thomas is one of the most performed contemporary composers in the world these days. ... without denying (her) new music roots, provided us with works that were attractive and accessible, calling on emotional responses that were powerful and familiar. Read Thomas, in her first Canadian concert, established her credentials as a composer to watch with her string quartet, RISE CHANTING, based on a brief poem by the epigrammatic Emily Dickinson. By assigning a specific note to the 100 or so words that make up the poem, and then expanding on those notes to weave a larger musical texture out of them, Read Thomas provided us with a portrait of Dickinson herself, letting us hear the full emotional range of this elusive artist.
...all of Read Thomas's works share an enviable characteristic. Although firmly written within the rhetorical tradition of Western music, they were new without being novelties, original without forcing our attention on their extremes. They were simply works of musical art."
— The Globe and Mail (Robert Harris) Saturday, February 8
OWED TO A DREAM COME TRUE" (about Collage New Music Ensemble's performance of PASSION PRAYERS in Boston)
"PASSION PRAYERS by Augusta Read Thomas uniquely allows the cellist to step very much to the fore. This is in fact a miniature cello concerto with small ensemble accompaniment. The orchestration and instrumental writing here is wonderfully effective; everything sounds like the proverbial million bucks. And she is mindful of structure as well, casting this work as a set of variations which exhibits the ideal paring of maximal contrast and minimal motivic content. Expressive and passionate, it's a fine listen."
— The New Music Connoisseur Magazine(David Cleary) Spring 2003
PREVIEW ARTICLE: FACES OUT OF THE CROWD
"The L.A. Philharmonic has been anointing more of its own principal and even rank-and-file players for a stressful honor: to serve as soloists.
It isn't usually very easy to find Ralph Sauer among the Los Angeles Philharmonic's musicians. When the full orchestra assembles at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, he's way in the back, four rows of violinists, cellists and others in front of him, and just the percussionists behind. Even his bright gold trombone is hardly visible.
That changes this week when he heads center stage for a Philharmonic concert program spotlighting orchestra members. Not only will Sauer play the world premiere of Augusta Read Thomas' CANTICLE WEAVING, commissioned for him, but Brahms' Double Concerto will be played by Philharmonic violinist Bing Wang and cellist Ben Hong.
Think baseball, suggests trombonist Sauer. "Normally my job as an orchestra musician is more akin to a relief pitcher who doesn't play all that much. Sometimes, in a symphony by Brahms, I don't play at all until the ending. But being a soloist is more like being a starting pitcher: The pacing and endurance are totally different."
Sauer and others refer to that change as challenging, and that is exactly what their music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen, says he had in mind. "For the players, it is great to have this challenge and be measured against professional and legendary soloists. It is stimulating and helps their artistic growth."
Other instruments, like the trombone, are far less frequently heard in symphonies, particularly in concertos in which musicians solo with the orchestra. "Composers usually write concertos for violin, piano, possibly cello and very rarely anything else," says Salonen. "There are lots of instruments that desperately need new repertoire.
"There are no Beethoven or Brahms concertos for the trombone, for instance. Ralph Sauer is one of the best-known trombone players in the world. I felt it was time for him to be in the spotlight, and it would be nice to commission a great new piece for him. It makes perfect sense for us to commission for our top players music that, hopefully, at the end of day, will enter the repertoire."
Sauer, who last played a trombone concerto with the Philharmonic in 1979, easily recalls the moment backstage when Salonen first mentioned to him a series of concertos being commissioned for "the more neglected solo instruments." The orchestra's principal trombone player, Sauer received samples of music from several composers and chose that of Augusta Read Thomas, the composer whose piece he'll premiere this week. "When I heard her music," he said, "I was attracted to the language and beauty of her writing."
"I received the first installment of the piece maybe four months ago," says Sauer. What he discovered was that Read Thomas wrote big, literally. "The pages were more than one foot wide and more than three feet tall. They were huge. I received about 20 of those and, a few weeks later, another 20, then a third and final installment. It was about 70 pages and weighed five pounds. I was rather overwhelmed."
Sauer hasn't met Thomas, currently composer in residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, although he says they've exchanged quite a few e-mails.
Sauer calls the 22-minute piece both "an epic poem with this very colorful accompaniment" and "an oration for me with an orchestra." Thomas told him she felt the music had "the perfume" of Messiaen, early Stravinsky, Boulez and Tommy Dorsey, says Sauer, "among others." "
— The Los Angeles Times (Barbara Isenberg), April 2003
[Headline] SONG FOR A TROMBONE: "CANTICLE WEAVING" LETS ITS SOLOIST AND THE LOS ANGELES PHILHARMONIC EXPLORE A RANGE OF EMOTIONS WITH DIGNITY.
