Composer  Augusta  Read  Thomas

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie



Thomas




Augusta Read Thomas, born in 1964 in Glen Cove, New York, was the Mead Composer-in-Residence for Pierre Boulez and Daniel Barenboim at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1997 through 2006. In 2007, her Astral Canticle was one of the two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Music. The "Colors of Love" CD by Chanticleer [shown below], which features two of Thomas' compositions, won a Grammy award.


Thomas

See my interviews with Steven Stucky, Bernard Rands, and Chen Yi


Thomas is a member of: the American Academy of Arts and Letters; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the Advisory Committee of the Alice M. Ditson Fund at Columbia University; the Board of Trustees of the American Society for the Royal Academy of Music; the Eastman School of Music's National Council; as well as boards and advisory boards of several chamber music groups including the Ice Ensemble. She has been on the Board of Directors of the American Music Center since 2000. She was elected Chair of the Board of the American Music Center, a volunteer position that ran from 2005 to 2008. For the 2014-2015 academic year, Augusta was a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar.

G. Schirmer, Inc. is the exclusive publisher of her music worldwide for all works composed until December 31, 2015. Nimbus Music Publishing is the exclusive publisher of her music worldwide for all works composed after January 1, 2016. Her discography includes 80 commercially recorded CDs.

The Sovereign Prince of Monaco awarded Augusta CHEVALIER of the Order of Cultural Merit. The insignia of this distinction was given by S.A.R. Princess of Hanover at the Prince's Palace on 18 November 2015. Augusta Read Thomas also won the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra's Composer Award for 2015-16. This is the oldest award of its kind in the nation, intended "to recognize and honor living composers who reside in the US who are making a particularly significant contribution in the field of symphonic music, not only through their own creative efforts, but also as effective personal advocates of new approaches to the broadening of critical and appreciative standards."

Thomas played piano as a young child, starting private lessons at age four.  In third grade, she took up the trumpet and played for 14 years, attending Northwestern University as a trumpet performance major.  She played trumpet in brass quintet, chamber orchestra, orchestra, band, and Jazz band and she sang in choirs for many years.

Thomas was awarded fellowships from the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, and was a fellow for three years in the Harvard University Society of Fellows. 

Her music, which is regularly performed worldwide, has been conducted by: Christoph Eschenbach, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Mstislav Rostropovich, Seiji Ozawa, Leonard Slatkin, Oliver Knussen, David Robertson, Lorin Maazel, Sir Andrew Davis, Jiří Bĕlohlávek, Hans Graf, Marin Alsop, Cliff Colnot, Xian Zhang, Andrey Boreyko, William Boughton, Gil Rose, Gerard Schwarz, John Nelson, Joana Carneiro, Hans Vonk, Markus Stenz, Dennis Russell Davies, George Benjamin, Ludovic Morlot, Robert Trevino, Hannu Lintu, Josephine Lee, Michael Lewanski, Bradley Lubman and George Manahan among others.

Thomas received awards from the Siemens Foundation in Munich; ASCAP; BMI; National Endowment for the Arts (1994, 1992, 1988); American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; Guggenheim Memorial Foundation; Koussevitzky Foundation; New York Foundation for the Arts; John W. Hechinger Foundation; Kate Neal Kinley Foundation; Columbia University (Bearns Prize); Naumburg Foundation; Fromm Foundation; Barlow Endowment; French International Competition of Henri Dutilleux; Rudolph Nissim Award from ASCAP; and the Office of Copyrights and Patents in Washington, D.C. awarded her its Third Century Prize.

Seven years after graduating from the Royal Academy of Music in London, Thomas was elected as Associate (ARAM, honorary degree), and in 2004 was elected a Fellow (the highest honor they bestow) of the Royal Academy of Music (FRAM, honorary degree). In 1998, she received the Distinguished Alumni Association Award from St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. In 1999, she won the Award of Merit from the President of Northwestern University, and a year later received The Alumnae Award from Northwestern University. Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity initiated her as an Honorary Member in 1996.

Thomas also had the distinction of having her work performed more frequently in 2013-2014 than any other living composer, according to statistics from performing rights organization ASCAP.


==  Biography (text only) from the University of Chicago Website.  
==  Names which are links in this box, and in the conversation below, refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD   






As this interview is being prepared for presentation on this webpage in mid-2020, it is very interesting to see the origins of a career which we know has blossomed into one of major significance.  When I first spoke with Augusta Read Thomas at the end of 1993, she was just starting out, and after more than a quarter-century, her trajectory has only gotten higher and brighter.

The thoughts and ideas you will read below show just how solid she stood at that early date, and how much they have proved to be prophetic as to her future.  We can only hope that this line continues for a long time to come.

It has been my good fortune to stay in touch with Ms. Thomas over the years, and besides all of the great music, she has given me advice about many things
including routes to a few other composers to interview!

As usual, portions of this conversation were aired on WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago, and later on WNUR, the station of Northwestern University.  Now it has been transcribed in full, and here is what was said so long ago . . . . . . .


Thomas Bruce Duffie:   You have a record that is coming out soon?

Augusta Read Thomas:   That’s correct, in fact, a few.  The first is my cello concerto Vigil, which I composed in 1990.  It was recorded by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, with Norman Fisher playing the solo cello part, and Edwin London conducting.  It’s coming out on GM.  It’s part of a series they’ve commissioned.  We have also just recorded two works in Louisville, that should be out on their First Edition Recordings label [shown at right].  The first is a piece entitled Wind Dance, which was originally premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 1989.  It’s a ballet, a large-scale work of twenty-three or twenty-four minutes in two large sections.  It’s very virtuosic for the ensemble.  Then, on a different disc, they’ve just recorded a new piece of mine, which is called Night’s Midsummer Blaze, for flute, viola, harp and large orchestra.ro

BD:   Did they commission that specific instrumentation, or is that just what you wanted to write?

Thomas:   Actually, it was commissioned by an ensemble called the Debussy Trio, who live in Los Angeles, and are named after the famous Sonata of Debussy.  The Louisville Orchestra premiered it and recorded it, but it was two separate projects.

BD:   I assume that you’re getting more and more commissions.  Are you deciding that some you will accept and some you will decline, or are you accepting everything that comes along?

Thomas:   No, the former.  I accept some and not others.  Time is so valuable, and I work very hard and very long hours, but there’s only so much one can do, and I would rather do less and do a good piece rather than accept everything.

