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Dance Foldings (2021)

For orchestra or chamber orchestra

2 (2dbl.picc.)2.1+bcl.1+cbn./ or 2 perc/ hp/pno/str**
Premiered in London, U.K. on 8 August 2021 at the Royal Albert Hall, Ryan Bancroft conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
The USA Premiere was given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons, conducting in Boston Symphony Hall 13-16 January 2022.
Augusta sends special thanks to Andris Nelsons and to Anthony Fogg.
Duration: 13 minutes

** There are two main percussion parts. For orchestras that have three players, it is advised that a third artist play only the Marimba music. The set of parts includes a Percussion III part which has in it all of the marimba music (which music is also listed in the other two percussion parts in case a third player is not available.)

Special thanks to the Sounds of Science Commissioning Club, and its founders and donors, for contributing support to this project.

To be performed with dancers when feasible.

Live concert VIDEO and audio recording is available for archival purposes only and for private listening. If you would like to review the recording please contact Augusta.

CD Available

This work is available on
BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Vimbayi Kaziboni
Augusta Read Thomas: Dance Foldings for orchestra
Release Date: July 7, 2023
Label: Nimbus Alliance NI1579


The words of Albert Einstein, spoken at the 1939 World’s Fair: “If science, like art, is to perform its mission truly and fully, its achievements must enter not only superficially but with their inner meaning into the consciousness of the people.”

Sounds of Science Commissioning Club

expressing science through music

Mission statement:
To commission new musical compositions by outstanding contemporary composers that will be premiered and played by outstanding musical ensembles, in order to capture in music the sounds and emotions that scientists experience in medicine, the life sciences, the physical sciences, and engineering.

Glenn Prestwich and Rhea Bouman
Program Note

In celebration of the diversity and the mission statement of the Royal Albert Hall on the occasion of the venue’s 150th anniversary, the BBC Radio 3 commissioned DANCE FOLDINGS for orchestra for which the commission prompt was to reflect the arts and sciences as they are now. Composers were free to choose their own subject, so long as there was a clear link to the sciences or to other art forms.

The natural world, as explored by scientists, engineers, and physicians in their laboratories and clinics, offers a wealth of opportunities to explore resonance and balance through sound. Few orchestral works attempt to capture the kinetic and emotional content of scientific topics and convey these concepts through abstract, rather than descriptive, music.

The musical materials of DANCE FOLDINGS for orchestra take as their starting point the metaphors, pairings, counterpoints, foldings, forms, and images inspired by the biological "ballet" of proteins being assembled and folded in our bodies. Online, one can easily find many beautiful animations which show the process of protein folding. Some resemble assembly lines, and many look like ballets; both are extremely suggestive of musical possibilities. For example, proteins are made in cells by linking together amino acids one at a time to make a linear chain, i.e., the primary structure, or unfolded protein, which is akin to a wiggling chain of beads. These chains take musical form as animated, rhythmic, and forward-moving lines of music which unfold with kaleidoscopic sonic variety. An amino acid chain gradually self-organizes into nicely lined up shorter strands of beads forming pleated sheets or helices, nestled next to each other; interconnecting strands form loops crossing over in three dimensions. Musically speaking, those three-dimensional forms are affiliated to counterpoint, harmony, flow, flux, and form. Notated on the score are indications including: “Like Chains of Amino Acids”, “An Amino Acid Chain starting to fold and become a protein”, “Brass Protein Foldings #1, Like jazz big band meets Stravinsky”, and “Another Amino Acid Chain-making Machine”.

Protein folding is essential to life, and form dictates function. Proteins have primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary structures, and this make-up naturally falls into manifold musical possibilities with distinctive materials, sonorities, rhythms, counterpoint, and inner-life.

No matter what the external inspiration, Music must work as music. As such, I create music that is organic and, at every level, concerned with transformations and connections, which should be played so that the interconnectivity of the different rhythmic, timbral and pitch syntaxes are made explicit and are then organically allied to one another with characterized phrasing of rhythm, color, harmony, counterpoint, tempo, breath, keeping it alive — continuously sounding spontaneous. All of this, hopefully, working toward the fundamental goal: to compose a work in which every musical parameter is nuanced and allied in one holistic gestalt.