"In CANTICLE WEAVING, the concerto for trombone commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic from Augusta Read Thomas, the trombone maintains a noble bearing but is not afraid to swing. In listening to its premiere, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Saturday night, I heard in the solo line the commanding voice of an uncommon leader — astute, steadfast, courtly and a good dancer. Kofi Annan came to mind.
CANTICLE WEAVING begins with a sweeping rhetorical melody for the trombone that contains a couple of racy touches in its flicker of shimmying rhythm and suggestive grace notes. The orchestra through this first part, titled "Star Song," teases and entices the aristocratic soloist. Thomas, an enthusiastic composer born in 1964, has quick compositional responses. Every minute or two, she hits an orchestral refresh button, placing the soloist in a new environment. The winds might chirp excitedly upon hearing a three-note phrase from the trombone, whereas the strings might respond to the soloist with ghostly nature sounds.
Nothing lasts very long, and the score is animated with exhortations for the players to be "blazing and passionate" or "spunky and intense" or "rhapsodic and lyrical." Thomas constantly asks them to speed up or slow down. But nothing comes out of nowhere; the orchestra regularly takes off from something heard in the trombone. And through it all, the trombone rises to these fleeting emotions without ever losing its dignity. It was written to both Sauer's and Salonen's strengths, and the performance was outstanding. Sauer maintained the unceasingly eloquent lyricism, while Salonen encouraged a frisky virtuosity from the Philharmonic."
— The Los Angeles Times (Mark Swed), April 2003
"The Philharmonic busied itself with the premiere of a trombone concerto by Augusta Read Thomas, written for and played by Ralph Sauer – the latest in the series of solo works commissioned by the orchestra for its principals. There are more trombone concertos around than you'd think — even one by Rimsky-Korsakov — but this agreeable newcomer may be somewhat different, perhaps even a cut above the average. In their e-mail correspondence – which is how pieces often get composed nowadays.
Sauer requested a lyrical kind of piece from Thomas, specifically one with a notable absence of that most timeworn of trombone mannerisms, the glissandos familiar from burlesque-theater bands and circuses. There are, indeed, no trombone slides in Gustie Thomas' new piece, and a rather appealing amount of melody. Some of the latter teeters on the edge of jazziness, and does so quite nicely. The piece bears the title CANTICLE WEAVING; I'm not sure about "Canticle," but the "weaving," the way the soloist moves in and out of the ensemble, I found most attractive. The L.A. Times' Mark Swed found that the tone of the work put him in mind of the U.N.'s Kofi Annan; maybe so, but I think I heard a little Bing Crosby, too.
"I hate dead music," said the composer in her lively and informative pre-concert talk, and she should have no fears on that score from CANTICLE WEAVING. Brahms' Double Concerto, which ended the program, is about as dead as any music I can name...The program began with early Richard Strauss beer-garden, the one-movement Serenade for Winds, which, being early Strauss and composed for a Mozartian ensemble, some people mistake for youthful exuberance. In any case, Augusta Read Thomas couldn't have chosen better program mates to get her own music to kick up its heels and dance until dawn."
— LA Weekly (Alan Rich) April 10, 2003
"...a finely honed song cycle..."
— The Guardian, London (Andrew Clements) on IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT
"....one of the finest achievements of a rising star."
— www.musicalpointers.co.uk (Peter Grahame Woolf) on ARTCD 19952002: IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT and WORDS OF THE SEA
"The Japanese theme continued with the first performance by the Farnham Youth Choir of FOUR BASHO SETTINGS, specially commissioned from the American composer, Augusta Read Thomas, currently composer-in-residence of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The composer herself knew the capabilities of the choir as the result of an earlier visit to the UK and has certainly set them a tough challenge. True to form the choir, under its director, David Victor-Smith, rose magnificently to the occasion and gave us a performance of real beauty.
The composer has described how, in setting these delicate haiku by Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, her intention was to create sound pictures which make sense only when one hears the whole. For the listener the result is exactly as she describes a surprisingly approachable work to listen to in some ways, yet one which can only work if the performers have really got under the skin of an uncompromisingly modern idiom.
