Augusta Read Thomas

b. 1964

American

Summary

Grammy-winning composer, Augusta Read Thomas' impressive body of works embodies unbridled passion and fierce poetry. The New Yorker magazine called her "a true virtuoso composer." Championed by such luminaries as Barenboim, Rostropovich, Boulez, Eschenbach, Salonen, Maazel, Ozawa, and Knussen, she rose early to the top of her profession. Later, as an influential teacher at Eastman, Northwestern, Tanglewood, now she is the 16th ever University Professor (one of five current University Professors) at The University of Chicago. Former Chairperson of the American Music Center, she has become one of the most recognizable and widely loved figures in American Music. Thomas was the longest-serving Mead Composer-in-Residence for Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez with the Chicago Symphony from 1997 through 2006, a residency that culminated in the premiere of Astral Canticle — one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music. During her residency, Thomas not only premiered nine commissioned works, but was central toward establishing the thriving MusicNOW series. She won the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, among many other coveted awards. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
 
The Santa Fe Opera premieres the all-ages Sweet Potato Kicks the Sun by Thomas and librettist Leslie Dunton-Downer on October 26 2019 in Santa Fe, NM. It features acclaimed beatboxer Nicole Paris.
Critical Acclaim
Thomas’ music, particularly her orchestral music, fairly explodes with an extroverted boldness of utterance audiences and musicians alike find challenging yet immediate. It’s music that doesn’t sound like anybody else’s — music that insists you pay attention.
Chicago Tribune

“...Thomas’ music from the outset [has] clarity of conception and precision of gesture (whether in the briefest of instrumental miniatures or in large-scale orchestral works), which act as the focus of her often intricate textures and iridescent harmonies – thereby ensuring that her work exudes an immediacy and a communicativeness whatever its degree of complexity and dissonance.”
Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone Magazine, September 2014

Biography

"Heart and soul in the breathtaking music of a thoughtful contemporary composer...reveals a lively, probing mind allied to a beating heart."
— Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone Magazine
 
"Augusta Read Thomas’s impressive body of works embodies unbridled passion and fierce poetry. Championed by such luminaries as Barenboim, Rostropovich, Boulez, and Knussen, she rose early to the top of her profession. Later, as an influential teacher at Eastman, Northwestern and Tanglewood, chairperson of the American Music Center, and the Chicago Symphony’s longest-serving resident composer, she has become one of the most recognizable and widely loved figures in American Music."
— American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters

"a true virtuoso composer"
The New Yorker

"Bliss out to Ms. Thomas's transfixing shimmer"
The New York Times

The music of Augusta Read Thomas (b. 1964 in New York) is nuanced, majestic, elegant, capricious, lyrical, and colorful – "it is boldly considered music that celebrates the sound of the instruments and reaffirms the vitality of orchestral music.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)

In February 2015, music critic Edward Reichel wrote, "Augusta Read Thomas has secured for herself a permanent place in the pantheon of American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. She is without question one of the best and most important composers that this country has today. Her music has substance and depth and a sense of purpose. She has a lot to say and she knows how to say it — and say it in a way that is intelligent yet appealing and sophisticated.”

The New York Times article of March 6, 2015 states that Thomas had the distinction of having her work performed more frequently in 2013-2014 than any other living ASCAP composer, according to statistics from performing rights organization.  Former Chairperson of the American Music Center, she serves on many boards, is a generous citizen in the profession at large, and, according to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, "has become one of the most recognizable and widely loved figures in American music.” 

A Grammy winner, her impressive body of works embodies unbridled passion and fierce poetry.  The New Yorker called her "a true virtuoso composer."  Championed by such luminaries as Barenboim, Rostropovich, Boulez, Eschenbach, Salonen, Maazel, Ozawa, and Knussen, she rose early to the top of her profession.

As an influential teacher at Eastman, Northwestern, Tanglewood, Aspen Music Festival, now she is the 16th ever University Professor (one of only 7 current University Professors) at the University of Chicago.  She has said, "Teaching is a natural extension of my creative process and of my enthusiasm for the music of others.”  She founded the Center for Contemporary Composition at the University of Chicago.

Thomas was the longest-serving Mead Composer-in-Residence for Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez with the Chicago Symphony from 1997 through 2006, a residency that culminated in the premiere of Astral Canticle – one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music.  During her residency, Thomas not only premiered nine commissioned orchestral works, but also was central toward establishing the thriving MusicNOW series on which she commissioned and programmed the work of many living composers.

Augusta envisioned, and spearheaded EAR TAXI FESTIVAL, a 6-day-long new music festival in October 2016 celebrating the vibrant and booming classical contemporary music scene in Chicago. 350 musicians, 53 world premieres, performances of 35 already existing works, 25 ensembles, 88 composers, and 5 installations.

Recent and upcoming commissions include those from the Boston Symphony, the Utah Symphony, Wigmore Hall in London, JACK quartet, Third Coast Percussion, Tanglewood, the Danish Chamber Players, Notre Dame University, and the Fromm Foundation. She won the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize among many other coveted awards.  She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. 

G. Schirmer, Inc. is the exclusive publisher of her music worldwide for all works composed until December 31, 2015. Nimbus Music Publishing is the exclusive publisher of her music worldwide for all works composed after January 1, 2016. Her discography includes 77 commercially recorded CDs.

Ms. Thomas studied composition with Oliver Knussen at Tanglewood (1986, 1987, 1989), Jacob Druckman at Yale University (1988), with Alan Stout and Bill Karlins at Northwestern University (1983-1987), and at the Royal Academy of Music in London (1989). She was a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University (1991-94) and a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College (1990-91).

Donald Rosenberg of Gramophone wrote, "Heart and soul in the breathtaking music of a thoughtful contemporary composer. Thomas's brainy brand of modernism reveals a lively, probing mind allied to a beating heart.”

— February 2017
For specific inquiries about this composer, please contact ed.matthew@schirmer.com or call 212-254-2100.

News

Performances

28th February 2020

PERFORMERS
Queens College Orchestra
CONDUCTOR
Mark Powell
LOCATION
LeFrak Concert Hall / Flushing, NY / United States

28th February 2020

PERFORMERS
Queens College Orchestra
CONDUCTOR
Mark Powell
LOCATION
LeFrak Concert Hall / Flushing, NY / United States

6th March 2020

SOLOISTS
Charlotte Newstead
PERFORMERS
Bristol University New Music Ensemble
CONDUCTOR
Arthur Keegan-Bole
LOCATION
Bristol Victoria Rooms / Bristol / United Kingdom

7th March 2020

SOLOISTS
Angelo Xiang Yu, Violin
PERFORMERS
Springfield Symphony Orchestra
CONDUCTOR
Kevin Rhodes
LOCATION
Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA

Features

  • American Tone Poems
    • American Tone Poems
    • As the season gets underway and plans for future seasons take shape, explore this selection of tone poems by American composers from the catalogues of Wise Music Group.

Photos

Discography