Thomas Adès

Posted in Music, Reviews by ameliadean on May 4, 2010

Over the years, Adès has earned recognition as a world-class conductor, pianist, and composer. A musical prodigy, Adès studied music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and Cambridge University. He gave his first public recital at the age of 22, wrote the internationally acclaimed chamber opera Powder Her Face at 24, and was a composer-in-residence by thirty.

I first heard about Adès at an Emanuel Ax piano recital at the Barbican last March. The night’s performance was a moving celebration of the Romantic piano tradition with Ax providing both commanding force and technical precision. In the middle of the program, bookended by Chopin and Schumann, was the UK premier of Adès’ Three Mazurkas. The short pieces proved a perfect contrast to Chopin’s own mazurkas, reworking the traditional Polish folk dance genre into a delirious, off-kilter frenzy. Enigmatic, intense, and consciously unsatisfying, they lured us into a haunted soundscape only to violently cast us out.  When Adès took the stage for a bow, I was stunned. His bird-like features, fresh face, and boyish gate make him appear absurdly young for an artist of his standing.

On April 27th, Adès took the Barbican stage again, this time as a solo pianist. Adès put together a unique selection of pieces by Janáček, Prokofiev, Shubert, Beethoven, and Liszt, as well as his own Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face. I particularly enjoyed Adès’ interpretation of the rarely-performed Along an Overgrown Path–Book 2, a posthumous assortment of pieces written by Janáček between 1900 and 1915. With their Moravian folk-song overtones, the pieces seemed to share a sense of nostalgia, a yearning for the naiveté and simplicity of the past.

Although Adès rose to fame at an early age, he has continued to develop both as a conductor and a performer. One of my favorite Adès pieces is his more recently composed Violin Concerto ”Concentric Paths” Op.24, which premiered in 2005. I have included the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s recording of “Concentric Paths” below, as well as the Philharmonia Orchestra performing the overture to Adès’ Powder Her Face at the Royal Albert Hall.