The first movement, "Skylark" with suitably soaring solos from Becky Chilton, and the final setting, Dawn Flowers, with its pealing bells, were especially atmospheric. The second poem, Cuckoo, offered the chance for the choir to show its control of dynamic contrasts to great advantage: the third, the almost onomatopoeic Butterfly, is the most exciting, with its sparkling rhythms and broad range of tone colours. For a premiere this was extraordinarily assured, though there is no doubt yet more of the work's character will emerge in future performances as the choir 'loosens up'...
It is rare that an audience leaves a concert buzzing as we did on Saturday night. In doing so it put the perfect gloss on what has been, in terms of the quality of works performed and the technical assurance and interpretative skills of our young musicians, the best Farnham Festival in many years."
— Farnham Herald, UK
"New CD release of Augusta Read Thomas LOVE SONGS by the Woodley Ensemble, on Arsis CD 138:
"A setting of Byron's "Alas the Love of Women! – It is known to be a lovely and a fearful thing," ...is a tiny choral masterpiece. Essentially, it is a choral underlay, mostly using the opening words to what amounts to a spoken group mad scene including hysterical laughter. Almost as good as the subsequent settings of Shakespeare."
— Fanfare Magazine (John Story) September/October 2003
"SPRING SONG for cello, by Augusta Read Thomas, sports fetchingly turned melodic figures and a strong formal sense, imparting solid underpinnings to its soulful, rhapsodic surface."
— The New Music Connoisseur Magazine (David Cleary) Summer 2003
CD REVIEWS: Augusta Read Thomas, IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT: Christine Brandes, soprano; Chicago MusicNOW Ensemble, Pierre Boulez, conductor (ART-2002)
"Christine Brandes is the superb soprano soloist, unfurling Thomas' jagged, passionate melodies with controlled abandon and bringing a haunted radiance to poetic texts that range from Sappho to Pablo Neruda. Thomas' instrumental writing, so often full of unabashed wonderment and universe – embracing gestures, receives an intense, pristine performance from Boulez and his 18 musicians."
— Chicago Sun Times (Wynne Delacoma, Classical Music Critic) January 11, 2004
"Unless I am mistaken, this is the first recording entirely devoted to the music of Augusta Read Thomas, the Chicago Symphony's composer in residence. Even though it contains but a single work, her song cycle IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT is hauntingly beautiful and well worth hearing as an example of the very personal way in which one of the more gifted voices in contemporary composition engages with love poetry through the ages.
These 16 "songs of love and passion" leap across three millennia, from an ancient Egyptian love lyric, through the Greek poets Sappho and Pindar, through the Victorian Elizabeth Barrett Browning, to the modern verses of ee cummings and Pablo Neruda. The lyrical, expressionistic vocal lines, with their ecstatic leaps and lamenting descents, thread these disparate texts into a richly varied tapestry to which an ensemble of 18 strings, winds and percussion lends its splintery, subtle, often sensuous colors.
The performance offered here was recorded at Orchestra Hall on Nov. 30, 2002, the day before the world premiere by these same forces on the MusicNOW series. No composer could ask for performers more proficient or committed than Pierre Boulez, Christine Brandes and members of the CSO. Brandes' radiant soprano may be the ideal instrument for this score. She is absolutely secure at both ends of her wide range, displaying an acute feeling for words and music, and her diction is as clean as her intonation. Available at Symphony Store, 220 S. Michigan Ave., or www.cso.org."
— Chicago Tribune (John von Rhein) Sunday January 18, 2004
At London Sinfonietta/Knussen - Carter Premiere (23 January)
"Clarity and coherence are hardly lacking in either of the pieces after the interval. A major presence on the US contemporary scene, Augusta Read Thomas can count Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez among the champions of her music. IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT is less a song-cycle than an anthologised sequence of poetry, cast in two large sections and connected by an instrumental interlude whose textural translucency and harmonic refinement are hallmarks of this composer. Claire Booth, who projected the vocal line — supply shaped according to the need of each poem — with vibrant emotional involvement."
— www.classicalsource.com (Richard Whitehouse)
Concert broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 7 February as part of "Hear and Now"
"Augusta Read Thomas's IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT, positively voluptuous settings of lines taken from many poetic sources illustrating the endurance of love, proved that the aesthetic lineage of Richard Strauss continues. Soprano Claire Booth sang this deeply affecting work quite beautifully."
— Evening Standard (Stephen Pettitt)
Music: Carter premiere/London Sinfonietta
"There was also a European premiere from 40-year-old Augusta Read Thomas: IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT. The orchestral music is original and nicely radiant, the word-setting sensitive and lucid and the glorious soprano soloist Claire Booth, who soared ecstatically and lit up each poetic moment with insight, would be any composer's dream ideal."