BD:   Then how do you decide which ones yes, and which ones are no?

Thomas:   It varies.  First of all, and primarily one way or the other, it depends on whether I want to write the piece.  I have to have something inside myself to communicate in that genre, and if I do, I’ll do it whether there’s no money at all, or whether there’s $25,000.  The financial side matters, but if I want to do the piece, I’ll do it.  There have been a few pieces I wanted to do, but I knew I couldn’t really do them.

BD:   Are those things that, perhaps, five or ten years from now you will be able to do?

Thomas:   Exactly!  Hopefully, the opportunity will arise again, either from the same sponsor or from another, and I’ll be able to fulfill them.

BD:   Do you always have in the back of your mind the feeling that you’ve honed this now, and I need to work a little bit on that, and eventually it’ll all come together?

Thomas:   If you mean genre, then, to a certain extent, yes.  I read a lot of orchestral music.  I’ve done many, many large pieces, and that’s really been in my passion and my focus for several years.

BD:   Why the orchestra?

Thomas:   First, I just love it.  That’s the simple answer, probably because I studied trumpet for thirteen years.  I was a student at Northwestern University and I know music from that side, from the ensemble point of view, rather than, for example, being a pianist.  Many composers are pianists, and I don’t think either is better or worse.  I just happen to be on the instrumental side, so I find writing orchestral music very natural.  It
s an actual extension of my performance, and my sensibilities.  I’ve done lots of chamber music as well, and I really enjoy chamber music, too, but I do write differently for the two mediums.

BD:   I assume that someone will hear (or read) this and will say,
She’s got to have a trumpet concerto in her!  Do you?

Thomas:   I’ve written one, and I do have another one in me I’m sure.  Funny you mentioned that, because recently I’ve really been intrigued with concertos.  I’ve written a lot of concertos.  I just did a saxophone concerto for the New Jersey Symphony, and the cello concerto that I mentioned, and a violin concerto for Joel Smirnoff.  He just premiered that, and I’m doing a piano concerto presently.

BD:   When you’re working on a concerto, are you writing it for the instrument, or for the performer?

Thomas:   Both, depending on whether I know the performer.  For example, for the saxophone concerto I did know the performer
not personally or anything, but we did meet once, and I heard her play.  That was very informative because she’s a jazz musician, and I was writing a ‘straight piece’.  So, she couldn’t help but inform my concerns about the piece to know that she was a jazz musician, although I really wrote the piece that was in my mind, and she played it beautifully, just the way I imagined it.

BD:   If she had jazzed it up a little bit, would that upset you?

Thomas:   Very much so.  In fact, at our first rehearsal, she played the first three bars, and I stopped her immediately and said, “What are you doing?  What is that glissando?”  It was one of those tiny little portamentos that jazz players put in, and she said,
Oh, don’t you like it?”  She was lovely, and we had a great collaboration, but we had a different concept of the piece.  I wrote a very straight, pitch-typed piece, and you can’t throw glissandos and portamentos in, or it changes the whole piece.  I just said it once, and it never had to be repeated.  She was such a great musician.

Thomas BD:   If she then asks you for another piece, and asks you to make it a little more jazzy, would you do that?

Thomas:   I would love to do it.  I’m not sure that I would be so good at it because I’m very, very precise with my music.  It’s a different genre, the jazz sound, and I don’t think I’m a specialist in it.  I would advise her that there are so many great jazz musicians, and she should maybe commission them.  But if she really said she wanted me to do it, then I would love to do it.

BD:   Then would it be more of Brahms-and-Joachim collaboration?

Thomas:   Perhaps, yes.  It could be fascinating.  One of the things that she’d requested was a large cadenza that was totally un-notated.  It was to be an improvisation section, and I just couldn’t do it.  As much as I trust her totally, it has nothing to do with her particularly.  It has to do with the intellectual pursuit of making the piece tight, and integral to itself.  So, when you leave a large hole open, unless the rest of the piece is set up to accommodate such a hole, it can’t work.  So I ended up not having an improvisatory section.

BD:   Did you put in a cadenza, or just leave it out?

Thomas:   There were many cadenzas, but very precisely notated cadenzas.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You keep coming back to the word ‘precise’.  Do you allow any leeway for interpretation?

Thomas:   Oh, yes, my scores invariably say rubato on them.  It will say quarter note equals sixty, molto rubato, and then twenty bars later it’ll say rubato in parenthesis, or molto espressivo, or cantabile.  My scores are riddled with words, expressive marks, fermatas, and breath marks.  There are a lot of expressive marks put in where I’m really asking a performer to shape the phrase that’s implied by the notation.  So, absolutely, I want interpretation.  I think of my music in that sense, as very romantic.  It begs for expressivity.  I’m just rigorous in my concerns as to why it is that pitch, and why is this orchestra turning in that direction at this moment.

BD:   How much, then, does the performance become a collaboration?

Thomas:   To an extent, all performance is a collaboration between the conductor, and the performer, and the composer, and the audience.  In the general sense, it’s always a collaboration, but I would also like to think that if the New York Philharmonic does my symphony, and then the Louisville Orchestra records it, that despite the fact that the orchestras are different, you’re going to end up with a very similar outcome.  There’s a certain perimeter.

BD:   Then do you want all of the subsequent performances for the next twenty, or thirty, or a hundred years to be similar?

Thomas:   Yes, similar, but not exact.  Some tempos might be faster or slower.  Differences occur in any music, even from performance to performance.  If a piece is done four nights
Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Monday, as is often done on a subscription seriesone will notice the tempos change a little bit each night.  Those kinds of things, the slight differences, fascinate me.

BD:   So you don’t expect any kind of carbon copy?

Thomas:   No, I wouldn’t want that, because any piece that is good has the vitality to change, and to be interpreted and to grow in ways that even the composer might not have meant.  These changers are in terms of a slightly faster tempo, or a longer fermata, or what not.  I’m totally open, and I love to collaborate in that sense.  I’m not the type of composer who sits there with my metronome, and when a quarter note equals 72, and they’re going 76, it’s terrible.  I’m not that kind of composer.

BD:   And yet if it was going at 95, it would be completely wrong.

Thomas:   Right!  If it was so drastically off, I would say something, probably though in the form of a question.  I want to know why someone would do that, because it could be a very compelling answer, and I would always want to learn from people what’s involved in their thinking.

