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Prairie Sketches I: Diamonds on Orchid Velvet (2004)

For soprano and ensemble

For solo soprano (light lyric, slightly coloratura) fl, ob, cl, hp, vl, vc, 1 perc., 3 famale voices or a small children's chorus
Premiered by the Callisto Ensemble, Cliff Colnot, conductor, Tony Arnold, soprano, on 9 January 2005
Duration: 15 minutes


CD Available
Prairie Sketches

This work is available on Prairie Sketches.


Poem by Suzann Zimmerman

On a Kansas prairie

plain, green blades
stand tall and silent

My Soul,
breathe deep

awash in
silken sunlight
gazing toward
morning skies
in quiet splendor.
The stillness of
dawn's glow
spreads one timeless gaze.

My Soul,
breathe deep

At a moment's wisp of
wind, the whisper silence
is broken as a gentle sway
moves across the great expanse,
grasses once still
are as a sea foam of waves
dashing against the shoreline
of a cornflower blue sky.

The dance begins.

Sounds of rustling
prairie current hold sway
in the waning daylight hours.

My Soul, breathe deep and drink the
near-silent fragrance.

As evening turns to dusk
splendid grasses
arrayed with wild flower patches
will rest, as night-watch
stars take up
canvassed formations. And
for a time all aglow,
they pierce the black night sky
like diamonds on orchid velvet.

Bathed in misty morning
air, they fade in
sunlight brilliance of morn
once again revealing
slender green blades
washed in daylight's
dawning mist.

Awaiting the Willow-wisp's song, the
sea green field, dotted with
patch quilt colors takes up
a ballet of graceful movement,
as wind sweeps across land
that time has graced.

—Suzann Zimmerman

Selected Reviews

Steve Smith, The New York Times (Arts & Leisure), 10 December 2006
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 Songs 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."

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