Primary Instrument: Piano
The music of David Bennett Thomas has been called immediately engaging ...meticulously structured ... playful, soulful, technically dazzling, and acutely communicative (Philadelphia Music Makers); convincing on both structural and emotional levels ... music that speaks with no pretension (The Classical Source); and concise and comprehensible, though he doesn't talk down to the listener or subscribe to any isms ... this is a composer with an individual voice (American Record Guide). He has written in many genres, including works for chorus, solo voice, orchestra, chamber groups, piano, and jazz ensembles.
In recent years, Thomas' works have been performed throughout America as well as in Europe, Israel, South America, and China by groups such as The Gregg Smith Singers, The Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia, rarescale, The New York Treble Singers, Relache, Naked Voices, SCAW, Melomanie, Salt Lake City Choral Artists, Essex Chamber Music Players, The Mark Morris Dance Group Music Ensemble, Chicago Choral Artists, Dolce Suono, The Orchestra Society of Philadelphia, and Singing City. Soloists who have performed his works include pianists Charles Abramovic, Matthew Bengtson, and Carl Cranmer, flutists Mimi Stillman and Carla Rees, violinist Laura Frautschi, soprano Rosalind Rees, cellist Jeffrey Solow, saxophonist Marshall Taylor, organist Donald Sutherland, and many others. His music has been featured at several festivals, including The Festival of the Hamptons, The Bethlehem Guitar Festival, and by programs sponsored by The New York Flute Club. Mr. Thomas has served as composer in residence at The Adirondack Festival of American Music.
Thomas has received grants from The American Composers Forum (Subito, Community Partners), The University of the Arts, and The Peabody Conservatory to support the recording of several of his compositions, which have been released on Innova Recordings, Capstone Records, Vectordisc, Arizona University Recordings, rarescale records, as well several independent releases. Thomas' music has been featured on NPR, WWFM's 'Divertimento' program, WVUD's 'Fine Tunings' program, WRTI's Now Is The Time, as well as many jazz and NPR stations across the US. His music has been published by Shawnee Press, and Tetractys Publications.
Recent commissions have come from The New York Treble Singers, The Brandywine Valley Chorale, The Chester County Pops Orchestra, The Pennsylvania Music Teachers Association, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, The Gregg Smith Singers, The Chester County Choral Society, funded by The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, rarescale, SCAW, Dolce Suono, Naked Voices chorus (Israel) and The American Composers Forum Community Partners program.
Thomas won the Philadelphia Young Composers competition hosted by The Philadelphia Orchestral Society, and the Morawetz Award in Composition. He is the author of A Conversation with Lukas Foss, which was published in 'The Journal of the Conductors Guild,' and subsequently published by Carl Fischer.
In addition to his work as a composer, Thomas enjoys a second life as a jazz pianist, working steadily throughout the Philadelphia area jazz clubs and restaurants, including performances at The Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, and the Chadds Ford Winery Jazz Festival. His most recent recording is a suite of original jazz compositions inspired by texts from James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, performed by Thomas on piano, with six of Philadelphia's finest jazz musicians: John Swana, Ron Kerber, Kevin Hanson, Micah Jones, Erik Johnson, and Arturo Stable. He currently performs several nights a week at Sullivan's Steakhouse, in King of Prussia, PA. Thomas has also performed with Larry McKenna, Joe Hunt, Steve Giordano, and many others.
Thomas received degrees from West Chester University, and The Peabody Conservatory. His mentor for many years was Lukas Foss, and he also studied with Steven Mackey, Ron Thomas, Jacques Voois, Michael Connell, and Donald Chittum.
Thomas is on the faculty at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA, where he teaches composition, piano and heads the theory department. He has authored his own theory workbook that focuses on both classical and jazz theory, and has also taught masterclasses in Santiago, Chile.
American Organist Magazine
His music is concise and comprehensible, though he doesn‘t talk down to the listener or subscribe to any particular isms. This is a composer with an individual voice.
David Moore, American Record Guide
Thomas' comping behind Micah Jones' fluid bass solo is economical and understated, leading to his own intricately lovely solo... James Joyce represents serious literature. Using the author's classic novel as a jumping off point for a jazz recording, Thomas has come up with a superbly crafted, accessible and nourishing work of art.
Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz
While Paganini‘s Caprices for solo violin tend to be odysseys in violin technique, David Bennett Thomas (who studied with Lukas Foss) created an intense emotional journey, similar to an operatic recitative and aria, in Whim for solo flute.
David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer
The program included two pieces for solo flute that could become popular items for future flute recitals. David Bennett Thomas’s Whim dispenses with time signatures and most bar lines – an arrangement that lets him create long phrases without worrying about standard rhythmic patterns. The result is a dazzling flute display that would be a good choice for flutists who‘d like to open a program with a solo that‘s less familiar than Debussy’s Syrinx.