BD:   Is there ever a chance that a quarter note being 95 would actually turn out to be better?

Thomas:   There is a chance, yes.  I try to be incredibly specific with my metronome.  I very carefully mark them, but I’m not always right, that’s for sure, and sometimes it’s interesting to hear something at a different tempo.  Sometimes it’s better and sometimes it’s worse, but it’s always interesting.

BD:   Even when the music is coming back at you exactly as it is on the page, are you ever surprised by what you hear?

Thomas:   Not in the sense of the sound of the piece, or the orchestration.  Occasionally, there’s the obvious balance thing, where the trombones are just too loud, and you should have written mezzo-forte rather than forte.  Sometimes that’s the problem of the score, and sometimes you go to a particular orchestra where the trombones always play loud, so it can be a little of both.  Sometimes you have a conductor who immediately stops the trombones, and other conductors don’t, so the composer has to do it.  These are all shadings of balance that happen, which are very different in different tempos and in very different halls.  Sometimes there are surprises in a very reverberant hall, but not of the essential musical sound, no.

Thomas BD:   It is even possible ever to have a performance of a piece of music of yours, or anyone’s, that is just right?

Thomas:   I tend to think so, yes.  I like the idea of making music.  In fact, the performance of my piece could be just right, and it could have twenty wrong notes, because it doesn’t have to be precise or exact to be just right.  The music, hopefully, would be bigger than any one performance.  Of course, one wants a very clean, perfect performance, but there’s a sense of a performance that’s alive and vital, and very accurate
just a few typos here and there, or bleeps, or somethingbut those things don’t bother me at all.  To me, a real sense of life in a performance is so much more exciting than an absolutely perfect but dead dry performance where there’s no heart beating at all.  It’s so perfect that it’s not breathing, it’s not escaping itself.  A piece of art has to have those gaps, and the mystery inside the gaps that’s allowed to come out.  If it’s just a very, very precise, dead performance, none of that mystery comes out.

BD:   So you notate it precisely, but you don’t want it to be performed precisely?

Thomas:   Yes.  It’s a very, very gray area.  It’s a very subtle area.  It’s like whether Glenn Gould holds a tiny hair before he starts the next voice in the Goldberg Variations.  These are hairs, but they’re critical hairs.  That’s the difference between life and death in a way, even though it’s minute, and only a listener who is so highly trained can hear these subtle changes and differences.

BD:   I assume, then, if you have a couple of different performances that are just right, they could be very different.

Thomas:   Yes, I think so.  I have had this experience.  Mstislav Rostropovich ommissioned several works for me, but the one I’m thinking of is a large symphony which he commissioned, and he opened the Kennedy Center season with it, with the National Symphony.  He gave it five performances in that subscription, and they were very different from each other, from Thursday to Tuesday night.  All of them were excellent, and all of them were breathing, and so incredibly alive, and so passionate!  He’s very musical, and is always gushing musicality in every performance.  Despite the fact that the tempos varied drastically in certain sections from night to night, it didn’t bother me particularly.

BD:   So it’s good for you to hear all the performances in a run?

Thomas:   Right.  It’s hard for me to give a tape to someone.  I’m not sure which night to give, because it really changes the profile of the piece depending on which night it was.

BD:   If a recording company decided to come and make a recording out of these live performances, how would you decide which one to use?

Thomas:   Actually, that may be occurring at this present moment, in fact.  This exact problem has come up, and it is tough in the abstract to just pick one night, because there is something about one live performance, with its little mistakes, that is more compelling to me than the perfect studio recording where everything’s immaculate.  I don’t mind the little foibles in the sense of one architecture, and one event.

BD:   But what if they take, say, the Thursday night performance?  If they can fix the horn bleep, and the little oboe miss, and the one violin bad attack, would you have them fix those?

Thomas:   That’s the way I’d like to go.  Probably, if they wanted to fix them, they could.  But as it turned out, the Saturday night was very, very accurate and quite good.  I liked the tempos a lot, so there would be just a few touch-ups, and it would be fine with me.  I’d rather do that than to cut and splice sections out of all them, and make some other new performance that never happened.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’re still very young in your career.  When did you decide that you wanted to be a composer, rather than a trumpet player?

Thomas:   When I finished high school.  I went to a high school that had a lot of arts, and a lot of music.  I went to college to study trumpet at Northwestern University, although when I applied in trumpet, I also applied in composition, and the first year I did both.  I was a double major because Northwestern, at that time, didn’t take undergraduate composition majors.  I was going to have to be in a special program, and be a special student.  They weren’t sure if they would take me, so it was one of those things.  While at Northwestern, I was allowed to switch as an undergraduate composition major.  Although, when I was in high school I was really involved with both equally, but I think deep down, I knew I wanted to go into composition.  But it’s a hard field, and I was very glad Northwestern was so supportive of my work, and allowed me to pursue it on a full-time basis.  Perhaps some other university would have said no, I must do X, Y and Z, and I can’t do the other because I was not a composer.  But Northwestern was willing to let me try a new curriculum, and that was fantastic.

BD:   Was there a time when you stopped being someone who writes a little bit of music, and became a Composer?

Thomas:   I don’t know.  I don’t think I went through that phase.  I wrote a lot of music when I was very young, so before I even went to college I had written eighty works.  It was a huge amount of music, so I always just thought of myself as a Composer.  I’m sure I wasn’t one, but I thought of myself as one.  It never occurred to me that I wasn’t one.

Thomas BD:   Who decides if you’re a Composer
is it you?  Is it the public?  Is it the teachers?

Thomas:   I think it’s just oneself, finally.  For me, that’s all it is.  The public might hate me, and my teachers might fail me, or they might give me every prize, and award me a degree.  But finally, when you sit at that table with your lamp, and your cup of tea, and your chair, and a blank piece of paper, you’re either a Composer or you aren’t.  It doesn’t matter what the outside world tells you.  I think that is the answer, at least for myself.

BD:   When you’re sitting there with your tea, and your lamp, and a blank piece of paper, and a pencil in your hand, are you always controlling where that pencil goes, or are there times when the pencil leads you across the page?

