Augusta Read Thomas (born April 24, 1964) is an American composer, professor, and supporter of the arts.
Thomas studied composition with Oliver Knussen at Tanglewood; Jacob Druckman at Yale University; Alan Stout and Bill Karlins at Northwestern University; and at the Royal Academy of Music in London (1989). She was a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College in 1990-91 and a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University from 1991 to 1994. Thomas was the longest-serving Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony, for Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez, from 1997 to 2006. This residency culminated in the premiere of Astral Canticle for solo flute, solo violin and orchestra, one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music. During her residency, Thomas premiered nine commissioned orchestral works and helped establish the MusicNOW series.
Thomas won the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, among many other awards. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. A former chairperson of the American Music Center, she serves on many boards and, according to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, "has become one of the most recognizable and widely loved figures in American Music." Recent and upcoming commissions include those from the Santa Fe Opera in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera and several other opera companies, PEAK Performances at Montclair State University and the Martha Graham Dance Company,The Cathedral Choral Society of Washington D.C, The Indianapolis Symphony, Tanglewood, The Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, Des Moines Symphony, Boston Symphony, the Utah Symphony, Wigmore Hall in London, Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, JACK quartet, Third Coast Percussion, Spektral Quartet, Chicago Philharmonic, Eugene Symphony, the Danish Chamber Players, Notre Dame University, Janet Sung, and the Fromm Foundation.
Thomas was born in 1964 in Glen Cove, New York [ citation needed ]. She is one of 10 children of James A. and Susan N. Thomas (née Norton). Her mother was a kindergarten teacher for 30 years at the Green Vale School. Augusta attended St. Paul's School [ citation needed ], a boarding high school in Concord, New Hampshire. She began piano lessons at the age of 4, and her teacher often assigned her small composition projects on the side; Thomas has said that these small projects sparked her interest in composition. She took up trumpet in third grade.
After graduating from high school, Thomas enrolled as a music student (specializing in trumpet performance) at Northwestern University in 1983. Northwestern's composition program is prominent today, but did not exist when Thomas was an undergraduate. An exception was made for her to pursue composition. Thomas studied with faculty members and composers Alan Stout and M. William Karlins.
After graduating from Northwestern, Thomas attended Yale University to pursue a master's degree in composition. While at Yale, she studied with Jacob Druckman. Thomas did not graduate from Yale, finishing her master's degree at the Royal Academy of Music in London. There, she studied with Paul Patterson, the Manson Chair of Composition Faculty. Seven years after graduating from the Royal Academy of Music in London, Thomas was elected one of its Associates (ARAM, honorary degree), and in 2004 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music . In 1998, she received the Distinguished Alumni Association Award from St. Paul's School. In 1999, she won the Award of Merit from the President of Northwestern University, and a year later received Northwestern's Alumnae Award.
Immediately after receiving her degree from the Royal Academy of Music[ citation needed ], Thomas was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1989. At 23, she was the youngest woman recipient of the honor at the time.
In 1994, Thomas married the British composer Bernard Rands. In 1997, Russian-American cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and the Boston Symphony Orchestra premiered cello concerti by both Thomas and Rands in Boston Symphony Hall and at Carnegie Hall. Paul Griffiths wrote that Thomas “had led the way [for the performance], introducing [Rands] to Mr. Rostropovich. Then, when the Boston Symphony asked Mr. Rostropovich what he would like for his 70th birthday, he said he wanted a new concerto, and wanted it from Mr. Rands”.
Shortly after the completion of her Guggenheim Fellowship, Thomas began teaching at the Eastman School of Music. She received tenure there at age 33. While at Eastman, she was appointed Mead Composer in Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra by conductors Pierre Boulez and Daniel Barenboim. She is the longest-serving Mead Composer in Residence, holding the position from 1997 to 2006. Her residency culminated in the 2007 premier of her work Astral Canticle , one of two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Music.
Shortly after receiving tenure at Eastman, Thomas returned to Chicago to teach at the Northwestern University School of Music until 2006.
In 2010, the University of Chicago announced that Thomas would be appointed University Professor of Composition in the Department of Music and the College. She is the 16th designated professor to be appointed by the University. In 2018, it was announced that Thomas had created the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition(CCCC) at the University of Chicago. The CCCC includes the Grossman Ensemble, underwritten by the Sanford J. Grossman Charitable Trust, which was designed to extend the legacy of the Contemporary Chamber Players. Thomas said she “hoped to enrich the university's long and distinguished history in contemporary music” with the CCCC, which is in its third season.
In 2016, Thomas created and co-curated the Ear Taxi Festival,which featured over 350 musicians, 88 composers, and 54 world premieres. The two-day festival took place in Chicago and was meant to celebrate the city's “vibrant and booming contemporary classical music scene”. The festival's success earned Thomas the title “Chicagoan of the Year” from Chicago magazine, and is set to return to the city in the future.
For the 2014–15 academic year, Thomas was a Phi Beta Kappa Scholar. She 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’s most recent works include an opera, Sweet Potato Kicks the Sun,that premiered at the Santa Fe Opera in 2019. The opera is meant for audiences of all ages and stars professional beatboxer Nicole Paris. Thomas co-wrote the piece with Leslie Dunton-Downer, a longtime collaborator of hers and a published writer and librettist. There are plans for the opera to tour the United States in the near future.
Thomas lives in Chicago with her husband, teaches at the University of Chicago, directs the Center for Contemporary Composition, and composes. Her additional titles include:
· Founder and Director of The Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition
· Vice President for Music, The American Academy of Arts and Letters
· Member of the Board of Directors of The Koussevitzky Foundation
· Member of the Board of Directors of The Aaron Copland Fund for Music
· Member of the Board of Directors of the Alice M. Ditson Fund, Columbia University
· Member of the Conseil Musical de la Foundation Prince Pierre de Monaco
· Member of the Board of Trustees, American Society for the Royal Academy of Music, London
· Member of the Eastman National Council
· Member of the advisory board of Third Coast Percussion
· Member of the advisory board of the Civitas Ensemble
· Member of the advisory board of the Picosa Ensemble
· Member of the International Contemporary Ensemble Board of Directors, 2007-2013
· Chair of the Board, American Music Center, 2005-2008
· Board member, American Music Center, 2000-2011
· Envisioned, created, spearheaded EAR TAXI FESTIVAL, October 5-10, 2016 in Chicago
· Elected to membership, The American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2009
· Elected to Membership, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011
· Mead Composer-in-Residence, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1997-2006
· Curator and director of the Festival of Contemporary Music, Tanglewood Music Center, 2009
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