Virgil Thomson Foundation Announces 2014/2015 Commemoration Events to Honor 25th Anniversary of Composer's Death
The Virgil Thomson Foundation today announced a robust worldwide celebration of Pulitzer Prize winner Virgil Thomson (1896-1989). A champion of American music and arguably America's greatest composer-critic, Thomson is being memorialized throughout 2013-15 by some of today's top opera companies, orchestras, and record labels. See below for a complete schedule.
"We are particularly pleased to be honoring the 25th anniversary of Virgil Thomson's death," said Charles Fussell, President of the Virgil Thomson Foundation, Ltd. "It is thrilling to have this opportunity to introduce his work to new audiences. His music and prose, and indeed his inimitable spirit, are being celebrated thanks to the artistic community's commitment to the continuation of Thomson's legacy."
As a composer, Thomson's fundamental belief was that music should be "as simple as a friendly conversation." His "simple" yet highly original and sophisticated body of work is being remembered through performances by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, American Ballet Theatre, Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), pianist Jed Distler, and Wistaria Chamber Music Society, to name a few.
In honor of the 25th anniversary, three new albums spotlight Thomson's works. The first of the two Virgil Thomson-Gertrude Stein operas, Four Saints in Three Acts, changed the course of American opera and serves as a landmark in the history of American musical theater. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) has recorded Four Saints in Three Acts for a November 2014 release on the BMOP/sound label.
Thomson's second opera with Stein, The Mother of Us All, is considered one of the greatest American operas. Recorded by the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater, The Mother of Us All (released April 2014 on Albany Records) marks the newest recording of the opera as well as the only recording of the orchestral The Mother of Us All Suite.
Completing the triumvirate of albums is the upcoming November 2014 release of Thomson's engaging chamber works recorded at the 2012 Monadnock Music Festival. In addition, the Foundation is sponsoring the first complete recording of the iconic Piano Portraits performed by Craig Rutenberg. Release is scheduled for 2015.
The Virgil Thomson Foundation has undertaken additional major initiatives to further and promote contemporary American classical music. In May 2014, the inaugural Virgil Thomson Award, endowed by the Foundation, was presented by the American Academy of Arts and Letters to composer Lowell Liebermann. And on November 12th, the ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards, supported by the Foundation, will honor outstanding print, broadcast and new media coverage of music.
Thomson modestly described his prose as "sassy but classy." This year also brings a major publishing initiative that will restore an important dimension of Thomson's legacy. For 14 years, Thomson was the nationally syndicated music critic for the New York Herald Tribune. In November, The Library of America, the nonprofit publisher of classic American writing, will release Virgil Thomson: Music Chronicles 1940?1954, edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Tim Page and funded in part by a grant from the Foundation. A lasting tribute to the writer who set the gold standard for American cultural journalism, this landmark volume will gather for the first time all four of the long out-of-print collections of newspaper reviews Thomson published in his lifetime, along with a generous selection of previously uncollected writings. This will be the first volume of a two-volume set of Thomson's writings.
Founded by Thomson in 1980, the Foundation's purpose is to further and promote the performance, preservation, dissemination and public appreciation of contemporary American classical music in general and the music and writings of Virgil Thomson in particular. In recent years, the Foundation has been planning and sponsoring the creation of films, live performances, new and reissued recordings, and publications on the life and works of Mr. Thomson. From 1980 to 2013, the Foundation awarded grants to performing ensembles, service organizations, and presenters throughout the U.S. in support of activities involving contemporary American classical music. For more information, visit www.virgilthomson.org.
Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) was a many-faceted American composer of great originality and a music critic of singular brilliance. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, on November 25, 1896, Thomson was educated at Harvard.
After a prolonged period in Paris where he studied with Nadia Boulanger and met luminaries including Cocteau, Stravinsky, Satie, and the composers of Les Six, he returned to the United States where, in addition to composing, he was chief music critic for the New York Herald Tribune for 14 years beginning in 1940.
Thomson composed in almost every genre of music. Utilizing a musical style marked by sharp wit and overt playfulness, Thomson produced a highly original body of work rooted in American speech rhythms and hymnbook harmony. His music was most influenced by Satie's ideals of clarity, simplicity, irony, and humor. Among his most famous works are the operas Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All (both with texts by Gertrude Stein with whom he formed a legendary artistic collaboration), scores to The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River (films by Pare Lorentz), and Louisiana Story (film by Robert Flaherty). He also produced ballet scores, incidental music for the theatre, and a genre he can be credited with inventing: the musical portrait. In addition to his compositions, he was the author of eight books, including an autobiography.
Included in his many honors and awards are the Pulitzer Prize, a Brandeis Award, the gold medal for music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Book Circle Award, the Kennedy Center Honors, and 20 honorary doctorates. www.virgilthomson.org
2014 Commemoration Events Include:
1.25 + 2.01 | CONCERT
The Conservatoire de La Roche sur Yon performed Thomson's score for the film The Plow That Broke the Plains.
4.01 | CD RELEASE
Albany Records' latest release is the Manhattan School of Music's notable production of The Mother of Us All opera with music by Virgil Thomson and a libretto by his collaborator Gertrude Stein. The Albany disc is the newest recording of the opera. Its second disc includes the only commercial recording of the orchestral The Mother of Us All Suite currently available.
4.04 | CONCERT
The University of Hull Orchestra performed Thomson's Percussion Piece, Movt. 7, from "Eight Portraits" in Yorkshire, England.
5.08 | CONCERT
"Virgil Thomson & Friends at the Chelsea Hotel" took place at Symphony Space, NYC, led by music director/pianist Jed Distler featuring a special cast who brought to life the Bohemian, cultured, often-gay, and always musical world of Virgil Thomson-a Chelsea hotel resident of half a century. Works by Thomson, Copland, Rorem, Bowles, and Busby, performed by Jed Distler, piano, Julie Rosenfeld, violin Kamala Sankaram, soprano with special guests composers Gerald Busby & Scott Wheeler and music critic Tim Page. In collaboration with The Virgil Thomson Foundation. Part of the Sleeping Around Festival.
5.21 | AWARDS CEREMONY
The American Academy of Arts & Letters presented the inaugural Virgil Thomson Award for Vocal Music to Lowell Liebermann. Ceremony took place at the Academy at 633 West 155th Street, NYC.
10.11 + 10.12 | CONCERTS
Wistaria Chamber Music Society performs "The Company of Virgil" in two concerts featuring works by Thomson and his mentee, Scott Wheeler, as well as others TBA. Saturday, October 11th at 8:00pm at The Pushkin Gallery, Greenfield, MA followed by Sunday, October 12th at 4:00pm at the Goethe Institute, Boston, MA (including a post-concert dinner and panel discussion).
NOV 12 | AWARDS EVENT
ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards, sponsored by the Virgil Thomson Foundation. The Deems Taylor Awards program recognizes outstanding books, articles, broadcasts and web sites on the subject of music.
NOV | CD RELEASE
Date TBD. Album release of BMOP/sound's recording of Thomson's opera Four Saints in Three Acts featuring the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP).
NOV | CD RELEASE
Date TBD. Album release of Monadnock Music's recording of Thomson's complete chamber works.
2015 Commemoration Events Include the launch of Foundation's own record label, Everbest, dedicated to showcasing Thomson's works and the release of deluxe boxed set: Piano Portraits, performed by Craig Rutenberg, on the Everbest record label. Dates are TBD.