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T. L. Read

Composer, Violinist, Teacher

Some Commentary and Reviews

…from here and there!

"Thomas Read's Sunrise Fable was a moment in musical history: a world premiere of a work destined for permanence in the repertoire" (S.A. Conkling, Burlington Free Press); "the Solo Music for Contrabass…highly successful on a linear and textural plane" (Musical America); " the soprano [in Naming the Changes] is used sparingly…but is very musical and sensitive" (David Cope, MLA Notes); "the other highlight was the premiere of Symphonic Episodes by Thomas Read. It's a first rate soundscape…stands a good chance of joining the standard repertoire" (J.Donohue, Burrlington Free Press); "Read displays a keen understanding of woodwind instruments in his Corrente…has his own distinctive voice" J.Rosen, MLA Notes); "the triumph of the weekend was a performance of Thomas Read's Light After Light…The entire work received its premiere in Burlington, but this performance was stronger and made it much more clear how powerful this music is" (Jim Lowe, The Times Argus); "Read's works pleased everyone for high professional quality" (Efrain Guigui, Johnson Composers Conference); "Solo Music for Contrabass shows a real sense of the instrument-nice notes -- they sound right, but feel right, too…" (Bertram Turetzky, UCSD,); "Read's impassioned violin unveiled the suffering, desperation and struggle that lie below the surface of (Arvo Part's) Fratres (Bill Davis, North By Northeast; "the Chamber Concerto is a richly beautiful piece" (Dan Wolfe, Shelburne News); "I especially liked Corrente and Variations for Piano Trio, the ending of which is very beautiful. But all the works are stamped with your original sense of sound and time. Congratulations! Write more! (Ross Lee Finney, private correspondence).

…and more specifically:

Piano Partita: "What we need now is a recording of Read’s magnificent Piano Partita - one of the finest American piano pieces I’ve seen in recent years." T. Abbott, Living Music Journal

Meridian, septet for flute, clarinet, bassoon, percussion (vibe, cymbals, drum) guitar, harp, 'cello: “It was Read’s brilliant Meridian that proved the most compelling. With the composer conducting…the ensemble played short, disparate motifs that blended and didn’t, simultaneously sounding cacophonous and as a whole. Beginning with an eruption of sunny brilliance, there was a relaxing interlude before returning to the initial brilliance.” J. Lowe, Times-Argus

Capricci: "The jewel of the evening was the Boston premiere of Thomas L. Read’s Capricci (2010), named after Giovanni Tiepolo’ s mysterious but fanciful, 18thcentury etchings, while playing on the term ‘caprice’ that would conventionally be applied to its one-movement, free musical form. Scored for guitar and string quartet (Nicole Parks and MacFarland Masterton, violin; Faith Jones, viola; Nora Karakousoglou, cello), Read’ s choice to ‘...treat the guitar as an integral part of the ensemble rather than as a solo with, or as obbligato secondo... ‘ was stunningly executed. It is an approach that could have failed in the wrong hands, but Read’s acoustical sensibilities for this instrumental combination resulted in musical passages that shimmered with vibrancy. A moment early on when the guitar and first violin (Parks) rang out in their respective upper registers in duet over the other instruments stood out as particularly brilliant." The Boston Musical Intelligencer, 3/1/13.

Corrente, for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, Peters edition 66967: "Read displays a keen understanding of woodwind instruments in his Corrente, an 11 minute trio in two sections… The music seems designed to explore both the general similarities and the specific differences, especially in timbre, of the instruments involved. Whether through direct influence or through finding similar solutions to similar problems, Read reminds us of the way Stravinsky wrote for woodwinds; for instance the fanfare openings in which octaves and sharp dissonances are intermixed, the passages of overlapping or interlocking eighth-note rhythms, and the sustained-chord phrase-endings, often embellished by shakes. For all the superficial similarities with his Russian predecessor, Read has his own distinctive voice. In several instances he offers alternative fingerings for repeated pitches, which he spells enharmonically (such as C#, Db, ), '…in order to encourage the performer to make changes of timbre…which are both effective and consistent with one of the fundamental expressive ideas of the piece.' Each instrument is given cadenza-like solo passages which, like the work in general, call for performers of professional competence." J.Rosen, MLA Notes.

Corrente, for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, Peters edition 66967: "Corrente is a brilliantly hard-edged trio for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon. It is inspired by French Courantes and possesses a truly infectious energy. There is a mechanistic quality to the music that causes the listener to be completely ‘caught up in the machine.’ ….The Dancing Air is modal and more lyrical [than Piano Music Vol.II]. It is an extremely creative piece, one whose rhythmic layers (satisfyingly) never quite fall into the expected places. The overall impression is that of watching a distant, endless dance. Noted pianist Donna Amato delivers very strong performances of these piano pieces. What we need now is a recording of Read’s magnificent Piano Partita - one of the finest new American piano pieces I’ve seen in recent years.” Thomas Abbott, 2009.

