Augusta Read Thomas

Augusta Read Thomas
University Professor of Composition in the Department of Music and the College; Director, Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition
Goodspeed 202
Office Hours: By appointment
773.834.9935 or 617.306.8112

"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

This is music that is always in motion, as if coming perpetually out of a magician’s hat. It leads but doesn’t direct, and is playful and subtle, dancing on light feet. It is music that conjures.”  — The Huffington Post


Augusta 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 both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

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, Ken-David Masur, William Boughton, 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.

Her music has been commissioned by leading ensembles and organizations around the world including: Love Songs (Chanticleer); Chanting to Paradise (NDR [German Radio] Orchestra); Song in Sorrow (The Cleveland Orchestra); Orbital Beacons, Aurora, In My Sky at Twilight, Ceremonial, Carillon Sky, Words of the Sea, Trainwork, Tangle, and Astral Canticle (Chicago Symphony Orchestra); Gathering Paradise (New York Philharmonic); Sweet Potato Kicks the Sun (Santa Fe Opera in association with San Francisco Opera and 7 other opera houses); Far Past War (The Washington Choral Arts Society); Sun Dance (Indianapolis Symphony); Prayer Bells (Pittsburgh Symphony); Bells Ring Summer (La Jolla Chamber Music Society); Galaxy Dances, and Cello Concerto (National Symphony and the Kennedy Center); Violin Concerto #3 (Radio France and the BBC Orchestra); Helios Choros I (Dallas Symphony); Helios Choros II (London and Boston Symphony Orchestras); Helios Choros III (Orchestre de Paris); Pulsar (BBC); Terpsichore's Dream (Utah Symphony); Canticle Weaving for trombone and orchestra (Los Angeles Philharmonic); and Cantos for Slava (ASCAP Foundation)."

Selected recent and upcoming commissions include those from the BBC Proms, National Cathedral Chorus of Washington, D.C., Sejong Soloists for their 2024 Carnegie Hall series and concerts in Korea, Santa Fe Opera (and a consortium of 7 other opera companies), the Boston Symphony, Chorus America, the Utah Symphony, the Juilliard School, Orchestra de Chambre de Paris, the Martha Graham Dance Company, the Indianapolis Symphony, Ballet Collective, Tanglewood, Wigmore Hall in London, Philharmonie de Paris, Quartet Diotima, Philharmonie de Paris, JACK quartet, the Danish Chamber Players, Third Coast Percussion, the Fromm Foundation, Aspen Music Festival, Oberlin College, Royal Academy of Music in London, the Eastman School, and the DePaul University Wind Ensemble.

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.

Augusta is Vice President for Music, The American Academy of Arts and Letters; member of Board of Directors of The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc.; member of Board of Directors of the Koussevitzky Foundation; member of Board of Directors of the Alice M. Ditson Fund at Columbia University; and member of the Conseil Musical de la Foundation Prince Pierre de Monaco.

She was on the Board of Directors of the American Music Center for 11 years from 2000 to 2011, 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, from 2005 to 2008. Augusta was on the Board of the ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) for many years and is a member of the Advisory Boards of many ensembles. She was the Director of the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood in 2009.  For the 2014-2015 academic year, Augusta was a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar. Thomas was named the 2016 Chicagoan of the Year.

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. 

Over 90 commercial CDs containing her music have been released by commercial record companies. In 2013, Nimbus Records embarked on a project to record her complete works and have released eleven CD’s to date.

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 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.

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. 

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, later changing to a composition major.  She played trumpet in brass quintet, chamber orchestra, orchestra, band, and Jazz band, and she sang in choirs for many years.

Thomas' chamber opera LIGEIA (librettist: Leslie Dunton-Downer, based on the short story by Poe) was awarded the International Orpheus Prize (Luciano Berio, president of the jury) and performed in Spoleto, Italy (Luca Ronconi, stage director). LIGEIA, commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich and Rencontres Musicales d'Evian, was premiered by Rostropovich at the 1994 Evian Festival. The American premiere took place at the Aspen Music Festival on July 27, 1995.

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.