— The Financial Times, London (David Murray) January 28, 2004
"Augusta Read Thomas's luscious songs on the subject of "love which spans the chasm of death", IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT, were captivating. Her selected poetry spans an ancient Egyptian love lyric, through Greek poets Sappho and Pindar, Victorians Hopkins and Browning, and into the modern verse of e.e. cummings and Neruda. Read Thomas seems to have a love affair with the lyric soprano voice akin to Strauss, and it suited Claire Booth to a tee, one of the finest achievements of a rising star. IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT is recorded by Boulez with the work's dedicatee Christine Brandes on ART2002."
— Musical Pointers
Review: IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT, UK premiere
Claire Booth, soprano; London Sinfonietta/Knussen
23 January 2004; London, England
"Augusta Read Thomas's IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT is a setting for soprano and small orchestra of a range of texts, and as the composer suggests, it's like a fantastic dream. Thomas inhabits the broad middle ground of music, aiming to please a wide spectrum. The orchestral part is euphonious and resonant, often echoing the voice, and on this occasion of its UK premiere, Thomas got enthusiastic applause."
— The Independent (Adrain Jack) London
"In the days when new compact disks by classical artists were abundant, any composer successful enough to enjoy a close association with a prestigious American orchestra could count on getting at least one major work recorded on a reputable label. But now composers are being forced to look elsewhere, and some, like Augusta Read Thomas, composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1997, are even releasing their own recordings themselves on the Web. This could be another sign of classical music's allegedly imminent downfall – or an exciting new way for composers to reach audiences directly.
Thomas has gathered an impressive crew for IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT (available on Amazon.com), including the radiant soprano Christine Brandes, the Chicago MusicNow Ensemble (a chamber orchestra drawn mostly from the ranks of the CSO), and Pierre Boulez, no less, conducting. Thomas, a prodigious talent, is the most accessible ambassador of the new modernism, and the piece, a fierce and jagged take on the love poetry of Sappho, Neruda, and Flaubert, among others, shines with passion and color."
— The New Yorker Magazine (Russell Platt)
"LOVE SONGS, composed by Augusta Read Thomas in 1997, is a collection of seven love-song settings of laconic phrases by luminaries such as Shakespeare, Emerson, and Lord Byron. The songs are brief, with the shortest at fifty-five seconds, yet they do not lack for creativity or fun. Thomas is inexhaustibly creative and dramatic in her use of text painting, often generating poignant musical reflection within a single word. Again, the ensemble is exact in its rhythmic execution and tuning."
— The Choral Journal (American Choral Directors Association) April 2004
"American-born Augusta Read Thomas, now 40, is currently composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – a position she has held since 1997 and will vacate in 2006. Working in a late-Modernist idiom – Berio is one of her models, and it's not insignificant that Pierre Boulez is her conductor here. She has won a string of awards and been the recipient of an impressive number of commissions from orchestras and other bodies in the USA and Europe.
The earlier of the two works on offer, WORDS OF THE SEA, appears in a recording made at its premiere in 1996, with the Chicago orchestra at its brilliant best. The 17-minute piece is closely linked to a 1934 poem by Wallace Stevens, The idea of order at Key West. Walking on the seashore, the poet and a friend encounter a girl singing to herself. He is struck by a profound paradox:
"She was the single artificer of the world
in which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker."
Thomas' work does not set out to depict this scene so much as to reflect upon some of its aspects: it's a purely orchestral piece with, however, each of its four movements prefaced by a small fragment from the poem. The first, "....words of the sea....". is a wonderful example both of Thomas' way of suffusing her late-Modernist idiom with vivid melody, and of a style that is taut, chiselled, lucid, glowing with colour and energy. In the second movement, "...the ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea...", Thomas summons up the deep, dark, unfathomable sonorities of the contrabass clarinet, along with slow, heavy orchestral surges and an outburst of frightening but majestic power. The third returns us to the image of the girl singing "...beyond the genius of the sea...": it's a movement of mad, frolicking exuberance, whose dancing, darting melodic line seems to collide constantly, synergetically, with some overwhelming force. The final movement is the calmer, more meditative "...mountainous atmospheres of sky and sea...", its' great swathes of colour and slow rates of change evoking spaces of vast dimension. Though the movement is offered as a tribute to Debussy, the sound qualities are closer to Alban Berg than to the composer of La Mer.
