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Magic Box (2019)

For percussion quartet and string quartet (or string orchestra)

Commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Andris Nelsons, Music Director) to celebrate the opening of its Tanglewood Center for Music and Learning on 28 June 2019
Premiered by Ken-David Masur conducting Boston Symphony Orchestra percussionists and Tanglewood’s New Fromm Players: Chi Li, violin; Xiaofan Liu, violin; Sam Pedersen, viola; Sonia Mantell, cello; Dan Bauch, percussion; Kyle Brightwell, percussion; Matt McKay, percussion; George Nickson, percussion on 28 June 2019.
Duration: 7 minutes

MAGIC BOX could be played by 8 players.
(2 players dividing the 4 parts - one player on the mallet instrument(s) and the team-mate player on the other instruments for each of the 4 parts.) Doing it with 8 players ensures that each part is not too technically difficult, etc. If you had an extra player that you did not want to leave out of the project, then that player could, for example, play the Chimes part, etc.


To be performed with dancers when feasible.


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

Program Note

I am humbled by this opportunity to compose an octet to celebrate the opening of the Tanglewood Center for Music and Learning. The title MAGIC BOX hopefully captures the lively spirit, exquisite creativity, motion, enchantment and positive energy of the Center.

I care about craft, clarity, and passion. My works are organic and, at every level, concerned with transformations and connections. The carefully sculpted musical materials of MAGIC BOX are agile and energized, and their flexibility allows a way to braid harmonic, rhythmic, and contrapuntal elements that are constantly transformed — at times whimsical and light, at times jazzy, at times layered and reverberating. Across MAGIC BOX’s seven-minute duration, it unfolds a labyrinth of musical interrelationships and connections that showcase the musicians in a virtuosic display of rhythmic agility, counterpoint, vitality, dynamic range, precision, and majesty. Throughout the kaleidoscopic journey, the work passes through various lively and colorful episodes, which propel the musical discourse always with a sense of dance, caprice, impulse, and effervescence. The composition is to be performed with dancers when feasible.

Music’s eternal quality is its capacity for change, transformation and renewal. No one composer, musical style, school of thought, technical practice, or historical period can claim a monopoly on music’s truths. Commissioning new art is leap-of-faith! The commissioner does not know what they will receive. I feel profoundly fortunate for the investment made by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons, and Tanglewood in my life’s work and I devoted my strongest, most focused efforts to composing MAGIC BOX which is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Anthony Fogg, Ellen Highstein, Ken-David Masur, and the Tanglewood Music Center.

—Augusta Read Thomas


The Linde Center for Music and Learning at Tanglewood

Stage Layout

Ken-David Masur. Photo by Beth Ross Buckley

Chi Li, Xiaofan Liu, Sam Pedersen, Sonia Mantell, Dan Bauch, Kyle Brightwell, Matt McKay, George Nickson, and Ken David Masur just before going onstage for the premiere.

Ken-David Masur, Augusta, and the string quartet at the world premiere’s after-party.
Selected Reviews

Carolyn and Eli Newberger, The Berkshire Edge, July 10, 2019 Gracing the opening of the Tanglewood Learning Institute
"Among the solemn contributions, the most vivid were Augusta Read Thomas’s composition and remarks. Her “Magic Box” saw its brilliant world premiere this evening.

“Magic Box” was conducted with deep attention to its exquisite detail by Ken-David Masur. The piece sizzled, rattled and swung to the sounds of an uncountable number of percussion instruments performed with aplomb and delight.

A panoply of bashes, scrapes, shakes and clatters from tom toms, tire rims, triangles, and tambourines gave way to softer, nuanced explorations of the textures of marimbas, vibraphone and strings. In a slow, reflective passage that brewed high violin harmonics with silences, the piece displayed the resonance of the surrounding wooden walls. This was magic of another sort! The final cadence framed a series of vivid, stark, arpeggios with two sustained reverberations that recapitulated the opening sizzles. We received this “Magic Box” within a magic box within a magic box."


Clifton Noble Jr., MASS Live, June 29, 2019 "Magic Box written for percussion quartet and string quartet, resembled an elegant clockwork toy... emitting one gently explosive surprise after another as it pursued its course."


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