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Dream Threads, a ballet (2007)

For youth orchestra and ballet

2+pic. 2(1 dbl.Eng. Hn). 2(2 dblBassCl).1/ perc/hp/pno.(dbl. cel) str
First performance by the Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra and the Orlando Ballet School Ballet at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa, Florida on 17 May 2009.
Duration: 22'

To be performed with dancers when feasible.



Ballet Description

Dream Threads

Scene 1: Takes place in "reality".

Scene 1: (3 minutes and 10 seconds) Bedroom: Peter (approximately age 9) is being put to sleep by his mother. Restless, he keeps leaping out of bed and will not sleep until the end of the scene.

Scene 2 - 10: Take place in a "dream-state".

Scene 2: (1 minute) Bedroom: Peter (approximately age 9) starts to dream.

Scene 3: (1 minute and 30 seconds) in his dream, Peter (approximately age 9) enters forest, meets old lady, and is given the magic thread.

Augusta with choreographer Tom Gold at the premiere of their ballet, Dream Threads.

You will note that scenes 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 are representing events in Peter's life. At the end of scenes 4,5,6,7 Peter pulls the magic thread and is thrust forward in time, becoming older in each scene. Time is literally flying by!

Scene 4: (2 minutes) Peter (approximately age 9) on playground with friends. They are playing "hide and seek" and "tag". Generally, the children are chasing one another. Peter pays special attention to Liese, the young girl he likes.

Scene 5: (2 minutes and 45 seconds) Peter (approximately age 19) goes to a big city, sees the dramatic skyline and feels the energy of magnificent urban life. He works in a factory. We see three days of his working on a production line. Before his third day of work, Peter pulls the magic thread and suddenly his life is moving in fast-forward mode such that the production line gets faster and faster and more and more out of control. In the distance, he sees Liese in a beautiful wedding dress. He moves toward her and away from his factory.

Scene 6: (75 seconds) Peter (approximately age 29) has just been married to Liese. We do not see the wedding but we hear the flurry of church bells and watch as they process out of the happy ceremony.

Scene 7: (2 minutes and 20 seconds) Peter and Liese (approximately age 39) and their children attend the Ballet, TERPSICHORE'S DREAM by the composer, Augusta Read Thomas (in other words, a ballet, within a ballet!) If desired by the choreographer, Peter and Liese or Peter's mother and/or the old lady can be dancing the lead roles in TERPSICHORE'S DREAM. (This would add other surreal layers to the dream.)

Scene 8: (2 minutes) Peter (approximately age 59) attends the funeral of his mother.

You will note that scenes 9, 10 and 11 are the inverse of scenes1, 2, 3.

Scene 9: (1 minute and 30 seconds) In dream, peter re-enters forest and re-meets old lady.

Scene 10: (final scene from within the "dream-state)

Scene 10: (2 minutes and 15 seconds) Bedroom: Peter is sleeping and dreaming.

Scene 11: Takes place in "reality" again, just like scene 1.

Scene 11: (1 minute and 30 seconds) Bedroom: Peter (approximately age 9) woken up by his mother. Restless, leaping out of bed and cannot wait to go to school and is very glad that he is still a young man and that it was all a dream.

This ballet is based on "The Magic Thread," from William J. Bennett's The Book of Virtues.

Interview with Augusta Read Thomas

Gary Higginson,

Below is an excerpt from an interview with Augusta Read Thomas, conducted by TBPAC, about the creative process of Dream Threads.

"Dr. William W. Wiedrich, Artistic Music Director of the Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra, contacted me many years ago about this project.  What a great concept he imagined!  The idea of composing for the Youth Orchestra and the Orlando Ballet School on the fable, The Magic Thread, was extremely exciting and I accepted immediately.

"I must say, though, Dream Threads was an extremely difficult commission because it has to work in at least five different ways.  First, the music has to tell the story of the fable, The Magic Thread.  Therefore, it is constituted as program music as opposed to pure music.  Secondly, it has to work as a ballet.  The music has to support the motions of the young dancers, as well as fit the needs of the choreographer.  Third, it has to be able to stand alone as an orchestral piece that can be played without dancers, while still pleasing the musicians.  Fourth, it has to be playable by a youth orchestra and make them sound dazzling without requiring professional playing techniques.  And finally, one must encompass all of this in eight to twelve minutes of music!  It was no easy feat!  I have lost countless hours of sleep over this project and I hope your audiences will enjoy the results.

"The Magic Thread strongly influenced how I am composed this new ballet.  I spent innumerable hours reflecting on Stravinsky's ballets and the "stories" they tell.

"The fable is this, in a nutshell:"

The Magic Thread

In The Book of Virtues, William J. Bennett tells a story called, "The Magic Thread." In this French tale we read of Peter, a boy who is strong and able, yet sadly flawed by an attitude of impatience. Always dissatisfied with his present condition, Peter spends his life day-dreaming about the future.

One day while wandering in the forests, Peter meets a strange old woman who gives him a most tantalizing opportunity — the chance to skip the dull, mundane moments of life. She hands Peter a silver ball from which a tiny gold thread protrudes. "This is your life thread," she explains. "Do not touch it and time will pass normally. But if you wish time to pass more quickly, you have only to pull the thread a little way and an hour will pass like a second. But I warn you, once the thread has been pulled out, it cannot be pushed back in again."