The other work on the disc is IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT, a chamber-like piece that was premiËred just two years ago. Boulez conducts it here in a blazing, virtuosic performance by the 18-piece Chicago MusicNOW Ensemble and soprano Christine Brandes. It's a passionate, ecstatic, tragic composition on the topic of love. Thomas has picked, excerpted and seamlessly strung together 16 poetic fragments, representative of three different millennia and many different parts of the globe. They include an anonymous love lyric from Ancient Egypt, Sappho and Pindar from Ancient Greece, a poet from ninth-century Japan, Gerard Manley Hopkins and other from nineteenth-century England, and Pablo Neruda and e.e. cummings from the twentieth century. These are grouped to make two contrasting narratives – a perfervid movement flushed with sensuous love, and a quieter second movement dealing with loss and mourning but also, very movingly, with love that survives the scythe of death. So a particular dimension of human experience is at once universalized in the chose excerpts, personalized in the single soprano's intense subjectivity, and rendered audible in her heightened, phatic vocalizing as well as in the rich sonic sonority imagery of the orchestral score. The work needs a soprano of consummate ability – and it has one. Brandes is quite wonderful, singing almost continuously through the work's 19-minute duration, and doing so with warmth, power, precision and fine control of vocal timbre. There are surely few of her generation with greater skill, or with superior mastery of her elected idiom."
— International Record Review, October 2004 (Christopher Ballantine)
"Thomas's disk...is packed with inventive ideas, poetic imagery and fresh sonorities. "...words of the sea...", a suite of four seascapes inspired by a Wallace Stevens poem, creates a mysterious atmosphere of vast space, shimmering surfaces, distant thunder and dramatic events. Melodies are angular, rhythms complex, textures transparent, dynamic contrasts bold.
IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT...The voice moves in and out of instrumental textures...the ensemble rapturously supports and embellishes the expressive vocal line....The words are clearly intelligible in the fine performance."
— Cleveland Plain-Dealer (Wilma Salisbury)
"This is a disc admirers of Thomas' bold, coruscating, colorful music will want to snap up while they can. It combines IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT with the big orchestral piece WORDS OF THE SEA, taped by WFMT at its world premiere by Pierre Boulez and the CSO in 1996. Both pieces benefit enormously from the penetrating commitment of the performers, while the helpful sonics...invite us to appreciate the Swiss-watch workings within."
— Chicago Tribune (John von Rhein) September 19, 2004
[Headline] OCEANIC IMPRESSIONS FROM A SINGULAR VOICE WHO SHOWS A REAL FLAIR FOR ORCHESTRATION
"WORDS OF THE SEA: The elegant despair of Thomas's high sustained string lines match Stevens' graceful and metaphysical angst. She has a singular voice and a real flair for orchestration, as with the see-sawing string lines that hand, questioning, in the air against shimmering percussion. The playing of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is first class and Pierre Boulez obtains a clarity and expressive point. In IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT Thomas sets the stanzas of in a Berio-esque Sprechstimme, soaring in arabesques and leaping coloratura. The vocal lines not only illuminate the text and sound but their relationship to each other. Christine Brandes wields her high soprano with agility and precision and the MusicNOW Ensemble similarly performs with laser-like tautness."
— Gramophone Classical Music Magazine, Awards Issue, Autumn 2004 (Lawrence Johnson)
IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT
"This 18-minute piece for soprano and 18 instruments written in 2002 strings together numerous poetic fragments from difference sources: ancient Egyptian and Japanese poetry, Sappho and Pindar, the Brownings, Flaubert, Hopkins, WS Merwin, Rossetti, Neruda, and Cummings all coalesce into a splashy, colorful, modernist mélange presented in two continuous sections. The result is a vivid tapestry depicting the height of passion and its bittersweet (seemingly temporary) farewell. Boulez is the perfect interpretive match for this sensual and inevitably heartbroken material."
— American Record guide, November/December issue 2004 (Mr. Gimbel)
"WORDS OF THE SEA is like a short symphony. The piece is arresting in its play of colors and moods. In the slow finale of WORDS OF THE SEA she is a force. The mystery of that movement echoes the mystery at the end of Stevens' poem, in which the songs of the singer and ocean are destined to remain separate."
