I love composing. In a good way, my nerve endings for sound are always dialed up high – actually, they are on perpetual alert. If I hear one note or chord or if, for example, I play one on an instrument, I get lit up as if electric shock ribbons instantly race from my ears and fingertips to my imagination and then my creativity and craft play high-speed ping-pong! where the ball is bouncing back and forth 100 times a second.
The outcomes are unpredictable to me. I stay absolutely flexible. Everything is malleable, springy, stretchy, coil-able, color-able, twistable, bouncing, zig-zagging, and splinter-able. It feels like I am dancing with contrapuntal flickering sonic lights that accumulate into a spinning pinwheel spawning sound and form. I slide, skate, swivel, and spin with my materials - crafting nuance and finesse - and then I sculpt, shape, chisel, fashion, and form.
At the end of all of that, I feel as if the piece wrote me – not as if I wrote the piece! My music has its own inner life. If I listen carefully, the piece I am composing will tell me what it next needs.
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).
A composer featured on a Grammy winning CD by Chanticleer and Pulitzer Prize finalist, Thomas’ impressive body of works “embodies unbridled passion and fierce poetry” (American Academy of Arts and Letters). 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. The American Academy of Arts and Letters described Thomas as “one of the most recognizable and widely loved figures in American Music."
She is a University Professor of Composition in Music and the College at The University of Chicago. Thomas was the longest-serving Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for conductors Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez (1997-2006). This residency 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 was also central in establishing the thriving MusicNOW series, through which she commissioned and programmed the work of many living composers. For the 2017-2018 concert season, Thomas was the Composer-in-Residence with the Eugene Symphony Orchestra, while Francesco Lecce-Chong served as Music Director and Scott Freck as Executive Director. Thomas was MUSICALIVE Composer-in-Residence with the New Haven Symphony, a national residency program of The League of American Orchestras and Meet the Composer.
Thomas 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. Thomas was named the 2016 Chicagoan of the Year.
In 2016, Augusta Read Thomas founded the University of Chicago’s Center for Contemporary Composition, which is a dynamic, collaborative, and interdisciplinary environment for the creation, performance and study of new music and for the advancement of the careers of emerging and established composers, performers, and scholars. Distinguished by its formation within an uncompromising, relentlessly searching, and ceaselessly innovative scholarly environment, which celebrates excellence and presents new possibilities for intellectual dialogue, the Center comprises ten integrated entities: annual concert series featuring the Grossman Ensemble, CHIME, visiting ensembles, distinguished guest composers, performances, recordings, research, student-led projects, workshops and postdoctoral fellowships.
Not only is Thomas one of the most active composers in the world, but she is a long-standing, exemplary citizen with an extensive history of being deeply committed to her community. She is the former Chairperson for the American Music Center; Vice President for Music, The American Academy of Arts and Letters; and Member of the Conseil Musical de la Foundation Prince Pierre de Monaco. Member of the Board of Directors of The Koussevitzky Foundation and The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc. and the Alice M. Ditson Fund, Columbia University.
As the artistic director of Center for Musical Excellence, I am always on the look out for new and undiscovered talents. They come to me, sometimes, by my colleagues’ recommendations and other times through young artists’ own research about our organization. Tyson Davis and Andrew Bambridge are currently on our roster of CME Young Artists, whom we mentor. Patricio Molina is a CME alumnus. Theo Chandler, Ji-Young Ko, and Daniel Newman-Lessler applied for our Grant program, and I got to know their work through that process. I decide on young artists when I notice a deep passion and drive within them, plus a certain kind of sparkle in the personality and lots of humility. In addition to musical talents, I believe these are the qualities that will take the young artists far. CME’s motto is "Moving Musicians Forward". I’ve chosen our Discovery Composers based on these qualities, whom we felt we could easily move forward.
- Min Kwon