Augusta Read Thomas


University Professor of Composition in the Department of Music and the College


Office: GoH 202
Phone: (773) 834-9935 or (617) 306-8112


August Read Thomas, born in 1964 in Glen Cove, New York, was the Mead Composer-in-Residence for Pierre Boulez and Daniel Barenboim at 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. The "Colors of Love" CD by Chanticleer, which features two of Thomas' compositions, won a Grammy award.

Thomas is a member of: the American Academy of Arts and Letters; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the Advisory Committee of the Alice M. Ditson Fund at Columbia University; the Board of Trustees of the American Society for the Royal Academy of Music; the Eastman School of Music's National Council; as well as boards and advisory boards of several chamber music groups including the Ice Ensemble. She has been on the Board of Directors of the American Music Center since 2000. She was elected Chair of the Board of the American Music Center, a volunteer position that ran from 2005 to 2008. For the 2014-2015 academic year, Augusta was a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar.

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 80 commercially recorded CDs.

The Sovereign Prince of Monaco awarded Augusta CHEVALIER of the Order of Cultural Merit. The insignia of this distinction was given by S.A.R. Princess of Hanover at the Prince's Palace on 18 November 2015. Augusta Read Thomas also won the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra's Composer Award for 2015-16. This is the oldest award of its kind in the nation, intended "to recognize and honor living composers who reside in the US who are making a particularly significant contribution in the field of symphonic music, not only through their own creative efforts, but also as effective personal advocates of new approaches to the broadening of critical and appreciative standards."

Thomas played piano as a young child, starting private lessons at age four.  In third grade, she took up the trumpet and played for 14 years, attending Northwestern University as a trumpet performance major.  She played trumpet in brass quintet, chamber orchestra, orchestra, band, and Jazz band and she sang in choirs for many years.

Thomas was awarded fellowships from the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, and was a fellow for three years in the Harvard University Society of Fellows. 

Her music, which is regularly performed worldwide, has been conducted by: Christoph Eschenbach, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Mstislav Rostropovich, Seiji Ozawa, Leonard Slatkin, Oliver Knussen, David Robertson, Lorin Maazel, Sir Andrew Davis, Jiří Bĕlohlávek, Hans Graf, Marin Alsop, Cliff Colnot, Xian Zhang, Andrey Boreyko, William Boughton, Gil Rose, Gerard Schwarz, John Nelson, Joana Carneiro, Hans Vonk, Markus Stenz, Dennis Russell Davies, George Benjamin, Ludovic Morlot, Robert Trevino, Hannu Lintu, Josephine Lee, Michael Lewanski, Bradley Lubman and George Manahan among others.

Thomas received awards from the Siemens Foundation in Munich; ASCAP; BMI; National Endowment for the Arts (1994, 1992, 1988); American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; Guggenheim Memorial Foundation; Koussevitzky Foundation; New York Foundation for the Arts; John W. Hechinger Foundation; Kate Neal Kinley Foundation; Columbia University (Bearns Prize); Naumburg Foundation; Fromm Foundation; Barlow Endowment; French International Competition of Henri Dutilleux; Rudolph Nissim Award from ASCAP; and the Office of Copyrights and Patents in Washington, D.C. awarded her its Third Century Prize.

Seven years after graduating from the Royal Academy of Music in London, Thomas was elected as Associate (ARAM, honorary degree), and in 2004 was elected a Fellow (the highest honor they bestow) of the Royal Academy of Music (FRAM, honorary degree). In 1998, she received the Distinguished Alumni Association Award from St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. In 1999, she won the Award of Merit from the President of Northwestern University, and a year later received The Alumnae Award from Northwestern University. Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity initiated her as an Honorary Member in 1996.

Thomas also had the distinction of having her work performed more frequently in 2013-2014 than any other living composer, according to statistics from performing rights organization ASCAP. 

