Composer Augusta Read Thomas appointed University Professor

Renowned composer Augusta Read Thomas has been appointed as University Professor of Composition in the Department of Music and the College at the University of Chicago.

University Professors are selected for internationally recognized eminence in their fields as well as for their potential for high impact across the University. Thomas will become the 16th person ever to hold a University Professorship, and the fifth currently at the University.

Martha Roth, Dean of the Division of the Humanities, announced the appointment on Nov. 8. Thomas’ appointment takes effect in July 2011.

“It is exciting to welcome as a colleague someone whose work lies at the intersection of the creative and scholarly worlds,” Roth said in a message to Humanities faculty. “The University has a renewed commitment to expanding and integrating the arts into the academic enterprise and out into the city of Chicago and beyond; Augusta’s appointment is an important expression of that goal.”

Thomas is widely considered to be among the world’s most accomplished and original contemporary composers. She has won acclaim for the dramatic, spontaneous quality of her work and her masterful use of instrumental color.

Her extensive body of work has won praise from conductors, performers and music critics worldwide. From 1997 to 2006, she was the Mead Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which has commissioned seven major compositions from Thomas. Her latest violin concerto is set to receive its American premiere at Washington D.C.’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in June 2011.

“To join the University of Chicago community is an incredible gift. My colleagues are scholars and musicians of the highest order who inspire me and from whom I can learn vastly,” Thomas said. “I am an active artist, and I hope to share my passion for the practice with our students. I look forward to working diligently, with wholehearted enthusiasm, to help ensure that the creative arts continue to thrive at the University of Chicago.”

She found early success as a composer at age 24, when she submitted her first major orchestral work to an American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers student composition contest. David Del Tredici, one of the contest judges and then the composer-in-residence for the New York Philharmonic, was so taken by Thomas’ piece that he decided to program it for the orchestra’s “Horizons” series.

Since that time, Thomas has premiered musical compositions with many of the world’s great ensembles, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra and many others.

Her many awards include recognition from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Siemens Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. “Colors of Love,” a Chanticleer album featuring two of Thomas’ compositions, received a Grammy Award in 2000. Her double concerto for flute, violin and orchestra, Astral Canticle, was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

"The appointment of Augusta Read Thomas as a University Professor perfectly demonstrates the centrality of the creative and performing arts to the intellectual life of the University and to its culture of inquiry,” said Larry Norman, Deputy Provost for the Arts. “As we look forward to the spring 2012 inauguration of the Reva and David Logan Arts Center, her arrival will have a catalyzing effect not only on our programs in music composition, but also across the campus.”

Dean Roth noted that the appointment is part of the University’s commitment to faculty expansion, an initiative expected to add 60 new faculty members.

Thomas studied composition at Tanglewood, Northwestern, Yale and the Royal Academy of Music. She was a 1990-91 Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College and a member of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University from 1991 to 1994. In 2004, Thomas was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music, the school’s highest honor. The American Academy of Arts and Letters elected Thomas to membership in 2009.

In addition to her own works, Thomas is an active teacher of composition. She previously taught at the Eastman School of Music and Northwestern University, where she now sits on the Dean’s Advisory Music Board. She is currently mentoring six high school-aged composers who will each have their work premiere at the New Haven Symphony.

Yehudi Wyner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who taught with Thomas at Tanglewood, praised her as “one of those rare people who [composes] because she cannot do otherwise. She lives first and foremost to write music.” At the same time, Wyner said, her artistic gifts are coupled with “extraordinary generosity” toward her colleagues and a desire to appreciate their work.

Thomas’ fellow University Professors currently at UChicago are Alexander Beilinson, the David and Mary Winton Green University Professor in Mathematics and the College; Gary Becker, University Professor in the Economics, Sociology and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business; James Cronin, University Professor Emeritus in Physics and Astronomy & Astrophysics, the Enrico Fermi Institute and the College; and David Wellbery, the LeRoy T. and Margaret Deffenbaugh Carlson University Professor in Germanic Studies, Comparative Literature, the Committee on Social Thought and the College.

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