Thomas:   That’s a very good question.  I don’t know if I should admit this on the radio, but there are definitely times when the pencil is leading me across the page for many reasons.  First of all, when the piece is very tightly constructed with a very specific central musical and architectural concern, often it tells you where it must go.  I might feel that it should go back to the cadenza material, but the piece will be saying no, no, we need to pursue this!  Part of my job as a composer is to listen to the piece not only with my ears, but also with my brain.  It often turns you into someone you didn’t know you were as you were composing it.  So in a certain sense, sometimes the music is pushing my hand across the page.

BD:   Are you becoming a new person, or you are you just discovering other facets of the existing person?

Thomas:   Maybe both.  I’m not sure how one could separate the two, but I definitely think that for me, the process of being a creative artist is the desire for self-expression.  But that, in itself, is really a desire for self-understanding, so sometimes we find different places in ourselves that we didn’t know existed, because he had to go somewhere in a piece.  So I guess it’s a little of both.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Should we have a new course
Music as Psychiatric Treatment?

Thomas:   [Laughs]  I’m not sure...  It probably is on the highest level for those who have devoted their life to it.  But then again, there’s sort of a ritual.  When you do anything over and over and over again, it can become very much like a meditation, whether you’re working at computer, or at a bank, or whatever it is, there’s a certain sense of ritual.  If you sit at a table all day writing music, for me it becomes somewhat meditative, and therefore that’s probably very good for my psychological balance to be able to get these things out.

BD:   Are the ideas always flowing out, or are there times when you just have to get away from it for a day or two?

Thomas:   There are times when I have to get away from it, although I’m not sure when those times are, because I’m usually very, very, very focused, and busy with what I’m doing.  I never really find that I run out of new energy for the creative process, but there are definitely times when I’m exhausted, and I can’t see in focus what I’m working on.  So, a day, or a week, or three weeks off is just the best thing you can do for a piece.

BD:   Are there times when you are writing a specific work, and you come across an idea which doesn’t fit here, so you notate it and bring it back a year later in another piece?

Thomas:   Yes, there are.  Sometimes I’ll have a central musical concern that perhaps can be varied in eight different ways, or a million different ways.  Let’s say there are eight primary ways that I think are quite fascinating, but the seventh way doesn’t quite fit the piece.  It might have actually been the most interesting, or even had the closest relationship between it and the original material.  That relationship could be patterned on some other piece, so I definitely think in one sense each piece is very closed and specific, but ideas do carry from one to the next
big ideas, or big concerns, not a specific chord or tune usually, but something bigger than that.

BD:   So when you come to the end of your career, you’ll be able to look back on all of your pieces, and there’ll be some threads that will link them all together?

Thomas:   I think so, yes.  I don’t know if it’s true, but a lot of people tell me that they can definitely hear that a piece was my music, even if it’s very, very different from another piece.  I think that’s true, as well.  I, of course, wrote them, so I know them...

BD:   Is it especially satisfying that other people have seen that?

Thomas:   I work very hard to have a very integral structure within each piece, and sense of my voice, whatever that means.  A lot of composers write a twelve-tone piece, and then a minimalist piece, and then a serial piece, and then this, that, and the other thing, and with every piece they change drastically.  My language has remained the same all these years.  I’m very focused on a certain kind of sound, and maybe it will change drastically tomorrow.  [Laughs]  I doubt it, but there is definitely a kind of music that I do, even though each piece can be very, very different from each other.  Some are very dark, and some are much less serious and less heavy.

BD:   Is the music that you write for everyone?

Thomas:   I don’t know!  I’m sure it isn’t.  I never thought of it that way.  I just write it for myself, and if there is someone who can hear something in it, that’s lovely, and if there’s a million people that can hear something in it, then that’s lovely as well.  I don’t write for that kind of recognition, in a sense.  I feel very fortunate to have had my works played all over the world and recorded.  I feel like I’ve had very, very good feedback from audiences, so in that context I can also say that’s not what I write for, because if I write sincere music that’s truly me, and it does reflect some part of human life, audience members will feel that.  Whether I try to poke it right at them, or just put it out there, they’re going to feel it anyway.


Thomas

See my interviews with David Del Tredici, Donald Martino, Gunther Schuller, and Richard Wernick


BD:   Then let’s zoom in on this.  Why do you write?

Thomas:   [Thinks a moment]  I just write to express myself, and to discover more about myself.  It’s also very religious for me, in a very abstract sense.  It’s my ritual, and it’s my whole life.  I can’t separate it from my life.  It’s a very hard question to answer because it’s huge, but it is a process of growth and development, and I feel I can articulate it in music.  I feel like I can say what I think.

BD:   You say it’s huge.  Is it getting bigger and bigger all the time?

Thomas:   No, I think the whole center of my being has to do with writing music.

BD:   Is it getting to the point that it’s so big you can’t control it all; that you’re having trouble writing it all?

Thomas Thomas:   Sometimes!  Sometimes life just gets out of control, because I’ve got three pieces at once that I really want to write in there, and they’re gnawing at me, but I’m traveling for the next three months, and I have to proofread parts for something, and I’m teaching full-time, and my husband lives in a different city... When you stack it all up, life is very, very complicated.  Just think of the airports that I go to every month.  It feels like that alone is a full-time job.  So, there’s a lot to keep balanced.  The actual creative side of the music is all encompassing, but I like that about it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You mention that you’re teaching full-time.  Is this composition?

Thomas:   That’s correct, yes.  I’m on the faculty of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and I actually start full-time in September.

BD:   But you have been teaching composition for quite a while?

Thomas:   I’ve actually been traveling a lot around the country teaching at different universities on one- and two-week-residencies, so I’ve been teaching a lot.  In fact, that takes up more time than the job at Eastman where I have very specific duties, and specific students.  But when you do go to some other place, you end up doing lots, which is fun.

BD:   Are you pleased with the ideas that you see on the pages of the students?

Thomas:   [Hesitates]  In general, I would have to be very honest and say no.  I don’t say that in any critical way, or in any arrogant way, but I do think that most of what one sees
both from students, and from the whole professionis a big question.  In general, though, the students are not always as strong as maybe they could be.

BD:   Is it your job then to make them stronger?

Thomas:   For my particular students
the specific ones who are studying with me for a whole yearthe job is to help them realize what it is that they’re trying to do, and hopefully through that they will become stronger as people, as well as musicians and composers.  But one cannot teach imagination.  One can teach technique quite consistently, and quite well, and quite rigorously.  Someone might have a perfect technique, but you cannot teach imagination... at least, I can’t.

