Augusta Read Thomas

b. 1964

American

Summary

A composer featured on a Grammy-winning CD by Chanticleer, 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 premiered the all-ages Sweet Potato Kicks the Sun by Thomas and librettist Leslie Dunton-Downer on October 26 2019 in Santa Fe, NM, featuring 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

"This is music that is always in motion, as if coming perpetually out of a magician’s hat. It leads but doesn’t direct, and is playful and subtle, dancing on light feet. It is music that conjures."— The Huffington Post

"a true virtuoso composer"— The New Yorker

“Ms. Thomas was in control of every nuance in these vividly colorful pieces”— The New York Times
"...the vividly imaginative instrumental palette that Thomas has at her fingertips...established her as one of the most distinctive and rewarding US composers...” — The Guardian, London

“Augusta Read Thomas writes precisely calibrated music of refined beauty. Her works are in the repertory of several A-list players and ensembles.”— David Weininger, Boston Globe

“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.”— Donald Rosenberg of Gramophone

"The reason I compose music is to express gratitude.” — Augusta Read Thomas

Biography

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 composer featured on a Grammy-winning CD by Chanticleer, her 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.

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. For the 2017-2018 season, Thomas was the composer-in-Residence with Eugene Symphony Orchestra, Francesco Lecce-Chong, Music Director and Scott Freck, Executive Director. Thomas was name 2016 Chicagoan of the Year.

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). Thomas has also been on the Board of Directors of the American Music Center since 2000, as well as on the boards and advisory boards of several chamber music groups. She was elected Chair of the Board of the American Music Center, a volunteer position that ran from 2005 to 2008. She is University Professor (one of six University Professors) at The University of Chicago. Augusta was MUSICALIVE Composer-in-Residence with the New Haven Symphony, a national residency program of The League of American Orchestras and Meet the Composer. Augusta has been on the Board of the ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) for many years; is a member of the Advisory Committee of the Alice M. Ditson Fund; is on the Board of Trustees of The American Society for the Royal Academy of Music; is a Member of the Conseil Musical de la Foundation Prince Pierre de Monaco; and is on the Eastman School of Music's National Council.


— March 2020


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

News

Performances

17th October 2020

PERFORMERS
Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra
CONDUCTOR
Victor Yampolsky, Nicholas Koo
LOCATION
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Evanston, IL, United States

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.
  • Socially Distanced Onstage Works
    • Socially Distanced Onstage Works
    • With times of uncertainty ahead for the classical music community, Wise Music Classical has compiled a selection of repertoire for string orchestra, chamber orchestra, and chamber ensembles that allows for onstage social distancing.

Photos

Discography