A Portrait of Augusta Read Thomas

"According to statistics released last year by ASCAP, a performing rights organization, Ms. Thomas topped their list of most frequently performed living composers in 2013-14.” New York Times

Bold, passionate, urgent—Augusta Read Thomas writes music that is wholly and completely alive. In many of her own program notes, she includes this sentence: “I like music that is alive and jumps off the page and out of the instrument as if something big is at stake.” The first two volumes of this Augusta Read Thomas recording series focused on orchestral and chamber/piano music respectively, collecting performances by various ensembles. This third volume is something a bit different: a recording of a live 50th birthday concert presented by the New Haven (Connecticut) Symphony Orchestra under the direction of William Boughton. One of the two large-scale works on the recording is also one of Thomas’s most recent (and was premiered on the concert), the dramatic Hemke Concerto, “Prisms of Light” (2014). This concerto was commissioned as a retirement gift for legendary saxophonist and pedagogue Frederick L. Hemke by many of his students past and present. This concerto is music that almost requires the listener to wear sunglasses—exploring fully the saxophone’s capacity for both lyrical, human expression and glorious, otherworldly color. The other large-scale composition is Absolute Ocean (2008), a song-cycle for soprano and orchestra with a significant obbligato harp part. Absolute Ocean is especially spare and atmospheric in texture. The ringing, resonant pluck of the harp is clearly the dominant musical image, inspiring the orchestral texture that surrounds it. Despite using a medium size symphony scoring, the instruments are never all heard together—the result gives an audible sense of the orchestra as one large, graceful extension of the harp.



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Review "I thoroughly enjoyed the two recently released CDs of Augusta Read Thomas and this CD was no disappointment. It is a portrait of the composer and so has a variety of music. The composer apparently likes "music that is alive and jumps off the page and out of the instrument as if something big is at stake" which describes her works well. The CD starts with two very attractive songs by E.E. Cummings for girls' chorus. The larger work, Hemke Concerto "Prisms of Light" for alto saxophone has four movements: Illuminations, Sunrise Ballad, Chasing Radiance and Solar Rings. The notes suggest the listener wears sunglasses due to the saxophone and orchestra's glorious otherworldly colour. Absolute Ocean for soprano, setting words by E.E. Cummings again and harp obbligato. The piece is certainly very atmospheric and has a definite Copland feel to it. Silent Moon for violin and cello represents chamber works. The first movement is Still, Soulful and Resonant. The CD is completed with Of Paradise and Light for string orchestra, a spacious composition and then a vocal work: Spells. The New Haven Symphony Orchestra is conducted by William Boughton. Performance and sound quality are excellent. Very good notes. A really lovely CD, varied pieces and well worth buying."- Anonymous
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