BD:   Being specific about your own music, where’s the balance between the technique and the inspiration?

Thomas:   At the desk when I’m composing, I flip back and forth schizophrenically between one and the next within a millisecond.  My ear will lead me toward the phrase resolving that way, and immediately my intellect will say, 
“No, you actually don’t want to go there because of where you’re moving next, or because of the large turn of pitch implications, or tonal implications.  So, you’re flipping back and forth, but your ear is saying, “No, no, no, no, you must go there even though it shouldn’t, and then the brain is saying, “How can I make that work?  It goes back and forth, so for me it’s definitely a hundred per cent intuition and a hundred per cent intellect.  It has to be constantly shifting.  Technique is very important.  How do you write for an orchestra?  How do you write so that you can put parts in front of a major orchestra, like New York, or Philadelphia, or Cleveland, or Chicago?  They know when it’s well-written, and that’s crucial.  I don’t think that’s acceptable any other way, unless it’s a piece which is done with good technique.

BD:   Do you feel you are part of a lineage of composers?

Thomas:   [Gasps]  Wow!  I do, actually.  I don’t know if I’m in the lineage because I’m just a young composer, but I do definitely feel that my music has very specific roots in music history.  When someone hears my music, they can clearly say,
She’s definitely knows Mahler, she definitely knows Stravinsky, she clearly knows Debussy.  You can hear references in my music, but not quotes, specifically.  My music is very different from any of those, but one can hear some very specific roots.

BD:   Can they say that you definitely know some of your contemporary composers, such as Bernard Rands?

Thomas:   They could, yes.  [Laughs]  He is my husband, and therefore I know his music very well, and he knows mine very well.  I think he’s a great composer.  I really respect his work.  Our work is very different, and he and I both know that very clearly.  It is obvious on the outside, and a lot of people know it, yet I have so much respect for what he does.  We don’t show each other our music because we live in two different cities, and because we’re so busy.  It’s just impossible, but we do hear each other’s music when it’s finished, and it’s always remarkable.  We both enjoy very much the differences.  It’s almost funny that there we are, so close and yet we come up with two different worlds of sound.  But he’s definitely influenced my work in some ways for sure.  It’s unavoidable.  There are a lot of composers that one can hear directly in my music, that you can hear that I am influenced by.  I do like the work of Luciano Berio, and Tōru Takemitsu from Japan.  I think Henri Dutilleux in France is a fantastic composer.  He is very, very rigorous and an interesting composer.  There are also many others, many, many others.

BD:   Do you enjoy listening to the newest pieces around?

Thomas:   Very much so.  I listen to a lot of music by my colleagues.  Whenever I go anywhere, I ask for tapes, and people know that I always listen to them immediately.  I tend to have a pretty large correspondence with people about work.  I think it’s fascinating to be right up to date with what people are doing.  I just like to listen to music.  Even if it’s a piece I don’t like or even respect, I still prefer to hear it and see what’s being written around me.  We’re in an age of intense communication.  I could hear the latest piece of Schnittke that was premiered in Russia in about a week by getting a tape from the publishers.  This kind of communication is phenomenal, and I take advantage of it a lot by writing to publishers for things.  It’s interesting what people are doing.  Especially when one is teaching, you want to be able to point your students in a certain direction.

BD:   Since you keep up with all of this, then you’re a good person to ask this next question.  Where’s music going these days?

Thomas:   Oh, I have no idea, that’s for sure.  [Both laugh]  The only thing that I listen for in a piece can be summed up in one word, which is sincerity.  I might not like the style of piece, or I might not like the language of the piece, or it might not be my particular idiom.  None of that really matters.  But one can really hear in a piece when there’s a compelling scream, a strong sincere voice, even if the piece is totally quiet, like Takemitsu, and that’s a very rare phenomenon.  It’s very hard to write great music, we all know that.  But finding this very intense personality in a piece is very rare, and it’s so valuable, but there are a lot of great composers.

BD:   Can we number you amongst them?

Thomas:   Oh, I have no idea.  I can’t judge myself, really.

Thomas BD:   Who should judge thatthe public?  Other composers?  The critics?

Thomas:   I think finally those people that I really respect and look up to.  For example, if I’m worrying about if a piece is strong, or if the third movement should be revised for any of seven reasons, I would go to a composer-colleague.  They’re the people whose opinion I really care about
the elders, the great composers.  I don’t know them, particularly, and they don’t know me, but there are great composers alive, and those are the people I care about with what they think, and they don’t even know it.  My sax concerto was done at Avery Fisher Hall, which maybe seats 2,600 people.  However, I don’t care what 2,599 think.  I just care about one person, because he’s an elder composer who I happen to know is there.  All I do through the whole performance is think, Oh my God, he must hate it!  It must be awful!  It must be terrible!  So, it’s not the audience that I worry about.  It’s not the 2,600 people there sitting there, but it’s those people that I really respect who spent sixty, seventy, eighty years of their lives writing music.  They know, even if they don’t agree with the exact idiom.  They can tell that it’s a good piece, or that it’s not a good piece.

BD:   Is this to say that you ignore the other 2,599 in the hall?

Thomas:   No, I don’t ignore them, but I don’t write to them.  In a great town like Chicago, it’s a very different situation because this is a very educated town, that has incredible arts facilities with great performances of new music and opera.  So, this is not a typical example, but in general, in the United States, audience members are not educated.  They don’t hear a lot of new music, or see a lot of new art, or new theater, or new opera.  They haven’t had a lot of education in their schools, so in general
and forgive me for saying thisthe audiences are not educated for new music... just like I’m not educated for computer research.  I couldn’t even turn a computer on, so it’s not any kind of an arrogant statement.  It’s just a fact, and therefore if I’m going to expect them to critique my music, I would be very ill-footed.  It wouldn’t be the right thing to do.

BD:   And yet, they are the ones who buy the tickets and come.

Thomas:   That’s right.  That’s a different level.  They’re so important in so many ways, but in terms of actually critiquing my work, and saying whether it’s good or bad, that’s a whole very different level.  I like audiences.  I like very much to talk to them before the concert.  I love to do that, and it’s really important.  I always find it very interesting to know what they ask.  I like very much the question-and-answer sessions.  Don’t get me wrong, I do not think audiences are stupid.  I don’t write down to an audience, but I always find that audiences rise to the occasion.  It’s much more interesting for myself and for them to ask them to embark on a new journey which causes them to move to a new level, up or down or sideways, rather than to just give them something they know.

