The Kennedy Center

Augusta Read Thomas


Augusta Read Thomas (born in 1964 in Glen Cove, New York) was the Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1997 through 2006. In 2007, her ASTRAL CANTICLE was one of the two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Music. 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.

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.

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. For 2009-2011 she is teaching and mentoring 10 high school-aged composers in the state of Connecticut. Each composer will have his or her new piece premiered by the New Haven Symphony in May 2011.

American Academy of Arts and Letters
The American Academy of Arts And Letters ( has elected Augusta Read Thomas to membership. She was inducted in May 2009. The American Academy of Arts and Letters is an honor society of 250 architects, composers, artists, and writers. The honor of election is considered the highest formal recognition of artistic merit in the United States.

The citation, given at her induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in May 2009, reads as follows:

"Augusta Read Thomas's impressive body of works embodies unbridled passion and fierce poetry. Championed by such luminaries as Barenbo im, 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."

G. Schirmer, Inc. is the exclusive publisher of Thomas' music, and her discography includes 48 commercially recorded CDs. Please visit for a complete list of the recordings.

Ms. Thomas lives in, and divides her time between, Chicago, IL, and Becket, MA.

Current & Upcoming: Recent Performances & Other Works
Augusta is currently the MUSICALIVE Composer-in-Residence with the New Haven Symphony.  MUSICALIVE is a national residency program of The League of American Orchestras and Meet the Composer.  For 2010-2011, Augusta is holding the Fulbright professorship: McIlroy Family Visiting Professorship in the Performing and Visual Arts at the University of Arkansas' J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.

Upcoming projects include RADIANT CIRCLES for orchestra commissioned by the New Haven Symphony, with support from the Music Alive program of the League of American Orchestras and Meet the Composer and the Barlow Endowment will premiere March 10, 2011, William Boughton, conducting.  She will be composing WHITE FIRE OF THE STARS, Songs of Eternity, Homage to Gustav Mahler for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, with Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano soloist and Nathan Gunn, baritone soloist that will premiere in Carnegie Hall in December 2011. She will be composing a short fanfare, TITLE TBD, for the DePaul University Orchestra that will premiere in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, in May 2013, Cliff Colnot, conducting. She is holding the McIlroy Family Visiting Professorship in the Performing and Visual Arts at the University of Arkansas' J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and the Walton Arts Center in the 2010-2011 academic year for which she will be composing FLOATING TEMPLES - BASHO HAIKU SETTINGS for a mixture of student musicians from their choruses, orchestra and band playing alongside some of their faculty artists.  Matthew Kuhn has commissioned a new TRIO, TITLE TBD, in honor of his wife's 50th birthday, which will premiere at Weill Hall of Carnegie Hall on February 10, 2011, Matthew Kuhn, English Horn; Alyssa Kuhn, Violin; Michael Barta, Violin.  The University of South Florida has commissioned FLASH for large chorus and orchestra, commissioned by to celebrate and inaugurate their new concert hall, Dr. William W. Wiedrich, conducting the world premiere on April 3, 2011.

Recent projects include HELIOS CHOROS, a triptych for orchestra (2006-2007) (title translation: Sun God Dancers) with a duration of 40 minutes: HELIOS CHOROS I, commissioned by the Dallas Symphony, was composed in 2006 and is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Sir Andrew Davis, Victor Marshall, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and was premiered on May 3, 4, 5, 6, 2007 by the Dallas Symphony, Sir Andrew Davis conducting; HELIOS CHOROS II, co-commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra, with the generous support of Mr. Martin Mellish and Ms. Harriett Eckstein, composed in 2007, received the LSO world premiere on 14 December 2008, Daniel Harding, conducting, and the BSO premiere on 15 October 2009, Ludovic Morlot, conducting; HELIOS CHOROS III, commissioned by the Orchestra of Paris, was composed in 2007 and is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Christoph Eschenbach, was premiered on 12 December 2007 in Paris on a Pierre Boulez Festival.

On January 16, 2009, VIOLIN CONCERTO NO. 3 co-commissioned by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the BBC Proms, and Mr. and Mrs. Bill Brown, and the National Symphony Orchestra, with Frank-Peter Zimmermann as violin soloist, was premiered in Salle Pleyel, Paris, with Andrey Boreyko , conducting.  September 9, 2009 was the UK premiere, at the BBC Proms, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jiri Belohlavek, Frank Peter Zimmermann, soloist. The US premiere will be in June 2011 at the Kennedy Center, Christoph Eschenbach, conducting the National Symphony Orchestra, Jennifer Koh, soloist. JUBILEE for orchestra, commissioned by the Juilliard School, premiered on April 30, 2010, Xian Zhang conducting, in Alice Tully Hall, New York.