If I listen carefully, the piece I am composing has its own inner life and will tell me what it next needs. The music I create is passionate, involving risk and adventure, such that a given musical moment might seem like a surprise right when you hear it but, only a millisecond later, seems inevitable. One of my main artistic credos has been to examine small musical objects–a chord, a motive, a rhythm, a color, an energy field, a harmonic space–and explore them from every possible perspective. The different perspectives reveal new musical elements, which I then transform and which in turn become the musical development.

Although highly notated, precise, carefully structured, soundly proportioned, and while musicians are elegantly working from a nuanced, specific text, I like my music to have the feeling that it is organically being self-propelled - on the spot. As if we listeners are overhearing a captured improvisation.

DANCE FOLDINGS is an example of the many synergies between science (nature) and music. I previously composed HELIX SPIRALS for string quartet to commemorate the Meselson-Stahl DNA replication discovery of 1958. Since DNA is the blueprint for making the proteins of any organism, protein construction, folding and animation is a natural next project.

Commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and first performed by BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Ryan Bancroft on 8 August 2021 at the Royal Albert Hall as part of BBC Proms 2021. Dedicated with admiration and gratitude to BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Ryan Bancroft and Lisa Tregale and to The Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons and Anthony Fogg. Special thanks to the Sounds of Science Commissioning Club for contributing support to this project. The USA Premiere was given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons, conducting in Boston Symphony Hall on January 13, 14, 15, 16 2022. Augusta sends special thanks to Andris Nelsons and to Anthony Fogg.

Members of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. ©BBC NOW

Conductor Ryan Bancroft. ©BBC NOW

Dance Foldings for orchestra or chamber orchestra (2021)

Dance Foldings for orchestra or chamber orchestra (2021)
Selected Reviews

Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe, January 14, 2022 “Music director Andris Nelsons walked out onto stage not alone but accompanied by the composer Augusta Read Thomas. After greeting the audience, Nelsons introduced Thomas, who then spoke informally yet compellingly about her new work, “Dance Foldings,” whose American premiere was set to open the night’s program.
“Dance Foldings,” nimbly bridges the mythical art-science divide, drawing its inspiration from, of all places, the proteins of the human body. Thomas’s starting point, as she put it, were “the metaphors, pairings, counterpoints, foldings, forms, and images inspired by the biological ‘ballet’ of proteins being assembled and folded in our bodies.” That certain essential proteins such as antibodies are rather in the news of late, lends the score an extra-musical resonance. And fortunately Thomas has not attempted some dryly literal depiction of molecular ballet — no pirouetting Pikachurin — but has instead used the secret life of proteins to fire her own abstract musical thinking. “Dance Foldings,” 13 minutes in length, comes and goes like a single burst of light. It is complex and richly layered yet transparently vibrant music, impeccably crafted and full of big band-style syncopations that drive it forward with an irrepressible kinetic energy. Nelsons and the orchestra proved equal to their task, delivering a sharply-etched and altogether compelling account.”

“Augusta Read Thomas has long been fascinated with the relationship between science and art. Works such as Orbital Beacons and Words of the Sea—two of her most arresting scores—explore cosmological as well as more earthbound themes. Each suggest that the arts can connect in deep and meaningful ways with the natural order of things.
Dance Foldings, her latest orchestral work, views a biological process as an aesthetic experience. Andris Nelsons led the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the work’s American premiere at Symphony Hall Thursday evening.
Commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and premiered at the Proms last August, Dance Foldings is a marvel of organic unity and unyielding energy. Much of that is owed to the work’s inspiration—the assemblage of proteins into strands of DNA in the human body.
Yet the score reflects the singular, lean-textured style Thomas has explored over her career. . . repeated notes that originate in the piano, bassoons, and strings gradually evolve into complex patterns, conveying the spontaneity and unexpected diversions of natural phenomena over the work’s thirteen-minute span.
Varied instrumental coloring is just as essential. Long phrases in the upper strings move briskly one moment and freeze together in glistening harmonies in the next. Brass supply power and weight in a thorny chorale. All the while wood blocks, tom-toms, glockenspiel keep the energy moving forward.
Dance Foldings also bears the imprint of Stravinsky’s early ballets and big band jazz. Indeed, the work’s energy never ceases as the constant pulse frames every intricate rhythm. The effect, Thomas told the audience before the performance, was like watching images of a dance refracted through a prism.
Delightfully abstract and engaging, Dance Foldings stands as Thomas’s finest effort in recent years. Nelsons made a compelling case for the score, leading a performance marked by playful vitality.