— The Berkshire Eagle, Fall 2004 (Mr. Andrew Pincus)
Bloß keine Kompromisse
Augusta Read Thomas' Premiere mit den NDR-Sinfonikern
"Hamburg – Für alle anderen im Saal findet heute Abend in der Musikhalle eine Weltpremiere statt. Doch für Augusta Read Thomas ist das Konzert, in dem das NDR-Sinfonieorchester ihr neues Stück CHANTING TO PARADISE im direkten Anschluss ans Mozart-Requiem uraufführt, eher ein Déjà-vu-Erlebnis. "Auf meinem inneren Tonband kann ich meine Stücke komplett hören", beschreibt sie die Situation, die sie seit ihrer Kindheit schon so oft durchlebt hat. Sie kam zum Komponieren, wie andere laufen lernten. Von selbst, ganz natürlich; es sollte so sein. Inzwischen zählt die 1964 geborene Amerikanerin zu den gefragtesten Lieferanten der Branche. Etliche große Orchester und Dirigenten haben bei ihr Werke bestellt, beim Chicago Symphony Orchestra ist sie "composer in residence", sie unterrichtet dort, sie jettet ihren Aufträgen rund um die Welt hinterher. Doch CHANTING TO PARADISE, in dem sie einige Gedichte der genialen Exzentrikerin Emily Dickinson vertont, war eine ganz besondere Herausforderung. Ausgerechnet nach jener Stelle im "Lacrimosa", an der Mozart starb, eigene Musik folgen zu lassen, hat ihr, nach der ersten Begeisterung über die Opus-Order von NDR-Chefdirigent Eschenbach, eine nicht unerhebliche Menge Respekt abgenötigt. "Komponieren macht ohnehin bescheiden – und nach Mozart erst recht."
Im Gespräch mit ihr wird schnell klar, dass ihre kreative Hochtourigkeit ebenso beinhart wie kompromisslos ist. Alles, was sie vor ihrem 25.
Lebensjahr komponierte, und das war nicht wenig, hat sie damals von ihrem Verleger zurückgefordert und verbrannt. Es war ihr einfach nicht mehr gut genug. Ihre stundenlange, einsame Arbeit am Schreibtisch beginnt Thomas in aller Regel gegen vier Uhr morgens, weil die Musik dann schon aufs Papier will und die Gedanken daran unverdrängbar rotieren. Und ist jetzt ein Stück beendet, gönnt sie sich nicht etwa eine erholsame Kunst-Pause, sondern beginnt keine Minute später mit dem nächsten. Ihrem Mann Bernard Rands, der ebenfalls Komponist ist, fehlt dafür mitunter das Verständnis, aber: Was da ist, muss raus. "Musik ist mein Leben, ich habe kein anderes. Das mag alles kitschig und extrem klingen, aber ich würde lieber sterben, als nicht komponieren zu können."
Konzert-Programm: Mozart: Requiem/A. R. Thomas: CHANTING TO PARADISE/Beethoven: Klavierkonzert Nr. 1. NDR-Sinfonieorchester, NDR-Chor und Solisten, Christoph Eschenbach, Pierre-Laurent Aimard (Klavier). 15. November, 20 Uhr, Musikhalle Hamburg."
— Kultur / Medien, November 15, 2002
WELT AM SONNTAG
Nach Mozarts Requiem beginnt das Lied an die Sonne
Uraufführung: Chor und Sinfonieorchester des NDR spielen heute CHANTING TO PARADISE von Augusta Read Thomas
"Keine Sekunde hat sie gezögert, als irgendwann um die Jahrtausendwende der Anruf von Christoph Eschenbach kam. Ob er sie mit einer Musik beauftragen dürfe, die dort ansetzt, wo Mozarts letztes Werk, das "Requiem", unvollendet abbricht? "Ja!, habe ich sofort gerufen", erzählt die Komponistin Augusta Read Thomas. "Ich war glücklich darüber, für Chor zu schreiben, denn ich liebe Vokalmusik. Aber als ich dann über dem Notenpapier saß, wurde ich ziemlich beklommen. Was, dachte ich mir, kann man denn als Komponist nach den acht Takten des ’Lacrimosa', diesem Herzstück der abendländischen Musik, überhaupt schreiben?" Etwas extrem Bescheidenes musste es sein, und etwas sehr Bescheidenes und dabei ziemlich Großartiges ist es auch geworden. Read Thomas' Werk schließt sich zugleich an Mozart an und kann doch auch für sich stehen, wie ein modernes Gebäude, das ein guter Architekt neben ein altehrwürdiges Haus aus dem vorvorletzten Jahrhundert stellt. Heute wird das Sinfonieorchester des NDR unter der Leitung von Christoph Eschenbach CHANTING TO PARADISE uraufführen, ihren weitergedachten Mozart — unmittelbar im Anschluss an dessen "Requiem".
