Augusta Read Thomas: The Auditions

Volume 8 in this series documenting Augusta Read Thomas' music, three major scores (Avian Capriccio, The Auditions and Selene) dominate, with 4 shorter works filling out this 80-minute sonic portrait of an inexhaustibly inventive and individual composer.
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Review The Auditions (2019), choreographed by Troy Schumacher and scored by Augusta Read Thomas, is to see movement, and even to feel a glimmer of pride that humans just keep fighting the damn fight… This was top-notch programming for a Sunday afternoon: perfect program length, no program notes, prairie dresses ( for Appalachian Spring/Copland) vs. crop top now, and content supple enough to lightly entertain its audience and sustain deeper discussion. Spring moved at butter-churn speed, devoting time to individual interactions but with limited communal enlightenment… The Auditions, however, was fast-paced communal enlightenment. It mimicked a young urban street, with Internet-era attention spans contrasted to the regal, focused attention in Spring. Dancers were engrossed in private trajectories, yet fully aware of one another. One by one, they each were trapped by a spotlight, and a descending string light offered the opportunity to be transported to another world… Nearly all were transported, and the remaining two danced themselves to death in their desperation to find enlightenment. Effective lighting by Yi-Chung Chen, costumes by Karen Young, and nice articulation by the omnipresent musicians of the International Contemporary Ensemble made the story so effective that an engrossed toddler processed every point out loud—something I thought was wonderful, and proof of solid construction… Thomas created distinct, complicated musical habitats for Schumacher’s physical and emotional movement. She welded music that matched the straightforward drama: friendly pitched percussion and groove animated the sprightly search for meaning, and droning strings floated the calm enlightenment. Within these effective contrasts, however was a vital flexibility and wisdom. Neither musical place was quite what it seemed; high demands on chipper pitched percussion, and a peaceful rhythm unsettled by timbre, dislodged each habitat out of an easy category. Neither [dramatic] place was an ultimate failure or arrival, and Thomas gave a friendly reminder that change is unstoppable and growth is a choice… Is America grown? Is it maturing how we might wish after 75 years? No. But these two pieces, next to each other, suggested a move from individual settlers toward collective diversity, submerged experience toward shared desires, and an expanding emotional vocabulary. And Montclair University’s Peak Performances series created a pocket of hope that instead of just burning, the future could burn brightly. [Lana Norris, National Sawdust Log]
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