Augusta Read Thomas Renews Contract as Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Composer-In-Residence Through the 2005-2006 Concert Season

Music Director Daniel Barenboim announced at a press conference on February 20, 2001, that composer Augusta Read Thomas has renewed her contract as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s Composer-in-Residence through the 2005-2006 concert season. Ms. Thomas has held the position since September 1997.

Augusta Read Thomas
Augusta Read Thomas
Photo by Jerome de Perlinghi

“I am thankful and honored to be asked by the CSO to serve as Composer-in-Residence for another five-year term,” said Ms. Thomas. “This offer clearly illustrates the CSO’s artistic vision and commitment to the music of our time. It is a position that I take very seriously in all its aspects, and, therefore, I am particularly touched by the offer of a long-term extension. Working with Daniel Barenboim, the musicians, and with staff has been an immense joy, and I will continue to carry out the job with passion and devotion.”

No other orchestra has ever awarded a single five-year contract to a composer, and coming as it does on the heels of Thomas’s previous four years with the CSO, will amount to the longest time a composer has ever held such a position.

Augusta Read Thomas is the Orchestra’s third Composer-in-Residence, following predecessors Shulamit Ran (1990-1997) and John Corigliano (1987-1990). The Composer-in-Residence position at the Orchestra was created as part of Meet the Composer’s ten-year Orchestra Residency program (1982-1992). Each residency was set up as a two-year project, with different financial arrangements applying to the third year. Every year, a different group of orchestras started residencies, with the goal that by the end of the ten-year period, the participating orchestras would engage a Composer-in-Residence or composer-advisor on their own. “We hoped to see a turn-around in the number of works by living composers programmed and in the number of composers invited for residencies,” commented MTC founder and former president John Duffy.

Thomas’s contract calls for three new commissions by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The first new work—for chamber ensemble—is slated to premiere during the 2002-2003 Symphony Center Presents MusicNOW concert series. New works for orchestra are scheduled to premiere during the 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 CSO seasons, respectively.

In her capacity as CSO Composer-in-Residence, Ms. Thomas will continue to collaborate with CSO artistic staff in programming MusicNOW, the CSO’s critically-acclaimed contemporary music series. Her responsibilities also include reviewing new scores sent to the Orchestra, making recommendations to Daniel Barenboim regarding future programming considerations, giving pre-concert lectures on a variety of topics, working with visiting composers, and attending rehearsals of new works.

John Duffy
John Duffy
photo by Jay K. Hoffman

Duffy called Thomas and the CSO the “shining stars” of the Residency Program. “[The new contract] is certainly a testament to her work as a composer, to her music, and a sign of the splendid work she is doing in Chicago. The Orchestra takes the Composer-In-Residence position very seriously,” Duffy explained, making reference to the position’s many component duties. “It is splendid that they have commissioned her. Hopefully other orchestras will see that as a model to follow and will give [other] young composers a chance to have the experience of writing for a sterling orchestra like Chicago, the experience of working with fellow musicians, working in the community, being a spokesperson for composers.”

In the year 2000 alone, Ms. Thomas had six major premieres worldwide: Aurora, a concerto for piano and orchestra, co-commissioned and premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (with Daniel Barenboim as soloist); Invocations, performed by the Miami String Quartet at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival; Fugitive Star, performed by the Avalon String Quartet at the Caramoor Festival; Ring Out Wild Bells to the Wild Sky (with texts by Tennyson) for the Washington Choral Arts Society at the Kennedy Center; Song in Sorrow for soprano, chorus, and orchestra, commissioned and performed by the Cleveland Orchestra; and the orchestral work Ceremonial for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, led by Mr. Barenboim. In January 2001, Ms. Thomas premiered Basho Settings with soprano Barbara Ann Martin at the festival of “The Arts Association of March 1985” in Denmark.

Ms. Thomas’s upcoming premieres include a work for Mariss Jansons and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, to be presented in May; and Daylight Divine for soprano, children’s chorus, and orchestra commissioned by John Nelson and Soli Deo Gloria, which will be premiered at the Festival de Saint Denis in Paris in June. She will also write a new work for Germany’s NDR Orchestra and Christoph Eschenbach for a premiere in November 2002.