Recent courses taught:

  • Imagination & Expertise in Composition (Music 367)
  • Private Composition Lessons (Music 240 and Music 340)
  • Introduction to Composition (Music 261)
  • Senior Research in Music (Music 299)

Recent premiers included:

  • SONOROUS EARTH for percussion quartet and orchestra: Co-commissioned by The Chicago Philharmonic Society and The Eugene Symphony with Third Coast Percussion as soloists to be premiered in November 2017.
  • NEW WORK: Dave Douglas, President of FONT MUSIC, commissioned a new work for six trumpets, to be premiered in April 2017 by The Practical Trumpet Society by trumpeters: Gareth Flowers, Josh Frank, Mike Gurfield, Timothy Leopold, Sam Nester, and Stephanie Richards.
  • CHI for string quartet: commissioned by the Spektral Quartet with generous support of Rockefeller Chapel to be premiered on April 29, 2017.
  • VIOLIN CONCERTO #3: Performed by the Cleveland Orchestra, including William Preucil, solo violin, Brett Mitchell, conducting, on March 2, 3, and 4, 2017.
  • HELIX SPIRALS for string quartet: Presented by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and performed by the Parker Quartet, on March 26, 2017.
  • SELENE for string quartet and percussion quartet: Performed by the Aspen Music Festival in Harris Concert Hall in August 7, 2017.
  • OF BEING IS A BIRD (EMILY DICKINSON SETTINGS) for soprano and chamber orchestra: Commissioned by Wigmore Hall, premiered in London on July 7, 2015 by the Aurora Orchestra with Claire Booth, soprano.
  • West Coast premiere of AUREOLE for orchestra by the Eugene Symphony: Conducted by Francesco Lecce-Chong on a subscription concert at Eugene’s Hult Center for the Performing Arts, on September 28, 2017.
  • EOS for orchestra: Premiere performances were in the week of February 16, 2015, Thierry Fischer conducting the Utah Symphony.   
  • HELIX SPIRALS for string quartet: Premiere performances were by the Parker String Quartet in February 2015 at Harvard University.

  • SELENE for percussion quartet and string quartet: Premiered in March and July 2015 at Miller Theatre and Tanglewood Music Festival.
  • KLEE MUSINGS for piano trio: Commissioned by the Norton Building Series premiered on April 10, 2016.

Works currently on her drafting table include:

  • VIOLIN CONCERTO #4 for solo violin and orchestra: Commissioned by Janet Sung to be premiered in 2018.
  • Thomas has been commissioned by a consortium of opera companies, led by Santa Fe Opera in association with San Francisco opera, that includes:
    • Lyric Opera Of Kansas City
    • Minnesota Opera
    • Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
    • Sarasota Opera
    • Seattle Opera
    Her NEW OPERA will receive its world premiere in 2019 at the Santa Fe Opera.

Selected works:

  • Absolute Ocean for solo soprano, harp obbligato and orchestra (2008)
  • Astral Canticle, Double Concerto for Flute, Violin, and Orchestra (2005) - One of two finalists for 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music
  • Aurora for piano and orchestra (1999)
  • Canticle Weaving, Trombone Concerto #2, for trombone and orchestra (2003)
  • Ceremonial for orchestra (1999)
  • Cello Concerto #3 (2013)
  • Chanting to Paradise for solo soprano, chorus and orchestra (2002)
  • Flash for chorus and orchestra (2011)
  • Floating Temples for chorus and orchestra (2011)
  • Helios Choros a ballet triptych for orchestra (2006-2007)
  • In My Sky at Twilight for solo soprano and ensemble (2002)
  • Jubilee for orchestra (2010)
  • Orbital Beacons (Concerto for Orchestra) (1998)
  • Of Paradise and Light for string orchestra (2010)
  • Prayer Bells for orchestra (2001)
  • Radiant Circles for orchestra (2010)
  • Ritual Incantations for cello and orchestra (1999) (Cello Concerto #2)
  • Terpsichore’s Dream a ballet for chamber orchestra (2007)
  • Words of the Sea for orchestra (1995-96)
  • Violin Concerto #3 for violin and orchestra (2008)
  • Capricious Angels for eight players (2009)
  • ...A Circle Around the Sun... for piano trio (2000)
  • Carillon Sky for solo violin and small ensemble (2005)
  • Dancing Helix Rituals for violin, clarinet and piano (2007)
  • Euterpe’s Caprice, a two-minute fanfare for solo flute (2008)
  • Mansueto Tribute, “double helix” for two violins (2011)
  • Passion Prayers for solo cello; fl, cl, vn, pno, hp, perc (1999)
  • Pilgrim Soul for English horn and two violins (2011)
  • Toft Serenade for violin and piano (or a version for viola and piano) (2006)
  • Traces for solo piano (2006)
  • Six Piano Etudes for solo piano (1997)
  • The Rewaking for chorus (2005)
  • Love Songs for chorus (1997)
  • The Rub of Love for chorus (1995)
  • Two E. E. Cummings Songs for chorus (2008)
  • Violin Concerto #2 – Carillon Sky (2006)