Bernard Hughes, The Arts Desk, London, August 9, 2021 “The music is fast, active, skittery and spontaneous, as musical events – edgy pizzicato cellos, darting woodwind – trigger other events in a never-ending musical chain reaction. The transparent textures suggest line drawing rather than painting, although the orchestration was endlessly colourful. The pointillism of the scoring reminded me of Stravinsky’s late Movements, with a similar sparky wit.”

Richard Fairman, The Financial Times, London, August 10, 2021 “The lightly dancing rhythms of this effervescent score are indeed infectious.”

Geoff Brown, The Times, London, August 9, 2021 “The American concert opener, Augusta Read Thomas’s Dance Foldings, the first of four Prom commissions marking the 150th anniversary of the Royal Albert Hall, created as a temple to science as well as the arts. Sparky rhythms interwoven, darting about in multiple colours…”

Fiona Maddocks, The Observer, The Guardian, London, August 14, 2021 “The music’s airborne, kinetic energy – shiny beads of sound tossed aloft, caught by a taut, rhythmic structure of, especially, woodblock and plenty of pizzicato – was mirrored in her complex drawing. I understood the kaleidoscopic music, virtuosically played by BBC NOW.”

“Thomas counters the trope of the Dance of Death with a Dance of Life. Folding is the process by which a chain of protein molecules achieves the three-dimensional structure necessary for functionality. Thomas’ kaleidoscopic musical interpretation of this biological phenomenon features chains of notes transformed by repetition, refraction, syncopation and shifts in pitch, articulation and dynamics. Some episodes are brief; others intertwine with new ones, and the whole piece is tied together by the introductory chain played by piano, percussion and plucked strings, which recurs under various guises.
It’s a dense, propulsive, effervescent 13 minutes played with sparkle and panache. Like any good composition, Dance Foldings transcends its premise.

Ed Siegel, WBUR ARTS AND CULTURE, April 2022 HEADLINE: Andris Nelsons and the BSO make great contemporary music a calling card this season
“If you’ve never heard of Sofia Gubaidulina, Kaija Saariaho, Unsuk Chin and Augusta Read Thomas, you don’t know what you’re missing. Forget that they are all women; they are all in the pantheon of great contemporary composers regardless of gender. One can’t predict what people will be listening to in future generations, but my guess is that each of the composers named above will stand the test of time, just as many of Koussevitzky’s composers have, from Béla Bartók and Igor Stravinsky to Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.
What each of them share, along with Adès for that matter, is a heightened sense of drama, musical complexity twinned with sonic accessibility and a unique musical soundscape that transcends previous generational conflicts between tonality and atonality. And they all got fully committed performances from Nelsons and the BSO.”

Rick Mortensen, The Utah Arts Review, Nobember 6, 2022 “Thomas’s Dance Foldings, which premiered last year at London’s Proms concerts, had an engaging rhythmic vitality; Thanks to Morlot…[the audience was] treated to an hour of first-rate music-making and one of the highlights of the season so far. Indeed, motion—driven by pizzicato strings, congas, and marimba—was the most salient feature of her piece.”
“Thomas’s voice is unique, but one way to describe Dance Foldings would be Pierre Boulez meets Prokofiev. The thematic material developed in loops that at first seemed mechanical but were soon revealed to be part of a grand, expressive design, which the orchestra played with sensitivity, precision, and vitality. …a thrilling performance of an engaging contemporary work.”

To obtain examination or performance material for this
Augusta Read Thomas work, please contact Nimbus Music Publishing.