"Dies ist gewiss das einfachste Stück Musik, das es von mir gibt. Ich wollte, dass es auch weniger begnadete Orchester als die NDR-Sinfoniker spielen können. Es ist einfach, aber nicht einfältig", sagt Augusta Read Thomas. Wer der zarten Person mit den blauen Augen und den ausgeglichenen Gesichtszügen gegenübersitzt, der sieht, dass das Pompös-Auftrumpfende, die genialische Geste des schöpferischen Geistes ihre Sache nicht ist. Dabei zählt Augusta Read Thomas zu den bemerkenswertesten Komponisten ihrer Generation. Seit fünf Jahren ist sie Composer in residence beim Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Koryphäen wie Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim und Oliver Knussen haben Werke von ihr uraufgeführt. Noch unterrichtet sie zwei Tage die Woche an der Northwestern University in Chicago elf Studenten in Komposition."Wenn ich könnte, würde ich sofort aufhören und nur noch komponieren. Ich weiß: Bald wage ich den Sprung."
CHANTING TO PARADISE ist ein Stück, bei dem sich Read Thomas den Hörer vorstellt wie jemanden, der eine Fernbedienung in der Hand hält: "Die Teile sind sehr kurz, sie haben starke Kontraste, so wie fünf unterschiedliche Fernsehprogramme. Zack!, schon ist das nächste Bild da." So profan wie das meiste des im Fernsehen Angebotenen ist ihre Musik freilich nicht. Die 1964 in Glen Cove/New York geborene Komponistin hat für ihr 17 Minuten dauerndes Werk eine Reihe subtiler Mozart-Korrespondenzen eingebaut. So übernimmt sie aus dem Solistenquartett einzig den Sopran (vorzüglich: Simone Nold), und das A-Dur, mit dem Mozart endet, ist ihr Anfang: die im Pianissimo vom Chor gesummte große Terz a-cis. "Dann fächere ich den Akkord rasch auf, wie in einem Prisma", erzählt die Komponistin. Ihr Umgang mit den Stimmen der Solistin und des Chors ist meisterhaft, das orchestrale Gefüge dazwischen bleibt transparent selbst dort, wo die Linien sich vielfältig ineinander verschlingen. Als Textgrundlage verwandte sie Gedichte von Emily Dickinson, die eine intensive sinnliche Annäherung an Gott offenbaren. Auffällig häufig finden sich bei Augusta Read Thomas Bezüge zu spirituellen Sphären: Ihre Stücke tragen Titel wie "Prayer Bells", "Daylight Divine" oder eben "Chanting To Paradise", doch von esoterischem Klingklang ist ihre Musik Lichtjahre entfernt. "Mein Gott ist die Sonne", sagt die Komponistin nach langem überlegen. "Ich finde in allen Religionen etwas Gutes. Religiös bin ich in dem Sinne, dass ich dankbar bin dafür, Musik schreiben zu dürfen. Und das in einer Welt, auf der tagtäglich Menschen verhungern und sich bekriegen."
Musikhalle, 20 Uhr. Morgen Köln, übermorgen Frankfurt
— DIE WELT (Tom R. Schulz) Sonntag, 17. November 2002, Berlin
"WORDS OF THE SEA is like a short symphony. The piece is arresting in its play of colors and moods. In the slow finale of WORDS OF THE SEA she is a force. The mystery of that movement echoes the mystery at the end of Stevens' poem, in which the songs of the singer and ocean are destined to remain separate."
— The Berkshire Eagle, Fall 2004 (Mr. Andrew Pincus)
[CD Review] AUGUSTA READ THOMAS - IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT Chicago Musicnow Ensemble (ART 2002)
"Op het hoesje van de cd In my sky at twilight is een grappige foto te zien: een jonge vrouw en een oude heer staan arm in arm in de lens van de camera te lachen, als op een familiekiekje – opa staat op het punt zijn kleindochter uit te huwelijken, of nog beter, opa gaat straks zelf met die jonge deerne trouwen.
De foto is vooral grappig, of misschien beter: aandoenlijk, omdat het hier Pierre Boulez betreft. De strenge, nimmer lachende meester van het modernisme is een vriendelijke bijna-tachtigjarige geworden.
De vrouw met wie hij arm in arm staat, is de Amerikaanse componiste Augusta Read Thomas (jaargang 1964). Hij heeft voor haar werk een grote bewondering opgevat. Zo groot, dat hij bij het Chicago Symphony Orchestra al drie stukken van haar hand heeft gedirigeerd, en dat mag als een bijzondere eer en kwaliteitserkenning worden beschouwd.