Tom Purdom, The Broad Street Review
One can note with pleasure the flexibility of Thomas’ musical language, and his determination to respond to poetic texts in an individual way. Each piece calls forth a different vocabulary from Thomas, defined most of all through intervallic emphasis. The psalm settings, with their lyrical language of faith, rely on open fifths, for example. In the November-December section of the title Songs of Seasons, Thomas evokes winter‘s gray not with the usual cloud of impressionistic harmonies but with an insistent and growing repetition of a single chord. Throughout, he succeeds in deriving novel programmatic effects from simple materials. The Gregg Smith Singers continue their long mastery of small-scale contemporary choral music with assured, sympathetic performances that will make many choristers want to rush out and try these pieces themselves.
James Manheim, All Media Guide
For two bass clarinets we also have the Conversation Pieces by David Bennett Thomas. Ten short to very short pieces (the title of song four is: The title is longer than the piece and takes about 5 seconds), with a total time of eight minutes. The Conversation Pieces, written in 2009, are particularly well written for the bass clarinet, sometimes challenging, always surprising and very effective.
Harry Sparnaay's book The Bass Clarinet
The piece [Piano Sonata #2] convinces on both structural and emotional levels.... [Sonata for Cello Solo is] an invigorating cocktail of style and technique.... [on Juliet] after a moving, almost Messiaenic introduction, the violin traces the voice exactly in the vocalize of O serpent heart..., using repetition of a melodic loop to a powerful climax – easily the most impressive moment on the disc. The directness of David Bennett Thomas’ communication with the listener should be noted, for he makes music that speaks with no pretension, and makes for a rewarding listening experience.
Ben Hogwood, The Classical Source, February 11, 2006
Thomas is a highly gifted and interesting composer who has his own distinct voice. His music is very well written for voice or instruments, and presents a real challenge to the performers. He is very musical, prolific, hard working, motivated, intelligent. I have great confidence in his future.
Thomas’ work is a refreshingly fresh flowering of a sensible a-historical approach to our musical art... The Impromptus for Flute and Piano move effortlessly between irony and profundity, and even between sight-gag slapstick and the mournfully langorous.... every phrase and every event in Thomas’ music displays a perfectly conceived application of the proper scale of time and density for those events with regard to the weight and the tone of the musical ideas he is using. Perhaps this is the greatest lesson the great masters have to teach us about composition. David seems to know how to deploy his forces in such a way as to bring about this ‘classic‘ balance.
Ron Thomas (from the liner notes to The Music of David Bennett Thomas, Vol. 1)
Elegy for Tu Fu makes use of plucked and damped piano strings with a limpid bass flute melody which is repeatedly drawn to, absorbed in, and deflected from the piano‘s pitches, occasionally recalling Takemitsu. Here, and in Moment, where bass flute and Sarah Watts’s bass clarinet interweave, with occasional delicious trompe l‘oreille ambiguities, Thomas begins to explore a language where timbre and articulation are as considered as pitch and rhythm.
Simon Waters, Pan Magazine
The rewarding vocal works on Songs of Seasons provide yet more evidence that David Bennett Thomas is a composer who is capable of virtuoso writing, but opts to keep unnecessary flashiness reined in for a deeper, more thoughtful approach. The Gregg Smith Singers lend great feeling and technical precision to Thomas’ music, while pianist Thomas Schmidt handles his role with warmth and dexterity... Beginning with the serenely beautiful harmonies of O Magnum Mysterium for mixed chorus, the disc remains consistently engrossing... A setting of excerpts from three of the Psalms for baritone and piano is a major highlight of the disc. Jared Stamm offers soulful readings of Thomas’s strong melodies as Schmidt traverses intriguing harmonic territory...
Brad Glanden, Sequenza 21
...immediately engaging... meticulously structured works... a natural organicity, and fluidity of expression... Thomas’ material is playful, soulful, technically dazzling, and acutely communicative.
Andrew Quint, Philadelphia Music Makers, Spring 2006
The chamber works of David Bennett Thomas may be categorized as neo-Romantic, neo-tonal, or even as a kind of sophisticated fusion classical, but these terms by themselves are inadequate to describe the complex mixtures of elements in his music. His strongest pieces reveal both modernist influences and contemporary applications, though blended to sound original and whole, not like self-conscious parodies or pastiches. Thomas is shrewd enough not to wear his influences on his sleeve, and these presumed sources are reworked with jazz harmonies and influences in an idiosyncratic but distinctive post-modern approach.
Blair Sanderson, All Media Guide