This magical thread seems the answer to all of Peter's problems. It is just what he has always wanted. He takes the ball and runs home.

The following day in school Peter has his first opportunity to put the silver ball to use. The lesson is dragging, and the teacher scolds Peter for not concentrating. Peter fingers the silver ball and gives the thread a slight tug. Suddenly, the teacher dismisses the class, and Peter is free to leave school. He is overjoyed! How easy his life will now be. From this moment, Peter begins to pull the thread a little every day.

But soon Peter begins to use the magic thread to rush through larger portions of life. Why waste time pulling the thread just a little every day when he can pull it hard and complete school altogether. He does so and finds himself out of school and apprenticed in trade. Peter uses the same technique to rush through his engagement to his sweetheart. He cannot bear and wait months to marry her so he uses the gold thread to hasten the arrival of the wedding day.

Peter continues to pattern throughout his life when hard, trying times come, he escapes then with his magic thread.  But sadly when he comes to the end of his life, Peter realizes the emptiness of such an existence. By allowing impatience and discontentment to rule him, Peter has robbed himself of life's riches moments and memories. With only the grave to look forward to, he deeply regrets ever having used the magic thread.

Augusta Read Thomas continues:

"After reading The Magic Thread, the first thing I did was to call Dr. William W. Wiedrich to ask him if I could make the piece five minutes longer than the contracted eight to twelve minute duration.  In the end, Dream Threads evolved to be nineteen minutes in length. The work is separated into eleven scenes that go along with the different phases of Peter's life. I spent a good deal of time making a formal plan for the piece; scene-by-scene with their exact durations.  Then, I met with the choreographer, Tom Gold, to get his blessing on how I imagined telling the whole story in nineteen minutes and eleven scenes.  He was very pleased with my vision.

Augusta with conductor William W. Wiedrich at the premiere of their ballet, Dream Threads.

"As composers, nothing of what we compose or create unfolds in isolation.  Inspiration is drawn from each other, from our communities; our cities and musical societies, and from the larger traditions of the arts.  Thus, I am attracted to working cooperatively with others.  I especially love working with students!  As volunteer Chair of Board for the American Music Center (, I try to give back energy and passion to the field at large.  I am grateful for the knowledge given to me and the attitudes cultivated in me by those who have taught me.  In turn, throughout my own teaching career, my goal has always been to build relationships.  I love to know what my students listen to and read, but most importantly how they interpret it and how they are influenced by it.  What I want most for my students is t he chance to find their own voice — their own musical honesty and integrity.  I wish that they acquire mastery of technical skills and have a deep knowledge of music history: the repertoire."

"Heart and soul in the breathtaking music of a thoughtful contemporary composer...reveals a lively, probing mind allied to a beating heart."

— Gramophone Magazine, Donald Rosenberg

"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."

— American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters

Selected Reviews

Kurt Loft, The Tampa Tribune Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra Sparkles In Premiere

"If a world premiere, the presence of a leading American composer and a packed house full of parents were enough to make members of the Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra jittery, they didn't show it Sunday during their long-awaited spring concert at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center."

"It was the big event for the gifted student musicians, a moment they will savor for years, if not a lifetime. The occasion was a bona fide commission by a major figure in the world of music, and a chance to prove to families, teachers and area music lovers that the birth of new music isn't just a perk for professional orchestras."

"Since January, the musicians have been rehearsing Dream Threads, commissioned by the center from Augusta Read Thomas, formerly composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony and one of the country's most respected musical talents."

"Written as a ballet in 11 short scenes, Dream Threads stands on its own as pure concert music, although the story's text appeared on a screen above the stage. Thomas exploits the entire spectrum of the orchestra, beginning with chamber-like solos and building up layers of texture alongside abrupt changes of mood and color."

"The musicians showed a remarkable confidence Sunday under the baton of William Wiedrich, everyone playing as a concise, integrated unit. It was hard to believe it was an orchestra made up of teenagers."

"They really gave it their best, and it was so moving to see them working together," Thomas said after the performance. Dream Threads isn't easy to play, but they captured the spirit of each movement.""


John Fleming, St. Petersburg Times New 'Dream' for Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra

"Augusta Read Thomas is a prominent contemporary composer."

"The 22-minute work is full of shimmering, finely honed effects that suggest the ballets of Stravinsky."

"...a stylish woman who had spent the last couple of days hanging out with the musicians. Augusta Read Thomas' Dream Threads premiered Sunday and was the centerpiece of the concert."

"Dream Threads is a ballet score inspired by a fable about a boy named Peter, who dreams of entering a magic forest where an old lady gives him a thread that allows him to fast-forward his life. This he does, with unhappy consequences."

""The theme is patience,'' said Thomas, 44, who lives in Chicago. "We shouldn't rush our lives. We should appreciate what we have.'' The 22-minute work is full of shimmering, finely honed effects that suggest the ballets of Stravinsky."

To obtain examination or performance material for any of
Augusta Read Thomas's works, please contact G. Schirmer Inc..