Naming the Changes (1975, based on texts by T. Alan Broughton, Peters ed 66710) "is subtitled 'Songs, Dances and Interludes' and scored for soprano and chamber ensemble. Its sequential form moves from 'Snow Chant,' a somewhat declamatory opening section, through 'Interlude I', 'Interlude II,' 'Fantasy,' 'Pastorale,' 'Passacaglia,' (questionable use of term here), to a series of six sections titled 'Six Portraits' following the text. There is a sense of ambiguous impressions as opposed to tight formal motion. The vocal part is idiomatic though difficult (many wide leaps and explorations of both high and low tessituras). The soprano is used sparingly (primarily in the opening chant and the final six portraits) but is very musical and sensitive. The balance is generally sound though occasionally one could wish for less contrapuntal tension during vocal sections. The percussion is used effectively and sparingly with few 'sound effect' techniques, but rather as indigenous materials adding depth and motion. Of the remaining instrumental parts, only the oboe has difficult sections (primarily extremities of range and somewhat uncharacteristic quick motions); however, nothing is unmusical or challenging without reason.

Serial techniques are apparent from the outset but so freely and contrapuntally used that only the semblance of chromatic organization is perceptible. Repetitions of two or more groups of pitches along with a somewhat free association of pitches culminating in twelve (sometimes less) creates unity without the hostility of formal dodecaphonic manipulations. Tempi tend to slowly grow from one to the next as opposed to sudden breaks, thus allowing for smooth transitions. The effects are limited and appropriate, subtly adding ambience to a texture rather than bursting forth as events of their own. One constantly receives the impression of organic unity.

My only problem with this musical and carefully composed work is its lack of intense dramatic direction (necessary, it seems to me, to carry it successfully over its prodigious duration of 26 minutes). Even at its climaxes one is constantly aware that it is an art song, always framed by a controlled technical perception of the composer's view of the text as opposed to letting the text express itself. It would make a good programmatic contrast to Berio's Visage performed by a professional ensemble." David Cope, MLA Notes.

"The title of Brillenbass, which originates from the music world of 18th century Germany, refers to certain accompaniment patterns of the time which were considered to be boring, unimaginative clichés. Parodies of such patterns occur in this piece in ever changing guises. In the program notes of a recent performance featuring Mark Nelson (for whom the piece was written), Read refers to the work as a "sonata-concerto" by virtue of the fact that its 'interrelated sections are cyclic and amount to contrasting movements played without pause.'

"While there is little functioning tonality at work in this piece (the unmistakable exception being the ending- a tuba and celeste fanfare in C major), the harmonic and melodic language is full of modal and tonal suggestion. The first section consists of chatty modal-meandering, at first giving the effect of some kind of folk dance played only on the tuba's open partials. This lends a naïve quality to the melody, and its varied repetition is slightly reminiscent of some minimalist works. A gradual transition leads to a section whose rhythmic character seems to have developed from that of the first, but presents a stark contrast as the only truly dissonant part of the piece. The work continues, exploring other themes which are usually related by the ever evolving brillenbass patterns and largely tertian based harmony. One theme which appears about two thirds of the way through has a distinctly hymn like, almost Amazing Grace quality and appropriately bears the designation 'Im Volkston.' The second half of its statement is beautifully scored in triple octaves, the celesta slightly out of time with the tuba. It sounds like something out of a dream.

Ostensibly. The rhythm of the piece is relatively simple compared to many modern works. Eighth and quarter note triplets with a few ties and rests are about the extent of the surface complexity. There is, however, a deeper rhythmic structure present. Through the use of varying meters the composer succeeds in creating a common underlying rhythmic relationship between contrasting sections based on a shared sense of pulse. Once past the somber introduction, an overall large scale beat is established and maintained through most of the work, even though some sections are vastly different from each other in character and (seemingly) in tempo….The piece is extremely well written for this novel combination [tuba, celesta, cymbals]…uses the range of the tuba well, writing brooding passages that hover around pedal C (CC) and an exalting passage which ever so slowly rises and crescendos up to a sustained and repeated f. Jesse Seifert-Gram, Indiana State University.

Enchorial Landscape "represents another serious attempt at pushing the tuba into new directions in melodic and harmonic writing. …basically a tonal work although dissonance and rhythmic diversity are used frequently to provide the basis for how the compositon progresses from one idea to the next. There are a plethora of changes throughout the one-movement work. [Following] an almost pointillist beginning, marked poco andante, the work explodes in energy at measure 27, marked molto allegro, and never really looks back aside from a brief poco adagio passage that allows the performer to catch a breath before pushing on to the final presto! Syncopation and multi-metrical passages make counting a challenge but not so much that the advanced college performer and the professional could not make it work after some practice. The range of the tuba part is FF to eb1. This work is exciting and venturesome. It is not for someone looking for an easy melodic work! However, a great addition to the serious tuba repertoire." Mark Nelson, Pima Community College

