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Augusta Read Thomas

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Astral Canticle (2005),
G Schirmer Inc
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
20 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Violin, Flute
Programme Note
Augusta Read Thomas Astral Canticle (2005),
Composer’s Note:

Astral Canticle for solo flute, solo violin, and orchestra was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and premiered with Daniel Barenboim conducting on June 1,2,3, 2006 in Chicago, Illinois.

The title is derived from Astral — connected with the stars; and Canticle — denoting a song or chant.

A graceful chant-like canticle, played extremely quietly by the two soloists with very little vibrato, opens the composition. Certain "hidden" members of the orchestra (hidden but on stage) hold the resonance of this calm chant, thereby slowly implying warm harmonies. The canticle weaves its way through the entire composition in one variation or another. The first variation is led by the orchestra, which, after about 90 seconds, responds to the delicate opening in a majestic, fanfare-like manner. The virtuosic soloists play back to the orchestra what they just heard, which results in a very demanding passage for the violin soloist. The two worlds (chant-like and radiant-fanfare) that have been established evolve, interconnect, and influence each other.

As the entire work is derived from the opening materials, a very integrated sound palette exists, yet at the same time, there are many different characters of music, and spirits, that unfold such that the 20-minute work contains several sections that are of varying personality. For instance, the middle of the work is akin to a slow movement and the end of the work is akin to a rhythmic and driving finale, but simple movement demarcations are not easily applicable as the music's flow is fluid and interconnected from section to section. In the final 1/3 of the piece, there is a rhythmic, punchy dance-like passage in 10/8 meter (3+2+2+3) which transforms into a driving, metrical, and playful passage which is led by double bass pizzicati; all of this is reminiscent of Igor Stravinsky crossed with Charles Mingus.

It is a great pleasure to compose for Mathieu and Robert. Each and every player of the CSO is a world-class virtuoso and I experience immense joy when composing for these two soloists and for this orchestra that I love.

Having attended a rehearsal and concert of every single subscription concert by the CSO for which I was in town (which must be 200 different subscription concerts) and for the hours and hours of music that have crossed my ears and heart, I am eternally grateful to the musicians. Drinking up their beautiful sounds is something for which I must express immense thanks! The genius of Daniel Barenboim is an inspiration to us all. Maestro Barenboim has strengthened and encouraged my ever-continuing search for deeper musical understanding, sensitivity, and grace. Being your Mead Composer-in-Residence has meant everything to me. Astral Canticle is dedicated to Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Astral Canticle was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for music composition in 2007.

—Augusta Read Thomas

...What made the concert...rewarding was the inclusion of a world premiere, Astral Canticle, by Augusta Read Thomas, her farewell present to the orchestra she has tirelessly served as composer-in-residence for the last nine years...Thomas has spent hundreds of hours with the Chicago Symphony and she knows its particular qualities inside and out...

The concertante soloists open with prayerful, intertwining lines meant to evoke medieval plainchant. This simple, archaic-sounding music becomes the foundation of everything that follows. It soon gives way to a fusillade of fanfares driven by three trumpets, with the flute and violin acting as mediators in the evolving dialogue between the astral (radiant and energized) and canticle (lyrical and meditative) worlds.

Astral Canticle [has] something interesting taking place at any given moment...the strength of Thomas' new work was undeniable in this first performance. There's no doubt Astral Canticle will make its way through the orchestral world.

John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune,01/01/0001
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