Oblong folio (278 x 420 mm). Executed mainly in black and orange ink with various additional colors. Signed "Augusta R. Thomas" with autograph notation "for meeting w/ Mr. Boulez + CSO" to verso.
Seating diagram is oriented with the conductor and front of the orchestra at the lower margin and is organized into small groupings by both colour and shape. The conductor at center is surrounded on three sides by solo instruments from various instrument families, behind which four groups of strings radiate outward. Behind the strings brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments are seated in a symmetrical mixed formation. Some wear and creasing; tears to central fold and lower right corner.
Orbital Beacons was premiered on 27 November 1998 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Boulez.
"The notion that there could or should be one comprehensive or "authoritative" format for orchestral seating is clearly contradicted by the practice of current world-class orchestras. The differences between their respective seating arrangements is in keeping with a part of music's history. Each configuration is intended to serve the repertoire appropriately, according to the music's own dictates, the acoustic properties of the performance space, and the interpretive preferences of music directors — for example, Stokowski was constantly reseating the Philadelphia Orchestra to better serve and explore the composer's intent.
"Though the seating arrangement in Orbital Beacons is radical, it stems from an artistic concern to engage the collective virtuosity of an orchestra in ways which are different from the standard division into conventional "family" sections: woodwind, brass, strings, and percussion, etc.
"The title [Orbital Beacons] makes illusion to rotating beams of light, implying a variety of acoustic constellations that orbit and glow. A constellation may be made up of a soloist, a small chamber ensemble, a chamber orchestra, or even the full orchestra. Their patterns, cycles, and groupings are constantly shifting, weaving a web of new sounds which move through the orchestra, transforming as they melt into the background or emerge into the foreground. Spatial and antiphonal effects are used in a bold, obvious manner as well as in veiled, subtle ways.
An elegant, musical braid of the E. E. Cummings text between the five (SSSAA) equally important vocal parts starts very delicately on quiet and poetic perfect fifth. Gradually, across an 8-minute duration, the vocal colors and lyric imagery unfold with passionate energy to a radiant and intense climax. This is followed by a peaceful, optimistic coda which brings !HOPE to a still, meditative culmination. Members of the Wellesley College Chamber Singers describe the song with these words: “reflective, grounded, ethereal, reminiscent, purposeful at how it takes its time to express the poem, suspension of time and place with a contrast of contraction and movement, glassy, fluid, and efflorescent.” The composer's website
"The music of Augusta Read Thomas ... is majestic, it is elegant, it is lyrical, it is "boldly considered music that celebrates the sound of the instruments and reaffirms the vitality of orchestral music." Philadelphia Inquirer
"Born in Glen Cove, New York, Thomas was appointed University Professor of Composition at the University of Chicago in 2011. University Professors are selected for internationally recognized eminence in their fields as well as for their potential for high impact across the University. Thomas became the 16th person ever to hold a University Professorship. Additionally, she was the Mead Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) from May 1997 through June 2006, a residency that culminated in the premiere of Astral Canticle — one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Music. During her residency with the CSO, under the direction of Daniel Barenboim, Thomas not only premiered nine commissioned works, but also founded, along with Cliff Colnot, and curated the MusicNOW series. In addition to Barenboim, Thomas's music has been championed by other leading conductors including Pierre Boulez, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Oliver Knussen, Seiji Ozawa, Mstislav Rostropovich, Leonard Slatkin, Lorin Maazel, David Robertson, Christoph Eschenbach, Ken-David Masur, William Boughton, Vimbayi Kaziboni, Ludovic Morlot, and Xian Zhang. Her music has been commissioned by leading ensembles and organizations around the world including: Love Songs (Chanticleer); Chanting to Paradise (NDR [German Radio] Orchestra); Song in Sorrow (The Cleveland Orchestra); Orbital Beacons, Aurora, In My Sky at Twilight, Ceremonial, Carillon Sky, Words of the Sea, Trainwork, Tangle, and Astral Canticle (Chicago Symphony Orchestra); Gathering Paradies (New York Philharmonic); Sweet Potato Kicks the Sun (Santa Fe Opera in association with San Francisco Opera and 7 other opera houses); Far Past War (The Washington Choral Arts Society); Sun Dance (Indianapolis Symphony); Prayer Bells (Pittsburgh Symphony); Bells Ring Summer (La Jolla Chamber Music Society); Galaxy Dances, and Cello Concerto (National Symphony); Violin Concerto #3 (Radio France and the BBC Orchestra); Helios Choros I (Dallas Symphony); Helios Choros II (London and Boston Symphony Orchestras); Helios Choros III (Orchestre de Paris); Pulsar (BBC); Terpsichore's Dream (Utah Symphony); Canticle Weaving (Los Angeles Philharmonic); and Cantos for Slava (ASCAP Foundation).
From 1993 to 2001, Thomas was an assistant professor, then associate professor of composition at the Eastman School of Music, and from 2001 until 2006 she was the Wyatt Professor of Music at Northwestern University. She taught for many years at the Tanglewood Music Festival and at the Aspen Music Festival. Frequently, Thomas undertakes short-term residencies in colleges, universities, and festivals across the United States and in Europe.
Thomas studied composition with Jacob Druckman at Yale University, with Alan Stout and Bill Karlins at Northwestern University, and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She was a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University (1991–94) and a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College (1990–91), and often teaches composition at Tanglewood. Thomas is Vice President for Music, The American Academy of Arts and Letters; member of the Board of Directors of The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc.; member of the Board of Directors of the Koussevitzky Foundation; member of the Board of Directors of the Alice M. Ditson Fund at Columbia University; and member of the Conseil Musical de la Foundation Prince Pierre de Monaco.
She was on the Board of Directors of the American Music Center for 11 years from 2000 to 2011; Chair of the Board of the American Music Center, a volunteer position, from 2005 to 2008; on the board of the ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) for many years; on the boards of several chamber music groups; and was Director of the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood in 2009.
In 2013, Nimbus Records embarked on a project to record her complete works and has released 8 CDs to date; 89 CDs containing her music have been released by commercial record companies.
Thomas is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.” The composer’s website.
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