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Sun Dance (2020) — In memoriam Oliver Knussen

For orchestra

pic. perc. (or 3 perc. with timpanist playing all or some instruments of perc. #3’s part) strings (suggested: no less than 8,7,6,5,3 players)**
[NOTE: Instrumentation is very close to that of Beethoven Symphony No. 6]
World Premiere given by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christian Reif, in Indianapolis, Indiana in the Hilbert Circle Theatre on 17 February 2023.
World Premiere of the reduced instrumentation version was given by the American Composers Orchestra conducted by Vimbayi Kaziboni, in New York, NY in Carnegie Hall on 9 November 2023.
In Memoriam Oliver Knussen
Duration: 6’

**A reduced orchestration version exists:
Picc.*/pno./hp./3 perc./strings (suggested: no less than 8,7,6,5,3 players)
*Tuba part could be played on Bass Trombone

Because of the shuffling of materials between parts, the reduced orchestration version results in a wholly new score and set of parts. That is to say that the original version and this reduced orchestration version are NOT mix and match. When ordering the music from the publisher, please either order the original version (score and parts) or the reduced orchestration version (score and parts).

While SUN DANCE was originally designed to precede a performance of Beethoven's “Pastoral” Sixth Symphony, the composition could proceed or follow any music by any composer.

To be performed with dancers when feasible.


Informal reference recording


Music for me is an embrace of the world – a way to open myself up to being alive in the world in my body, in my sounds, and in my mind. I care deeply about musicality, imagination, craft, clarity, dimensionality, an elegant balance between material and form, and empathy with the performing musicians.

My works always spark and catch fire from spontaneous improvisations. It is music always in the act of becoming. I have a vivid sense that the process of the creative journey (rather than a predictable fixed point of arrival) is the essence. Poetry and dance can give language to the ineffable. Music is, in an analogous way, akin to an infinite alphabet. Sounds can become like butterflies, hummingbirds, lights, rocks, trees, webs, gardens, and landscapes.

I dance when I compose and like my music to feel organic, self-propelled — as if we listeners are overhearing (capturing) an un-notated, spontaneously embodied improvisation. Music and dance must be alive; they have to jump off the page and out of the instrument and body as if something big is at stake. I work hard to ensure that my music dances.

Organic and, at every level, concerned with transformations and connections, the carefully sculpted and fashioned musical materials of SUN DANCE are agile and spirited, and their flexibility allows pathways to braid harmonic, rhythmic, and contrapuntal elements that are constantly transformed — at times whimsical and light, at times jazzy, at times almost Ravel or Stravinsky-ballet-like, at times layered and reverberating with lyrical resonance, pirouettes, fulcrum points, and effervescence.

Selected Reviews

Rita Kohn, NUVO February 18, 2023Sun Dance for orchestra, a newly composed prelude to Beethoven 6, is anything but quiet. It’s a collision with the rainbow…"

Jay Harvey, JAY HARVEY UPSTAGE February 18, 2023 “The new work, Augusta Read Thomas' "Sun Dance," is a six-minute display of ensemble adeptness and full-palette use of orchestral color. The world premiere enchanted throughout. It had the blaze and subtlety of sunlight in its various aspects, and it certainly danced. It made good use of brief brass solos and, toward the end, featured a well-designed showcase for the percussion section."


With Oliver Knussen at Serenak at Tanglewood on the night he conducted Orbital Beacons for orchestra

With Oliver Knussen at The Cleveland Orchestra on the night he conducted Helios Choros for orchestra

SUN DANCE for orchestra

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