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Augusta Read Thomas

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Ritual Incantations — Cello Concerto (1999)
G Schirmer Inc
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
13 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Cello solo with Flute, Oboe, Violin soli
Programme Note
Augusta Read Thomas Ritual Incantations — Cello Concerto (1999)
Composer’s Note:

I: Majestic; driving and persistent; cantabile
II: Mysterious and expansive; longing; yearning
III: Spirited; passionate, bold and lyrical

Music of all kinds constantly amazes, surprises, propels and seduces me into a wonderful and powerful journey. I am happiest when I am listening to music and in the process of composing music. I care deeply that music is not anonymous and generic or easily assimilated and just as easily dismissed. I would say that Ritual Incantations has urgent, seductive, and compelling qualities of sometimes complex, but always logical thought, allied to sensuous and engaging sonic profiles.

Throughout the 14 minutes of this work, the solo cello is featured, at times with impassioned cadenza passages, at times with more reflective materials. In all cases, the cello sings long, generous, and earnest cantabile lines. The soloist (along with its concertino group made up of solo flute, solo oboe and solo violin that are seated at the front of the orchestra) instigates and generates all the musical discourse.

Commissioned by Thomas van Straaten for the Aspen Music Festival and School on the occasion its 50th anniversary, Ritual Incantations was premiered by the Aspen Music Festival Chamber Orchestra, David Finckel cellist with Hugh Wolff conducting: July 16, 1999 The score is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to the Aspen Music Festival.
"My music must be passionate, involving risk and adventure such that any given musical moment may seem surprising when first heard but, a millisecond later, seems inevitable. I think of my music as nuanced lyricism under pressure! That said, my primary artistic concern is to communicate in an honest and passionate voice, being faithful to my deepest inner promptings and creative urges. This way, any willing listener, irrespective of prior musical knowledge, training, or background can engage with my music.

Every listener brings their own unique perspective to the listening process. In Ritual Incantations I offer them aesthetic engagements with the world and with themselves as I, too, undertake a mission of self-discovery. Music of all kinds constantly amazes, surprises, propels, and seduces me into wonderful and powerful journeys. I care deeply that music is not anonymous and generic — easily assimilated and just as easily dismissed and forgotten. Ritual Incantations has passionate, urgent, seductive, and compelling qualities of often complex (but always logical) thought allied to sensuous sonic profiles.
"My favorite moment in any piece of music is that of maximum risk and striving. Whether the venture is tiny or large, loud or soft, fragile or strong, passionate, erratic, or eccentric — the moment of exquisite humanity and raw soul! All art that I cherish has elements of order, mystery, love, recklessness, and desperation. For me, music must be alive and jump off the page and out of the instrument as if something big is at stake.

This artistic credo leads me to examine small musical objects (a chord, a motive, a rhythm, a color) and explore them from many perspectives. These different perspectives reveal new musical potentials thus developing the musical discourse. In this manner, and in Ritual Incantations in particular, the music takes on an organic, circular, self-referential character which, at the same time, has a forward progression.

—Augusta Read Thomas

  • Ensemble
    Taipei Symphony Orchestra
    David Finckel
    Felix Chiu-Sen Chen
  • Soloist(s)
    David Finckel
This is an enthralling work and one that is a good example of her graphic way of composition, Thomas does not only use notes on the stave in her music, but symbols and even different pens to emphasize how the passage should sound.
Stuart Sillitoe, MusicWeb International,01/01/2018
[ Ritual Incantations is] locked in a magical war of wits that produces one of Thomas’s finest and most exciting concertos.
Jeremy Glazier, Sound Spells,01/01/0001
In Thomas' Ritual Incantations, [there is] a clarity of texture, timbral originality, and an interplay of timbre among the wind and string players. However, all of [her] works share an enviable characteristic. Although firmly written within the rhetorical tradition of Western music, they were new without being novelties, original without forcing our attention on their extremes. They were simply works of musical art.
Robert Harris, The Globe and Mail (Toronto),01/01/0001
Augusta Read Thomas' Ritual Incantations really made my ears perk up. Cast in three movements like a standard concerto, it's beautifully colored, rhythmically inventive, and attention-holding from first to last. The solo cello's interplay with the orchestra is a like a beam of light pouring through stained glass, and the work ends before you want it to. Would as many classical standards had that effect!
Craig Smith, Santa Fe New Mexican,01/01/0001
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