Chamber Concerto "...is a richly beautiful piece. Its form is one of straight-ahead composition from start to finish (it lacks the usual formal repetition of an ABA form, for example, where themes return.) The consonance that ends the work flows so well from the preceeding sections that it seems the most natural direction for the music to take. In the canon of Read's complete works it is a superb piece of writing. Other small ensembles will undoubtedly welcome it with open arms." Dan Wolfe, Shelburne News

If Winter Comes: Vermont Virtuosi, led by flutist Laurel Ann Maurer, commissioned and premiered If Winter Comes for flute and piano. …the music works through pastoral quiet, agitation, and builds to an exciting finale. The language, though largely tonal, has the richness of Read’s characteristic spicy harmonies and rhythms. It proved to be an intriguing and rewarding 9-minute tale.” Jim Lowe, Times-Argus, 3/3/14.

Sunrise Fable: "Thomas L. Read's engaging Sunrise Fable is equally at home on children's concerts and formal subscription programs. The unusual double narrator setup stems from the text- a bedtime story told by a parent to a child. The VYO has performed the piece twice in the last decade, first with ice cream moguls Ben & Jerry (Ben Cohen played the child) and later with a popular local storyteller paired with a student from one of our junior orchestras. Both performances were very well received by audiences.

The charming story is a fable about animals cooperating to protect the environment, which is imaginatively reflected in the music. In one especially striking section, the mice evolve from large, unsavory animals into small, furry ones as they work tirelessly to free the trapped sun. The orchestra mirrors this by "evolving" from a large clamorous tutti into a light concerto grosso texture. The work of the mice pays off and the sun is released in a brilliant orchestra tutti. Although consistently tonal, it is a complex piece for the players. The full orchestra is challenged, with demanding parts for all sections (including percussion), and a difficult piano part. Sunrise Fable is a very strong piece, worthy of much more frequent performance by youth orchestras. Troy Peters UpBeat, Newmusicnow.org

Two extracts from score reviews; complete reviews are in ITEA Journal, Volume 42, Number 2 Winter 2015. “As a low brass player, you might be familiar with Thomas L. Read’s extensive list of compositions through his work with Dr. Mark Nelson in Brillenbass, Enchorial Landscape or Meet These People. Read’s Brass Quintet No.2: Closing Distances is a work of contrasting episodes which includes a quote from the Native American song, ‘Jumpin’Dance.. of the Salishan.’ …could be an appropriate pick for an ambitious faculty brass quintet recital”. Jason Byrnes, UNC.

Meet These People for euphonium and three tubas “is episodic, and is referred to by the composer as a ‘straight-ahead musical expedition’ consisting of exchanges and explorations of player-individual themes. The ACE engraving is clear, with well-chosen page turns and very helpful cues included in the individual parts.” Alexander Lapins, Northern Arizona University.

Unpublished testimony:

Solo Music for Contrabass: "his solo piece is beautifully constructed with wonderful integration of some techniques I have developed. It is challenging and gratifying and I feel it is one of the most important solo chamber pieces from America in recent years." Bertram Turetzky, UCSD, La Jolla

…[Read's] works, written since the early 70's are for the most part complex, involving several philosophical and technical levels which are usually intricately woven together, tremendously professional in their craftsmanship, difficult to execute, (and often, at first blush, to encounter as a listener), but always rewarding for anyone who makes the effort to meet the composer on some level of his intellectual inspiration. Recently the works have grown rather more obviously approachable, though they are not, as a result, less well-crafted. A Read work always speaks with integrity and precision." William Metcalfe, founder/conductor, Oriana Singers of Vermont

From C.Robert Wigness, trombonist and composer, Wellesley Composers Conference, Faculty Emeritus, University of Vermont:
"praise to you for the numerous performances you have given of my composition for violin and electronic tape. Your having played the piece through Vermont and in New York at the Society of Electroacoustic Music Conference has publicized my composition (and) enhanced the reputation of the University of Vermont".

[Fratres by Arvo Pärt]" helped fill out (along with Bartók's Contrasts) a program built around the premiere of A Change of Season by composer James Grant and poet Ann Barker. For me, it forever changed the way I hear Pärt. Thomas Read's impassioned violin unveiled the suffering, desperation and struggle that lie below the surface calm of Fratres. …the piece was entirely in the hands of two very human performers who simply and entirely poured themselves into it, rewarding us with music that at every turn overflowed with care, honesty and beauty." Bill Davis, in North By Northeast, 1990

Regarding Read's performance of his 2nd violin sonata Ross Lee Finney wrote: "I can't imagine the work more beautifully played, and I hope you will permit me to put it in the file I keep of performances I really like."

“Your performance of my Duo for violin and piano was in every sense substantial. That you bring to this music insight and understanding comes as no surprise to anyone who’s acquainted with your work… as a violinist-composer you are rather unique even more so because you write so well for the piano.” Allen Brings, September, 2010.