BD:   Do you make sure it’s a level they can rise to, rather than being so high that they couldn’t possibly make it in the evening?

Thomas:   That’s just a consequence of my work.  My work is not so far out, it really isn’t.  Any audience member can hear that it doesn’t do anything crazier than Strauss and Mahler and Stravinsky.  So much has been done in this century, but, on the other hand, I do feel that the ensemble of the orchestra really can continue to grow.  These great masters have done so much with it and for it, so my music is really continuing in that tradition, and trying to make a new sound for the ensemble.  A lot of my work involves the re-seating of the orchestra, so that instead of sitting in the obvious way with violins and violas and cellos right in front, and the winds and the brass at the back, and everyone sitting in groups of choirs, I divide everybody up and re-seat them, and jumble them up on stage to make concertina groups, or three orchestras playing at once.  This makes things that are very different both for the performing musicians as well as for the audience, and certainly for the conductor.  But what can evolve is a brand-new sound.  Instead of thinking of the ensemble as choirs of strings, brass, winds, and percussion, I think of the orchestra as 110 soloists.

BD:   Does that not upset the players to be in completely different places?

Thomas:   It can, if there’s no particular deep musical reason why they were shuffled.  But if they sit in a certain way and they can hear exactly why they were reshuffled, and why it’s important that they’re sitting in their concertina group, and how that’s threaded throughout the piece, and why that’s important, and how a new blending can be made, and hear what the difference is between chamber music and orchestral music, and can you blend them, this can be interesting for them.  There are a lot of big questions going on, and I find the performers like to be soloists.  Some sixth-seat violinist who is always playing unison with anybody, is suddenly in a concertina group, and has a long solo.  It’s a very interesting, and it’s a very different sound.

BD:   So then you’ll re-seat them for a specific piece, rather than just re-seat them for the sake of reseating them?

Thomas:   Exactly.  I’ve only done a few re-seated pieces.  It’s not like all are that way.  A lot of my pieces are just for standard orchestra, but even my standard orchestral stuff involves a lot of divisi, and a lot of solos constantly embarking on different combinations.  I’m very influenced by the music of Mahler, and Debussy, but it’s moving slightly in a new direction.

BD:   Always new?

Thomas:   I like to think that it’s always something slightly different, but it’s not so far out.  One can generally hear a long line that is romantic, colorful, or dramatic.  It is music that one might hear in Bartók, or Mahler.  It’s not the kind of music that’s all over the place for no reason, with everybody jumbled around.  That doesn’t interest me.  It’s very expressive music.

BD:   And that, in itself, makes it more accessible?

Thomas:   Probably, yes.  In general, I find audiences to be very, very kind, and very warm, and very interested.  A lot of them find it very challenging, and they often don’t understand it at all, but I feel they can at least listen to it, and get through it, and have a comment or question that I find fascinating, even if it’s not been understood on the most intense technical level.  That’s not important in many ways.

*     *     *     *     *

Thomas BD:   Are you at the point in your career that you expect to be as you approach thirty?

Thomas:   I really love my work, and I really love to work hard.  I’m very happy working, and I put a lot of pressure on myself.

BD:   Too much?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interview with Joan Tower.]

Thomas:   Probably.  I’m very compulsive, and very intense about my work.  I work all the time, and very hard.  I feel that I’ve met my own goals that I set for myself, and I feel good about that.  I also feel very, very fortunate in the professional world to have had performances by lots of major orchestras, lots of regional orchestras, and lots of chamber music recordings.  I feel very fortunate in terms of the career side, but most importantly, one tries to always feel there’s a sense of development as an artist.  I don’t like composers who keep writing the same piece.  I would rather fail, to go somewhere, and fail, and call myself a failure, and just not ever put the piece out there if I could not take the risk to make an adventure.  I feel very successful if I am constantly growing, even if the growth is sometimes lateral, or even growing in a negative way, and then coming out somewhere better.  It’s important to continue to develop.

BD:   [Surprised]  To grow in a negative way???

Thomas:   For example, to embark on a piece where your goals are to do X, Y and Z.  You can do it, but you totally fail on Z.  It just didn’t work, but at least you tried it.  You can recognize that you failed, but that’s fantastic to just develop that, and then to revise a piece, and to figure out how you can fix it.  You learn what was wrong with the premise, or what was wrong with the outcome, and do that investigation, and really have thoughtful music-making rather than just spinning out another piece.  It’s very easy to write music, but there is a difference between writing music and composing music.  It is very easy to write a piece of music and to spin something out.  It works, it sounds fine, the orchestra can play it, the audience will like it, so give it a nice title and publish it.

BD:   But it doesn’t say anything?

Thomas:   In the long run, that is not a life’s work.  That’s so easy.  But to actually compose something, and to really get it tight, and work hard at it, and see it constantly growing in the sense of development within a piece, both as an artist and within any specific piece, that’s interesting.

BD:   When you’re working on a piece, and maybe you’re trying to work through X and work through Y, and Z may or may not be coming.  How do you know when to put the pencil down and say you will give it a shot?

Thomas:   I don’t know how I know, but I just do.  Sometimes I’ll write five minutes of music which is fine, and I’m sure of it.  Then I’ll spend three months on one bar because that bar bothers me.  I go to sleep at night and it bothers me.  I wake up and it’s twitching at me, and I keep revising it, and revising it, and it just irks at me.  Then, suddenly I get it right, and I just know it’s right!  I don’t think twice.  Oh, my God, of course that’s how it goes, and then it’s done.  It’s just intuition.  Maybe it was so obvious, or maybe it was so complex, I don’t know, but there’s some sense of it being right.  For me, there’s very much a sense of rightness with a piece, and I would never ever put a piece out there until I felt that.

BD:   So you wait until everything’s right?

Thomas:   Right to my intuition.  Of course, after the performance I might revise things, but if something’s irking at me, I can’t concentrate on anything else.  I just get compulsive about until I can figure it out.  It’s like a mathematical problem.  You just want to solve it.  Even if it takes three months to solve it, it keeps going in your conscious until you get it.

BD:   A mathematical problem has one right answer.  Do musical problems have only one right answer?

