Prayers for a Feverish Planet

Landscape of Shadow and Light (2012) – David Evan Thomas (United States)

David Evan Thomas

Viewed from the side in an abstract way, the piano keyboard is a little black-cliffed Dover coast. Or is it a delta, fed by thirty-odd rivers? It is certainly a landscape, the apparent contours of which change with the season and time of day. Landscape of Shadow and Light traces a Chopin-esque path from F minor to A-flat major, but it moves through many other keys on its way, touching each of the 88 keys and even implying some that aren’t there. And is that a Hardanger fiddle tune that pops up en route? It’s a tribute to the dedicatee, Thelma Hunter (1925–2015), who was proud to be “100% Norwegian.” Thelma’s contributions to musical life in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota) were many and legendary, from teaching at the University of Minnesota to appearing as soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra. Landscape was commissioned for her 88th birthday; she requested that it include every key of the modern piano.

In addition to the above “official” program notes, David has also offered these thoughts about the work as related to this project: 

“Landscape is a favorite theme in music … abstractly, the piano keyboard is a suggestive landscape.
Light and shadow are intimate partners.
There’s no shadow without light, and light casts a shadow if there’s anything in the way.
They are inseparable.
I was intrigued by this idea of the keyboard as an environment,
and a musical work as a sonic landscape suggested itself.

As the work traces a Chopin-esque path from F minor to A-flat major,
the listener has a chance to ponder these ideas,
to reflect on the weather and terrain of a lifetime, with all its joys and sorrows.

The metaphor of keyboard as landscape is worth considering, especially at this time.
We live on a round planet in a continuum of time.
What do we make of those places on Earth that have been shaped, washed, ground, struck,
sheared by forces we can only imagine on a time scale we cannot grasp?
And what forces beyond our knowledge are we engaging,
have we already engaged,
in the human quest for domination of a planet?
Do we have any idea what kind of force we may have already unleashed?”

David Evan Thomas

The music of David Evan Thomas is praised for its eloquence, lyricism and craft. Critics note the composer’s loving ties to tradition, expressed in a refreshing, contemporary voice. Performers appreciate the clearly executed scores and technical know-how. Listeners respond to the music’s warmth, playfulness and sheer invention.

Honored with a Citation from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, two McKnight Foundation Artist Fellowships (2013, 1992), a Montana Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship (1987), and the Möller-A.G.O. Award in Choral Composition, Thomas has received commissions from the Minnesota Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the American Composers Forum and the American Guild of Organists. He has been a resident artist at Wyoming’s Ucross and Brush Creek Arts Foundations, and at California’s Villa Montalvo. Recent honors include the Renée B. Fisher Composer Award and the Welcome Christmas Carol Award from VocalEssence.

David Evan Thomas’s varied catalogue includes music for orchestra and wind ensemble, forty chamber works, keyboard pieces large and small, an opera and an oratorio. Vocal music is particularly prominent, with over a dozen song cycles—on subjects ranging from medieval women troubadours to baseball writings of Donald Hall—and some sixty choral works. Thomas’s music is published by Adlais, ALRY, Augsburg Fortress, Cherry Classics, ECS, Falls House, Fatrock Ink, Jeanné, MorningStar, Classical Vocal Reprints, North Star Music, VocalEssence Press and Yelton-Rhodes, and recorded on Innova, Klavier, Ten Thousand Lakes and CRI. Thomas’s newest release, From the Land of Song, appears on THREESCORE, a recording by cellist Laura Sewell on the Innova label.

Thomas’s orchestral music has been performed by the Minnesota Orchestra, National Orchestral Association, Rochester Chamber Orchestra and Long Island Philharmonic, conducted by Gian-Carlo Guerrero, Jorge Mester and Eiji Oue. His choral works have been sung by London’s Westminster Cathedral Choir, the Minnesota Chorale, VocalEssence, the National Lutheran Choir, Kantorei and the Rose Ensemble. Thomas chamber works have been played by Gil Shaham, Truls Mørk and Yefim Bronfman; the Minneapolis, Artaria, Lux and Rosalyra String Quartets; the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet; the Debussy Trio, Zeitgeist and many beloved solo performers: singers Karen Clift, Maria Jette, Patricia Kent, Clara Osowski, Vern Sutton, Lawrence Weller, Gregory Wiest and Adriana Zabala; pianists Lydia Artymiw, Mark Bilyeu, John Churchwell, Margo Garrett, Timothy Lovelace and Shannon Wettstein; organists James Biery, Marilyn Biery, Dean Billmeier, Stephen Self and Katie T. Moss—who made Thomas’s music the subject of her Indiana University doctoral dissertation—and instrumentalists David Baldwin, Burt Hara, Erin Keefe and Jeffrey Van. Among recent projects: To Joy, a 14-song cycle for solo quartet and piano duet, and One Fair Summer Eve, commissioned by the Minnesota State Band.

Born in Rochester, New York in 1958, David Evan Thomas grew up as the fourth of five children in a musical family, the son of flutist John Thomas. David attended Penfield High School and the Eastman “Prep” Department, graduating with Honors in Trumpet and receiving encouragement in composition from David Russell Williams. He joined the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra in 1973, appearing as soloist in 1976. As an undergraduate at Northwestern University, he studied trumpet and composition and sang in the Alice Millar Chapel Choir under Grigg Fountain’s direction. As a master’s student at Eastman, he was awarded the Director’s Fellowship; he then taught at the college level through the 1980s in Billings, Montana. Thomas served as Dominick Argento’s assistant at the University of Minnesota, where he also taught composition and orchestration, receiving the Ph.D. in 1996. Thomas’s teachers have included composers Argento, Samuel Adler, Robert Morris and Alan Stout, and trumpeters Vincent Cichowicz and Richard Jones. He studied further with David Diamond at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and at the Aspen Festival.

David Evan Thomas has an enduring relationship with the Schubert Club. He served as its first composer-in-residence 1997–2005, received the “An die Musik Award” for outstanding service in 2016, and continues as a program annotator. His notes have appeared in program books for the Minnesota Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Carnegie Hall and the Brevard Festival. Thomas has been associated with Minnesota’s Source Song Festival since its inception, guiding composer participants since 2019 as Composer Mentor. In 2018, Thomas was initiated into Sigma Alpha Iota Fraternity as a National Arts Associate by the Minneapolis/Saint Paul Alumnae Chapter. Katie T. Moss published the first dissertation on Thomas’s work, Of Things Hoped For: the Organ Works of David Evan Thomas, as part of her doctoral work at Indiana University in 2019.

Thomas is a BMI affiliate. He lives in Minneapolis.