This Year's Visiting Professor: Augusta Read Thomas
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 the 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 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.
An influential teacher at Eastman, Northwestern, Tanglewood, and Aspen Music Festival, she is only the 16th person to be designated University Professor at the University of Chicago (one of only seven currently holding the title). Augusta said, "Teaching is a natural extension of my creative process and of my enthusiasm for the music of others."
Thomas was the longest-serving Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony, for Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez, from 1997 through 2006. This residency culminated in the premiere ofAstral 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.
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 a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Ms. Thomas studied composition with Oliver Knussen at Tanglewood (1986, 1987, 1989); Jacob Druckman at Yale University (1988); 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.
Augusta Thomas has received prizes and awards from: the Siemens Foundation in Munich, ASCAP, BMI, the National Endowment for the Arts (1994, 1992, 1988), the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (2001, 1994, 1989), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Koussevitzky Foundation (1999), the New York Foundation for the Arts (1998), the John W. Hechinger Foundation, the Kate Neal Kinley Foundation, The Debussy Trio Music Foundation and Thomas van Straaten, Columbia University (Bearns Prize), the Naumburg Foundation, the Fromm Foundation (2011, 1996, 1992), the Barlow Endowment, Harriett Eckstein, the New York State Council for the Arts, and Chamber Music America; she received a prize in the French International Competition of Henri Dutilleux, The Rudolph Nissim Award from ASCAP, a Finalist Award in the Massachusetts Artists Fellowship Program, and the Indiana State University Orchestral Music Prize. She was awarded the Third Century Award from the Office of Copyrights and Patents in Washington, D.C. In 2001 she was named one of Chicago’s 40 under 40 by Crain’s Business Magazine.
Ms. Thomas was awarded fellowships from the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, the Rockefeller Foundation (Bellagio), the International Rotary Foundation, L'Ecole Normal in Fountainbleau, France, Tanglewood Music Center, the Gaudeamus Foundation, the Wellesley Composers Conference, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Aspen Music Festival and went twice to June in Buffalo. She was a Junior Fellow in the prestigious Society of Fellows at Harvard University between 1991 and 1994. She was elected and initiated as an Honorary Member of Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity in 1996.
Augusta is a passionate and devoted teacher. She is in very close touch with her students. Teaching is a natural extension of her creative process and of her avid enthusiasm for the music of others. She is a devoted listener to the music of others and as such has a broad and deep knowledge of the music of our time. For Augusta, working with students is a joy, a deeply felt commitment, and an integrated part of her creative existence. She is the 16th ever University Professor (one of five current University Professors) at The University of Chicago.
Augusta was an assistant, then associate professor of composition at the Eastman School of Music from 1993-2001, and from 2001 until 2006 was the Wyatt Professor of Music (Endowed Chair) at Northwestern University. She currently continues her involvement with Northwestern University by serving on the Dean's Music Advisory Board. In the summers she often teaches at the Tanglewood Music Center. Augusta was the Director of the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood in 2009. Frequently Ms. Thomas undertakes residencies in colleges, universities, and festivals across the country and in Europe. From time to time she teaches private composition lessons for advanced students. From 2009-2011 she taught and mentored 10 high school-aged composers in the state of Connecticut. Each composer had their new piece premiered by the New Haven Symphony in May 2011.