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Augusta Read Thomas

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Cello Concerto No. 3, Legend of the Phoenix (2012)
G Schirmer Inc
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
26 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Augusta Read Thomas Cello Concerto No. 3, Legend of the Phoenix (2012)
First performance:
March 14 2013
Lynn Harrell, cello
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Boston, MA

Related Works
  • Viola Concerto No. 2, Legend of the Phoenix

  • Performances
    It’s a great piece, from its striking opening with intense declamation from the soloist and the orchestra’s brightest instruments issuing an urgent invitation that we should be involved in the music, which is lyrical, rhapsodic and has tremendous brass outbursts...The orchestra is kept very busy, vivid and beguiling on its own terms, ravishing at times, with contributions from such as piccolo and harp that leap out of the texture, and with plentiful percussion that never seems liked overkill...I was compelled by the musical invention and its development and didn’t worry overmuch as to musical description, a continuous movement with plenty of variety, drama, eloquence and whimsy, a capricious score that easily sustained its (here) 28-minute duration through full-on dramatics and enchanted escapes. I loved it to bits!
    Colin Anderson, Classical Source,09/05/2015
    While winter clamped down outside Symphony Hall Thursday night, hopes of rebirth blazed inside as the Boston Symphony Orchestra premiered a fiery new cello concerto by Augusta Read Thomas. Thomas's skillful scoring allowed cellist Harrell to rise above it all, both literally (seated on a foot-high platform) and sonically. While he too played far up the fingerboard at times, his part fell mostly in the human-voice range that is natural to his instrument. Speech rhythms — choppy, thoughtful, urgent, voluble — predominated over long cantabile lines...The music kept its shimmering colors and optimistic outlook throughout, and yet offered so much to keep the ear engaged that, when Harrell, playing alone at the end, finally put the period on this long sentence, one was surprised that a half hour had passed. Although Thomas has said that the image of the phoenix — the mythical bird who died by fire and was reborn from its ashes — suggested itself as a title only after the music was composed, there is nevertheless some pointedly avian music in between the pyrotechnics, not just the usual chirps and twitters, but some charmingly bony, beaky dancing for the soloist with harp, wood blocks and tom-toms. And speaking of tom-toms, it is a small step from evoking fire in high percussion and brass to the fierce rhythms of big-band jazz at its hottest — a step that Thomas most gratifyingly took in this score.
    David Wright, Boston Classical Review,11/03/2013
    Opening the score of Augusta Read Thomas's Cello Concerto No. 3, which received its premiere Thursday night, one encounters something telling about this composer's approach before reading a single note. At the bottom of the list of percussion required for this ambitious 30-minute work, Thomas writes that extra care should be given to make sure "each of the [five] triangles has a slightly different 'pitch and color' from one another, so that each of them has a unique contribution to the overall sonic palette and so they blend elegantly with the crotales, glockenspiel, and finger cymbals. This attention to minute detail is a hallmark of Thomas's music and reflects the delicacy of imagination with which she constructs her sound worlds. That this new work, a BSO commission, also contains a vivid theatricality of gesture, a certain lightness of being, makes it particularly successful. Despite its subtitle "Legend of the Phoenix," the work has no explicit narrative but unfolds in a single 30-minute span that divides into coherent sections. The first is full of expansively songful cello writing, with the brass on occasion interjecting fractured, flash-mob fanfares, appearing from nowhere and disappearing nearly as fast. The solo writing eventually gathers speed and angularity and the rhythms grow more jazzy before the cello takes us into a hazier, dreamier landscape. There is a vibrant pizzicato section and some ruggedly expressive solo cadenzas in the final pages. The work comes full circle, ending as it began with a high blast from the cello. On Thursday night cellist Lynn Harrell gave an assured and virtuosic performance, rendering the score's more declarative moments with the same unflagging confidence he brings to Romantic solo repertoire. From the podium, Christoph Eschenbach, who has performed much of Thomas's music, drew out an alert and vivid performance. The crowd's reception went well beyond the polite applause sometimes given to new scores.
    Jeremy Eichler, Boston Globe,09/03/2013
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