updated 20 June 2022
© Anthony Barlich

Augusta Read Thomas

American composer born in 1964 in New York.

Augusta Read Thomas began piano lessons at the age of four at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. Her teacher often gave her small composition projects, which she says was the beginning of her vocation as a composer. She began playing the trumpet in the third grade. After graduating from high school in 1983, Thomas enrolled as a music major in trumpet at Northwestern University, where she studied with Alan Stout and Martin William Karlins. From 1986 to 1987, she studied composition with Oliver Knussen at Tanglewood, and in 1988 with Jacob Druckman at Yale University. In the meantime, she was accepted to the Royal Academy of Music in London, where she studied with Paul Patterson and obtained a master’s degree.

Thomas was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1989. At 23, she was the youngest woman to receive this honor at the time. Soon after, she began teaching at the Eastman School of Music, and she received tenure at the age of 33. While at Eastman, she was named Mead Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra by conductors Pierre Boulez and Daniel Barenboim. The longest-serving Mead Composer-in-Residence, she held the position from 1997 to 2006. The orchestra gave the 2007 premiere of her work Astral Canticle, one of two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Shortly after her tenure at Eastman, Thomas returned to Chicago to teach at Northwestern University School of Music until 2008. In 2010, she was appointed University Professor of Composition in the Department of Music at the University of Chicago.

Thomas is invested in programming activities and the life of the Chicago music scene. In 2016, she created and co-curated the Ear Taxi Festival, which has involved over 350 musicians, 88 composers, and 54 world premieres. The two-day festival takes place in Chicago and aims to celebrate the city’s burgeoning contemporary music scene. That same year, she founded the University of Chicago’s Center for Contemporary Composition, conceived as a dynamic, collaborative, and interdisciplinary environment for the creation, performance, and study of new music, as well as for the career development of emerging and established composers, performers, and scholars.

In 2022, she presided over the jury for the Élan Prize at IRCAM’s ManiFeste Festival.

Thomas has received numerous awards and grants, including from the Siemens Foundation in Munich, BMI, the National Endowment for the Arts (1988, 1992, 1994), the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Koussevitzky Foundation, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. The Sovereign Prince of Monaco decorated her as a Knight of the Order of Cultural Merit on November 18, 2015. Thomas has also been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 2009, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, since 2012.

Her music has been commissioned by international ensembles and institutions, such as the Chanticleer Ensemble, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Santa Fe Opera, Radio France, BBC Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the ASCAP Foundation.

Her works are regularly performed throughout the world, and have been conducted by Barenboim, Boulez, Christoph Eschenbach, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Mstislav Rostropovich, Seiji Ozawa, Oliver Knussen, George Benjamin, Josephine Lee, Michael Lewanski, Brad Lubman, and George Manahan, among others.

Thomas’s music is firmly rooted in the Western musical tradition. She considers Johann Sebastian Bach a major influence. Her clear, effervescent, and adventurous style of writing is also influenced by Igor Stravinsky, Benjamin Britten, Olivier Messiaen, Luciano Berio, and Boulez. Seeking to subvert the codes of neoclassicism and modernist complexity, she shuffles the cards in her placement of the instruments in the orchestra (Orbital Beacons, which she dedicates to Boulez), and engages a beatbox artist for her opera Sweet Potato Kicks the Sun. Her piece In My Sky at Twilight is halfway between a traditional song cycle and a dramatic cantata.

Her catalog is published exclusively by G. Schirmer, Inc. (for works composed before 2016) and Nimbus Publishing (for pieces composed in or after 2016).

Awards and honors

  • Centennial Award, Eastman School of Music, 2022
  • Knight of the Order of Cultural Merit, Monaco, 2015
  • Order of Lincoln, Lincoln Academy of Illinois, 2014
  • Nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for Music, 2007
  • Nomination to the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers, 2001
  • Indiana State University Orchestral Music Prize, 1994
  • Columbia University Bearns Prize, 1991
  • Orpheus Prize, 1991
  • Third Century Award, Office of Copyrights and Patents, Washington, DC, 1989
  • Guggenheim Fellowship, 1989

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2022


Site de la compositrice ; Wise Music Classical ; Nimbus Records ; Université de Chicago.

Liens internet

(liens vérifiés en juin 2022).

Discographie sélective

  • THOMAS,  Augusta Read, « Bell Illuminations », 1 Cd Nimbus Records, 2022, NI6427.
  • THOMAS,  Augusta Read, « Song Without Words », 1 Cd Cedille Records, 2022, NI6427.
  • THOMAS,  Augusta Read, « The Auditions », 1 Cd Nimbus Records, 2020, NI6402.
  • THOMAS,  Augusta Read, « Ritual Incantations », 1 Cd Nimbus Alliance, 2017, NI6355.
  • THOMAS,  Augusta Read, « Of Being is a Bird », 1 Cd Nimbus Alliance, 2016, NI6323.
  • THOMAS,  Augusta Read, « Astral Canticle », 1 Cd Nimbus Alliance, 2015, NI6306.
  • THOMAS,  Augusta Read, « Music for Strings », 1 Cd Nimbus Alliance, 2015, NI6263.
  • THOMAS,  Augusta Read, « A Portrait of Augusta Read Thomas », 1 Cd Nimbus Alliance, 2014, NI6262.
  • THOMAS,  Augusta Read, « Chamber & Piano Works », 1 Cd Nimbus Alliance, 2014, NI6261.
  • THOMAS,  Augusta Read, « Selected Works for Orchestra », 1 Cd Nimbus Alliance, 2014, NI6258.
  • THOMAS,  Augusta Read, Pulsar, Jennifer Koh : violon, avec des œuvres de John Zorn, Elliott Carter, Esa-Pekka Salonen, dans « Rhapsodic Musings: 21st Century Works for Solo Violin », 1 Cd Cedille Records, 2009, CDR 90000 113.
  • THOMAS,  Augusta Read, Pulsar, Jennifer Koh : violon, avec des œuvres de John Zorn, Elliott Carter, Esa-Pekka Salonen, dans « Rhapsodic Musings: 21st Century Works for Solo Violin », 1 Cd Cedille Records, 2009, CDR 90000 113.
  • THOMAS,  Augusta Read, « Sun Threads », 1 Cd CD Baby, 2009, ARTCD19992007.