Voor IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT ging Boulez zelfs nog verder door bij wijze van hoge uitzondering een uitstapje te maken naar het Chicago Musicnow Ensemble. Alle ensembles voor eigentijdse muziek zullen er met diepe jaloezie kennis van nemen.
In Nederland is Augusta Read Thomas een nagenoeg onbekende grootheid. Weliswaar hebben zowel Hans Vonk als Jac van Steen ooit werk van haar gedirigeerd, maar dat was in beide gevallen in het buitenland.
In de Verenigde Staten behoort ze tot de succesvolste componisten van haar generatie. Alle belangrijke orkesten hebben al composities van haar gespeeld. Hoezeer ze daar wordt gewaardeerd, blijkt uit de aanstelling van composer in residence, die de Chicago Symphony haar in 2002 aanbood.
'Jong' is ze als componist sowieso al niet meer. Haar werkenlijst is imposant van omvang en diversiteit, met al meer dan veertig stukken in alle denkbare genres (en nog veel meer dan veertig stukken die ze kort voor de overgang naar uitgever Schirmer terugtrok, waaronder de opera Ligeia, waarmee ze in de prijzen viel en die al in vijf verschillende producties op de bühne was gebracht).
Thomas heeft een onstuitbare scheppingsdrang. Ze staat naar eigen zeggen elke ochtend al om vier uur op en componeert dagelijks van half vijf tot half tien, en dan moet haar dagtaak nog beginnen. (Ze geeft les aan de Northwestern University School of Music).
Als Boulez werk van je dirigeert, mag je aannemen dat er iets bijzonders mee aan de hand is. Want voor de Fransman beginnen de jaren nu toch echt te tellen, en er liggen nog steeds veel stukken van hem zèlf op afronding te wachten. Maar inderdaad, Augusta Read Thomas is werkelijk een bijzondere componist. IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT is zo'n stuk dat nieuwsgierig maakt naar ander werk van haar hand.
Stilistisch zijn er in IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT, voor sopraan en ensemble, op teksten van uiteenlopende dichters (van Sappho tot Pablo Naruda, die de titel van het stuk leverde), verwantschappen aan te wijzen met Berio en Boulez. De gedachten gaan soms vooral uit naar Pli selon pli, maar toch is van epigonisme nergens sprake.
Augusta Read Thomas noemt zichzelf een bij uitstek vocaal denkende componist ('Zelfs als ze een strijkkwartet bij me bestellen, vraag ik nog of er niet nog een zanger of zangeres bij mag') en dat is aan IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT in optima forma te horen. Het maakt haar muziek, ondanks de grote beweeglijkheid, erg toegankelijk, omdat de majestueus welvende vocale lijnen altijd houvast bieden.
Het instrumentale weefsel waarmee ze de zanglijn omhult is uitgesproken sprankelend, kleurrijk en transparant, vooral in het langzame, ontroerende tweede deel, Lament, waarin de overwinning op de dood door de liefde het onderwerp is.
– and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death
In het eerste deel, Deeper than all roses, is de muziek virtuozer en intenser en door het snellere harmonische ritme iets stugger, maar ook hier is er steeds dat cantabile dat voor een diep verankerde rust en vervoering zorgt.
IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT is een klinkend kristalpaleis, met alle kwetsbaarheid van dien. De muziek verlangt dan ook een uitvoering op het hoogste denkbare niveau.
Het Chicago Musicnow Ensemble laat de componist gelukkig niet in de steek. Boulez laat het kristalpaleis oogverblindend schitteren en stralen, maar heeft ook oog voor de lange De Chirico-schaduwen die Augusta Read Thomas in Lament suggereert.
Ook de Amerikaanse sopraan Christine Brandes, op wier lijf IN MY SKY AT TWILIGHT werd gecomponeerd, moet voor Thomas een gedroomde vertolker zijn. Brandes heeft een mooie donkere stem en zingt alsof het haar allemaal geen enkele moeite kost, wat de zeggingskracht van de muziek zeer ten goede komt.
Slotvraag: wanneer mogen we dit prachtwerk eens in een Nederlandse concertzaal beluisteren?
Deze cd is alleen via de website van het Chicago Symphony Orchestra te bestellen. Surf naar www.cso.org en klik door naar Shop Symphony Store en cd. Gezien de huidige stand van de euro ten opzichte van de dollar een buitenkansje, zou ik zeggen."
— Het Parool (Erik Voermans) 6-1-2004