AUGUSTA READ THOMAS
A decade after graduating from Northwestern, Augusta Read Thomas is already a shining example for the under-40 generation of American composers. Her resumé charts an establishment-certified, fast-rising career that resembles that of the University of Chicago’s Shulamit Ran. After Northwestern, where she studied with William Karlins and Alan Stout, the Long Island-born Thomas got further compositional tips from Jacob Druckman at Yale, put in a postgraduate stint at London’s Royal Academy of Music, and won a fellowship to Harvard (where her husband, Pulitzer winner Bernard Rands, teaches). Though her voice is still emerging, Thomas has shown a knack for marshaling instrumental colors and generating energetic-sounding materials. Many of her compositions have been performed by distinguished musicians and orchestras–especially impressive considering she turned 32 in April. This weekend her latest, …Words of the Sea…, will be given its world premiere by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with no less a personage than Pierre Boulez, the sage of new music, at the helm. The title of this four-movement work (which lasts about 17 minutes) is taken from Wallace Stevens’s atmospheric, metaphysical poem “The Idea of Order at Key West.” Designed to showcase the CSO’s first-chair players, this diligently crafted piece–judging by the score I perused–turns undulating and impressionistic in its last movement, deliberately evoking an earlier paean to the sea–La mer by Debussy, one of Boulez’s aesthetic forefathers. Thomas’s tactic of taking cues from contemporary poetry is one she shares with Rands, whose impeccably patrician music often refers to literary sources. Also on the program are Varese’s Arcana (a radical compilation of eccentric instrumentation and startling sounds) and Richard Strauss’s tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra. Talks by Thomas and Boulez begin an hour before each concert. Friday and Saturday, 8 PM, and Tuesday, 7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000.