Thomas:   [Thinks a moment]  That’s a good question.  I think so, actually.  Any piece can twist anywhere for any reason, and of course things can work one way or the other.  A good composer can make things go one way or the other, but finally, I think that there is a better answer.  One might get to a place in a piece and it can go to A, B, C, D, E, F, or G, and all of these things could probably work.  But which is stronger?  Which is better?  Which is more integral to the piece, and why?  When we make the decision, what does that lead to next?  All these are very intense connections, and in a certain sense a piece will start to dig its own route, and have a voice of its own.  It has a need to go somewhere.


Thomas

See my interviews with George Rochberg, Elliott Carter, and Jennifer Koh


BD:   So it might not be the right decision, but it would be the best decision?

Thomas:   I don’t know.  It’s hard to discuss it in these terms.  I do feel it intuitively when a piece is moving in the right direction, and I also feel it intuitively when a piece is not moving in the right direction.  Even if I couldn’t tell you why, I know for sure that’s it’s going in the wrong direction, and that’s a very weird feeling.

BD:   Is it going in the wrong direction, or is it just going nowhere?

Thomas:   My music, in my own creative process, is always going somewhere, but I can recognize if it’s the wrong place.  If it’s going nowhere, then that’s a different problem.  That sometimes happens, but not in this particular situation.

BD:   Do you have just one piece going at a time, or do you have more than one?

Thomas:   Basically, I write one piece at a time, although there is some overlap.  I’ve been doing an opera for two years, and while doing the opera I did two other pieces, but they are so drastically different that it’s like two different lives.  So, yes, I guess I was doing two pieces at once, but sometimes I’ll be proof-reading parts for one while I’m actually composing the beginning of another.  For me, that’s a real sense of overlap, because my head is hearing the music as I’m proof-reading, and then jumping back to the composition of the other piece.  Even proof-reading can be an overlap that sometimes is distracting, because I am a very avid proof-reader.

BD:   Does it make you schizophrenic?

Thomas:   No, but it does feel that I’m still tending to two pieces, even if one is just trivial work, and the other is real creative work.

BD:   I couldn’t imagine that proof-reading would be trivial, because you’re making sure that what you’ve said is exactly what wound up on the page.


Thomas

See my interviews with Lee Hoiby, Ned Rorem, Jennifer Higdon, and William Bolcom


Thomas:   Right, but proof-reading parts, where you’re counting to be sure if there’s the right bar numbers, or that the page numbers get correctly done, and that every page has a copyright on it... just trivial stuff that you can do while you watch television.  You can be counting up beats per bar, and checking that ties made it across the bar lines.  These are little things that really have nothing to do with anything except the graphics.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  But they can mean the difference between a successful performance and a failure.

Thomas:   That’s right!  I believe that totally.  I proof-read like crazy because I don’t want to waste a moment of rehearsal time.  It’s always paid off because I always find mistakes, and it always saves rehearsal time.  It’s always worth it.  I also like to see my piece line by line.  You see something very different when you read an orchestral set of parts.  You suddenly see what the player is seeing.  You know what you wrote, but you see it from the perspective of the horn player, or the trumpet player.  You see what they’re supposed to be doing, and it’s quite interesting.

BD:   Does it ever change?  When you look at the horn part, do you think this is too complicated, or he doesn’t have enough to do?

Thomas:   No, I never change it.  I just like to see it from the linear perspective, but I never change anything at that stage.  I might make a minute change, but I’m always very careful on the score.  I do all that changing on the score, and the parts are just a matter of checking.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You’re working on an opera!  Tell me the joys and sorrows of dealing with or for the human voice.

Thomas Thomas:   It’s been fascinating.  I have been collaborating on this opera with a colleague of mine at Harvard, whose name is Leslie Dunton-Downer.  She’s a mediaevalist by trade, and a very, very bright and successful woman who happens to be immensely creative.  So she has created a libretto for this piece, and it’s been a fantastic collaboration, and very intense.  We’ve made a lot of revisions together, which is good.  I feel all of our revisions have made the piece better.  We work very well together, and I find it very nice to work with a woman.  We seem to be able to communicate, and find time where we can both work.  It’s a good situation.  So, that whole side of the project has been phenomenally interesting.  It was commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich, and it’ll be premiered in May of 1994 in Francewhich is very soon in the opera world.  It’s thrilling because I made it for him, and he’s given me so much time.

BD:   Is it just about done?
 [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Carter Pann, Phillip Rhodes, and Stephen Paulus.]

Thomas:   The composition is done, and they are already rehearsing it.  They’ve had their parts for about two months, and have really been working.  I’ve been in contact with a lot of them, and it’s quite hard.  Just the memorization of something like that takes a long time, so they’re all underway with the project.  But it’s for him, and that was extremely interesting.  I made two other pieces for him, so I feel very lucky for the opportunity.  But I just wanted to make this piece for him, specifically.  The work is a commission for France, and is based on the life and work
short stories and poetryof Edgar Allen Poe, who is very highly revered in Franceeven more than he is in the United States.  There’s a lot of Poe cults over there, and besides, there hasn’t really been a big Poe opera.  I know Philip Glass did one, which is in a very different style from my music [The Fall of the House of Usher, (1988)], and Debussy was going to do one and never finished it.

BD:   Did you see the Argento work [The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe (1976)]?

Thomas:   The Argento is great, and there are some others, but for a writer like Poe, where everything he wrote screams opera, you couldn’t read a short story or a poem of his without thinking of opera.  It’s just so operatic.  I can
t imagine that everything he wrote wasn’t put down as an opera already.  So it seems like a very natural thing to do, and what my librettist has done is to really preserve his language in his poetry and his short stories.  It’s really a Poe libretto.

BD:   Will it be sung in English with French supertitles?

Thomas:   No, it’s just going to be sung in English.  There will not be supertitles in this theater.

BD:   Would you rather it had titles?

Thomas:   No, because the French speak English really quite well, and the dramatic impulse of the piece is very strong and really quite clear.  Even if one doesn’t understand every word, one can really feel what’s going on.  So, I’m not so worried about that.  My librettist really wanted to put on titles, and I don’t blame her.  But it was one of the things that we couldn’t work out, due to a lot of details, and I actually think it’s fine.  In certain other works it wouldn’t be fine, but for this particular work I think that it will be okay, especially since the French really do speak English well.  If it was a different country, it would be different.

BD:   I hope it’s a big success.

Thomas:   Oh, thank you.  It’s been fascinating.

BD:   Are there other operas in your mind, or are you going to wait and get this out of the way first?