Other recent projects include ABSOLUTE OCEAN, commissioned, with a generous gift by the daughter of Shirley and Jay Marks, by the Houston Symphony, was premiered on January 22, 2009, Hans Graf conducting, with Paula Page, solo harp and Twyla Robinson solo soprano; DREAM CATCHER for solo violin, commissioned by Voices of Change in Dallas, Texas was premiered on May 3, 2009, Maria Schleuning, violin; The ASCAP FOUNDATION commissioned a work for cello and piano entitled CANTOS FOR SLAVA, IN MEMORIAM MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH, which was premiered and recorded by Matt Haimovitz in summer 2008. TWO E. E. CUMMINGS SETTINGS, commissioned by the San Francisco Girl's Chorus for the occasion of their 30th Anniversary, for their Chorissima chamber choir, was premiered in October 2008. CAPRICIOUS ANGELS, commissioned by the Angel Fire Ensemble in New Mexico, was premiered on September 6, 2009.

Premieres that took place during the 2005-2006 season included two new concerti for the Chicago Symphony: ASTRAL CANTICLE for violin, flute and orchestra featuring the principal players Robert Chen and Matthieu DuFour; and CARILLON SKY for violin and large ensemble. Other new works are SHAKIN' for orchestra (a tribute to Elvis Presley and Igor Stravinsky), commissioned by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and the Music Library Association in honor of its 75th Anniversary; THE REWAKING for male chorus commissioned by Cornell University Glee Club; BERKSHIRE SONGS for chorus commissioned by the Nebraska Choral Arts Society; and ANGEL TEARS AND EARTH PRAYERS for organ and trumpet commissioned by the American Guild of Organists for their national convention. Two new solo piano etudes join the existing four and the full set is first presented by Stephen Gosling in New York City.

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) - which is now The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University - and taught composition at Tanglewood during the summers of 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. 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.

Recent Premieres:
Recent past projects include DAYLIGHT DIVINE, for children's chorus and orchestra, commissioned by Soli Deo Gloria and premiered in June 2001 at the St-Denis Festival in France; MURMURS IN THE MIST OF MEMORY, commissioned by the International Sejong Soloists, premiered in 2001 at the Aspen Music Festival; SONG IN SORROW for orchestra and chorus, commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra, had its premiere in June 2000; FUGITIVE STAR for string quartet was commissioned by the Caramoor Chamber Music Festival for the Avalon String Quartet; RING OUT WILD BELLS TO THE WILD SKY (text by Tennyson), for chorus and orchestra, commissioned by the Washington Choral Arts Society, had its premiere on February 25, 2000, at the Kennedy Center; AURORA: CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA, commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, had its premiere with Daniel Barenboim as pianist and conductor on June 10, 2000; the work received its UK premiere on September 8, 2001 at the BBC Proms, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim as pianist and conductor once again; INVOCATIONS for string quartet, commissioned by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival for the Miami String Quartet (with funding from Chamber Music America), had its premiere on March 19, 2000 in Santa Fe; CEREMONIAL for orchestra, was commissioned and premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim conducting, on January 6, 2000; RITUAL INCANTATIONS, a cello concerto for cellist David Finckel, commissioned by Thomas van Straaten with the Aspen Music Festival, premiered during its fiftieth anniversary season on July,16 1999, with Hugh Wolf conducting; ORBITAL BEACONS: CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA (for re-seated orchestra - divided into ten sections - 8 concertino groups with 9 soloists and two chamber orchestras), commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, premiered with Pierre Boulez conducting on November 27, 1998; and WORDS OF THE SEA, commissioned and premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez conducting, in December 1996.

Additionally, Augusta wrote a work entitled SERENADE for chamber orchestra, commissioned by the Shedd Aquarium for the Seahorse Symphony exhibit, which was recorded on CD by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and which is playing as a tape loop in the Seahorse exhibit for many years.

Recorded Works:

In addition to 43 CDs of her music that have been released by commercial record companies, Thomas has also self-produced five recordings, together representing excellent performances of 23 of her compositions. The five CDs, more information on which can be found on the Recordings page, are:

Words of the Sea
Terpsichore's Dream
Traces and Magneticfireflies
Sun Threads
Prairie Sketches
Augusta Read Thomas


Additional Resources