Augusta Read Thomas: Plea for Peace
A vocalise for soprano and string quartet commissioned by the University of Chicago for Nuclear Reactions - 1942: A Historic Breakthrough, an Uncertain Future, in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Chicago Pile-1.
Jennifer Iverson Assistant Professor, Department of Music and the College The University of Chicago
The history of music is, in many ways, an assemblage of occasional compositions. Since the rise of art pour l’art in the 19th century, classical music purports to be abstract, but in the longer arc, compositions connect to specific occasions: a coronation, a requiem mass, a religious feast, a dinner party, a regal celebration. Such occasions and commissions present challenges—not least for the composer charged with responding to the myriad consequences of the world’s first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Does one focus on the (positive) reverberations in cancer treatment, power, and science? Does one focus on the (negative) reverberations in bombs, death, waste, and perpetual threats of war? In “Plea for Peace,” these consequences are inextricable. The clean perfect intervals that begin and end the work give rise to both expansionist leaps and cocooning retractions. The soloist’s elegant, wordless vocalise weaves in and out of the string quartet’s sustained harmonies in graceful counterpoint, drawing us closer to our common humanity. Simple harmonies slowly transform, becoming rich and complex at the insistent, dramatic climax: a wordless scream from the soul. As the music’s opening glow returns, the voice seamlessly dovetailing with the strings, we return to the sonic space of meditation, reflecting on an absolute plea for lasting peace.
“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
“A true virtuoso composer.” The New Yorker
“Thomas has secured for herself a permanent place in the pantheon of American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. She is without question one of the best and most important composers that this country has today.” Edward Reichel