Thomas:   Quite frankly, I don’t have another opera brewing in my soul at the moment.  I just cannot wait to sit down at a piece of orchestral music and manage the paper, because I’m so at home there and I love it so much.  I’m very into my paper and my pen, and just the whole experience.  This opera has been a very different world.  I’m done with it now, and I’m currently writing a piano concerto.  So, I’m back to my other life, but I don’t have another opera in mind.  It’s just that familiarity, and being familiar with what I do.  What I really want to do, quite frankly, is to take this opera, which is for chamber orchestra and small chorus, and blow it up into a full-scale opera, because I think it would be so appropriate for the work.  It would take me a lot of effort, but essentially it would be fun and easy work.  It would be really an interesting project to expand the piece for a large stage.

BD:   So it belongs to Lyric Opera or the Metropolitan?

Thomas Thomas:   Right, really blow it up.  The libretto, and the story, and the music could sustain that.  So, before I write another opera, what I’m going to do is make a big version of this one.  But first I need to get the piece done and have a video tape of it, and see how that goes, and where the revisions may lie.  Any work like that is so big, and involves so much collaboration.  The set designer might make something which requires a set change, which suddenly requires music that I didn’t intend, and may not want for various specific reasons because my music is very tightly threaded throughout the opera.  These things come up, and one has to compromise and collaborate.  I’m not sure, exactly, even until May, what the product will be.

BD:   But you’ll have to make it work?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interview with Frederick Hemke.]

Thomas:   Exactly.  I’m sure, as a team, we will, and we all agree on what kind of sets we’re trying to make.  We have all this planned out already, so I’m hoping we will be able to stay very close to the score, without having to add a lot of inserts and things.  But who knows?

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You are, obviously, a woman composer.  Does this make any difference, or do you just want to be known as a composer?

Thomas:   The creative process is genderless.  When I’m at my desk composing, I am a composer.  I am just making my art.  I happen to be a woman, and I happen to have blonde hair, or I happen to need to go on an airplane in an hour.  Whatever the other situations are, that’s not wrapped up in the creative process particularly.

BD:   Are you not going to bring certain femininity to your scores that a male composer wouldn’t have?

Thomas:   I don’t think so, quite frankly.  Femininity is a hard word, because men have a beautiful feminine side, and women have a very strong masculine side.  So, it’s very hard to talk in words specifically about this issue.  I’m a woman, and therefore I’m a woman composer, but at the creative moment, I’m not a woman, particularly.  I am just me.  I’m a musician, and I’m a composer.  Some of my music you would clearly think was masculine, and bold, and strong, and other pieces of my music are clearly very delicate and soft.  I don’t think we can drop the needle on any piece of music and say if it’s a man or a woman.  I know there are people that do that, but I don’t.  As I said, the creative process is genderless.

BD:   So you’re not crusading for women composers?

Thomas:   I like women who do things well, and I like men who do things well.  We should all try to do our best, and in the long run, when someone who does something really good and makes a good piece of art or a piece of music that we can all recognize as good, then that piece of music should get a chance.  If it happens to be by a woman, or a man, or someone gay, or someone black, or someone white, or someone Chinese, it really doesn’t matter.  If there’s a good piece of art made, my hat is off to it.  It’s just so great, and I’m so proud when someone I know made something great because it’s so hard to do.  Women really can write good music.  I know so many women composers that I think are very, very sensitive, and very creative, and very talented, and they happen to be women.

BD:   Are we getting to the point now where the last two or three questions that I’ve just asked will become either irrelevant or unnecessary?

Thomas:   I’m not sure, actually.  It’s hard to say anything is unnecessary or irrelevant, so I don’t want to say that particularly.  But it might be relevant in a different way.  It might be relevant on a different level, because now we tend to think of equal rights.

BD:   Are we making positive progress in this idea?

Thomas Thomas:   We are, as mass-culture.  We’re getting over some of our hang-ups.  One sees a lot of issues repeating themselvesequal rights, gay rights, women’s rightsand a lot of these things are dealing with the same kind of issues.  I hope we, as a culture, will be able to accept each other as human beings, and love each other, rather than criticize each other for our sexual preference, or because someone’s a woman, or whatever it may be.

BD:   Does your music address any of this, or does your music just deal with sounds and humanity?

Thomas:   I think the latter.  I never am self-conscious about what I’m writing.  I’m never writing a piece about trying to be a woman, or crying out that women have been persecuted, and we’ve never had a chance in the orchestral genre, therefore I’m going to write a certain type of piece with a certain title, and a certain program note that points directly to the fact that I’m a woman.  I never do any of that.  I’m not interested in that.  I don’t condemn anyone who does, particularly, but I don’t do it.  I don’t think it’s necessary.  I like art that is in the most abstract sense.  I don’t like political art.

BD:   Would you necessarily shy away from writing a Susan B. Anthony symphony?

Thomas:   I would do that, actually, because it would take on a different level that would be an overt decision to use, for example, poetry by women, or material having to do with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.  I would take on a very specific concern that could be quite fascinating.  But even if I did that, I would do it for artistic concerns.  Even if it’s overtly about and for women, I might also do a piece that is overtly about and for men, but so artistically that it might be interesting.  However, I wouldn’t do something for political reasons like that.  I don’t think it’s interesting, and I don’t think it makes any difference for the art.  A good piece of art is a good piece of art, and we can see that.  No matter what the subject matter is, we can recognize that.

BD:   One last question.  Is composing fun?

Thomas:   Yes.  I love it!  It’s great!  It’s absolutely fun.  It’s totally compelling, very interesting, totally exhausting, very humbling, and everything all wrapped up in one.  Yes, I love it, despite that it’s very hard in lots of ways
material ways, time ways, and just kinds of all waysand despite that it requires a lot of work, I’m totally happy.  I would not change a morsel.  I just love it, so I am just very lucky.

BD:   I wish you lots of continued success.  It seems like in your still very brief career, you’ve had tremendous amount of success, and I admire that.

Thomas:   Oh, thank you.

BD:   Thank you for speaking with me.

Thomas:   Oh, my God, thank you!



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© 1993 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on December 3, 1993.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1996, 1998, and 1999; and on WNUR in 2004, 2013, and 2019.  A copy of the un-edited audio was placed in the Archive of Contemporary Music at Northwestern Univeristy.  This transcription was made in 2020, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.