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Michael Tilson Thomas

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Agnegram (1998)
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
4 Minutes
Programme Note
Michael Tilson Thomas Agnegram (1998)
First performance:
May 14, 1998
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
San Francisco, CA

Composer note:

Agnegram was written to celebrate the 90th birthday of the San Francisco Symphony's extraordinary patron and friend Agnes Albert, and is a portrait of her sophisticated and indefatigably enthusiastic spirit. It is entirely composed of themes derived from the spelling of her name.

A - G - E are obviously the notes that they name. B is B-flat (as this note is called in German). S is E-flat, also a German musical term. T is used to represent one note, B-natural, the 'ti' of the solfege scale. From these arcane, but not unprecedented manipulations (Bach, Schumann and Brahms amongst others often did this kind of thing), a basic "scale" of eight unusually arranged notes emerges, from which all the themes are drawn. The piece itself is a march for large orchestra. The first part of the march is in 6/8 and is almost a mini-concerto for orchestra, giving brief sound-bite opportunities for the different sections of settling into a jazzy and hyper-rangy tune.

The middle section of the march, or trio, is in 2/4 and settles into a kind of sly circus atmosphere. Different groups of instruments in different keys make their appearance in an aural procession. First, the winds in C play a new march tune saying "Agnes Albert." Then, the instruments in F are heard playing the same tune. But as these instruments are transposing instruments, although the notes they play read A - G - N - E - S etc., the notes that are heard are completely different. They are followed by instruments in E-flat and B-flat until quite a jungle-like cacophony is built up -- punctuated by alternately elegant and goofball percussion entrances. The jazzy 6/8 tune reappears now in canon and the piece progresses to a jubilant and noisy ending.

—Michael Tilson Thomas © 1998

  • 19 MAR 2019
    On Tour
    Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA
    San Francisco Symphony
    Michael Tillson Thomas , conductor
  • 12 AUG 2018
    Tanglewood Festival
    Lenox, MA
    Boston Symphony Orchestra
    Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
  • 24 JUN 2018
    Tivoli Concert Hall, Copenhagen, Denmark
    Tivoli Copenhagen Phill
    Lawrence Foster, conductor
  • 26 MAR 2018
    Chicago, IL
    San Francisco Symphony
    Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
  • 09 DEC 2017
    Canta-Concerto European Premiere
    Agnegram Country Premiere
    Auditorium du Pharo, Marseilles, France
    Orchestre philharmonique de Marseille
    Lawrence Foster, conductor
  • 20 OCT 2017
    Holland Performing Arts Center, Omaha, NE
    Omaha Symphony
    Teddy Abrams, conductor

    Other Dates:
    21 October - Holland Performing Arts Center, Omaha, NE
  • 31 DEC 2016
    Konzerthausorchester Berlin [via Hans Sikorski Intl Musikverlage]
    Lawrence Foster, conductor

    Other Dates:
    1 January 2017 - Germany

The brightest spark in Thursday night's San Francisco Symphony concert in Davies Hall was a 41/2 minute bauble by Thomas titled Agnegram, a thoroughly enjoyable 90th birthday present to the Symphony's indefatigable and broad-minded patron Agnes Albert. This turned out to be a spiky, vivacious march with a boisterous central trio a la Spike Jones. The main theme was derived from turning the letters in Albert's name into musical notes (a game that goes back at least as far as the Renaissance); the music's cheerful bravado captures her adventurous, fun-loving spirit. The orchestra gave it a zesty reading.
Joshua Kosman , San Francisco Chronicle,01/01/0001
Agnegram, as its composer/conductor dubbed the birthday offering, was a gas — a piece d'occasion, inspired, in equal parts, by Leonard Bernstein, William Walton and Spike Jones. He cast the work in the form of a march, trio and recapitulation of the march, and its flashes with the speed of summer lightning.
Allan Ulrich , San Francisco Examiner,01/01/0001
Music Director Tilson Thomas delivered an affectionate birthday card of his own design — his new four-minute composition, Agnegram. The work is a buoyant, exuberant, boisterous piece, influenced by Igor Stravinsky's rhythms. Musical notes derived from the letters in her name from the fabric of this affectionate piece, one of the first heard here displayed the work of Tilson Thomas in his composer persona. At the Thursday performances, the orchestra played it with gusto.
Paul Hertelendy, San Jose Mercury News ,01/01/0001
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