Thomas Adès


Renowned as both a composer and a performer, Thomas Adès works regularly with the world’s leading orchestras, opera companies and festivals. His recordings of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Nancarrow, Kurtág, Ruders and Barry have been critically acclaimed.

The many orchestras he has conducted include City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC, Finnish and Danish Radio Symphony Orchestras, and ensembles including Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (whose Music Director he was between 1998 and 2000), the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern and the Athelas Ensemble. A number of international festivals have chosen to present special focuses on his music. Among these were Helsinki’s Musica Nova (1999), Salzburg Easter Festival (2004), Radio France’s Festival Présences (2007), the Barbican’s ‘Traced Overhead’ (2007), the Mariinsky Theatre’s New Horizons Festival in St Petersburg (2007) and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra’s composer festival (2009).

Born in London in 1971, Thomas Adès studied piano and composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and read music at King’s College, Cambridge. Between 1993 and 1995 he was Composer in Association with the Hallé Orchestra, which resulted in The Origin of the Harp (1994) and These Premises Are Alarmed for the opening of the Bridgewater Hall in 1996. Asyla (1997) was a Feeney Trust commission for Sir Simon Rattle and the CBSO, who toured it together and performed it at Symphony Hall in August 1998 in Rattle’s last concert as Music Director. Rattle subsequently programmed Asyla in his opening concert as Music Director of the Berlin Philharmonic in September 2002.

Adès’ first opera, Powder Her Face (commissioned by Almeida Opera for the Cheltenham Festival in 1995), has been performed all round the world, was televised by Channel Four, and is available on a DVD as well as an EMI CD. Most of the composer’s music has been recorded by EMI, with whom Adès has a contract as composer, pianist and conductor. Adès’ second opera, The Tempest, was commissioned by the Royal Opera House and was premiered under the baton of the composer to great critical acclaim in February 2004. It was revived at Covent Garden in 2007 – again with the composer conducting, and to a sold-out house - and has also been performed in Copenhagen, Strasbourg and Santa Fe. Recently released to outstanding reviews, The Tempest is also available on an EMI CD and in France, the disc was recently awarded the prestigious Diapason d’Or de l’année and the 2010 Classical Brit Award for Composer of the Year. In September 2005 his violin concerto, Concentric Paths, written for Anthony Marwood, was premiered at the Berliner Festspiele and the BBC Proms, with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under his baton. His second orchestral work for Simon Rattle, Tevot, (2007) was commissioned by the Berliner Philharmoniker and Carnegie Hall. Adès’ music has attracted numerous awards and prizes, including the prestigious Grawemeyer Award (in 2000, for Asyla), of which he is the youngest ever recipient. From 1999-2008 he was Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival.

This is for information only and should not be reproduced. Please contact Sophie Dand for a full/up-to-date biography.

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BBC Proms

Adès 'Totentanz' World Premiere

Royal Albert Hall

In the closing pages death and humanity seem to reach a truce in a passage of almost Straussian lyricism, Adès's most frankly expressive music to date, but it proves only temporary and the work ends in the lowest depths of the orchestra, having worked its way downwards...The performance was wonderfully compelling, with the BBCSO revelling in the virtuoso challenges Adès sets them, and the soloists giving their roles an almost operatic vividness…Adès had begun with Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem, unleashing its fury with frightening vividness, as if anticipating the dance of death that would come later.

Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 18 July 2013
…in a series of increasingly pretty after-echoes, the collateral damage is cleared away, and we find ourselves in a cleansed and beguiling sound-world which might have been created by Mahler in one of his serenely visionary moods…
It makes huge demands on the baritone and mezzo-soprano who must carry the drama and hold their own against the percussion-heavy orchestra, but in Simon Keenlyside and Christianne Stotijn Tom Ades had struck gold: both made utterly convincing sense of their daunting melodic lines, often in grotesque duet: Keenlyside’s suggesting giant inexorability, and Stotijn’s a nightmarish torment. On the podium, Ades was able to bring out both the savagery and the beauty of his score, but I suggest that he doesn’t stop there: with a suitably Expressionist staging, this could make a very effective one-act opera.

Michael Church, The Independent, 18 July 2013
It was only a matter of time before Adès, British music’s Lord of the Dance, wrote a Totentanz, and the result achieves all the macabre giddiness you might expect, liberally laced with fragments of the Dies Irae planchaint...Totentanz is a major work, and one that has a natural place in the repertoire alongside the big orchestral song cycles and symphonies of the late German Romantics. Surely this will be one Proms premiere with a real afterlife. Alexandra Coghlan, The Arts Desk, 18 July 2013

Adès, Sibelius & Prokoviev

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Symphony Hall, Boston

…the supremely gifted British composer-conductor-pianist led the first of three performances of a program featuring his own Genesis-inspired piano concerto alongside music of Prokofiev and Sibelius...
Adès’s “In Seven Days” takes a more granular, street-level view of the birth of the world, distributing the seven days from the Genesis story into seven teeming movements, inspired more metaphorically than pictorially by the events they describe (”Chaos-Dark-Light,” “Separation of the waters into sea and sky,” etc.) A circular path is implied by the use of a passacaglia-like form, with the music at the end sending us back to the beginning, but the effect is still more of spiraling forward than any kind of eternal recurrence. Adès also plays ingeniously with layering music of multiple speeds, with the soloist and portions of the orchestra moving in and out of sync, passing each other like cars in different lanes on a highway. Like so much of Adès’s music, there is here both intellectual rigor and a sensuality connected with the mercurial surfaces of sound itself. 

Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe, 16 November 2012


The Tempest

Metropolitan Opera, New York

At its London premiere, I thought “The Tempest” one of the most inspired, audacious and personal operas to have come along in years. I feel this even more strongly after the Met’s fantastical production… The main reason “The Tempest” has such power is its music….The music is…rendered with lacy lyrical writing and ethereal harmonies by the multiskilled Mr. Ades, who, by the way, drew a textured, glittering and suspenseful account of his opera from the great Met orchestra.  

Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 24 October 2012
…the inspiring, presence of Adès in the pit.

Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times, 24 October 2012
In Adès’ adaptation, which was premiered at Covent Garden in 2004, the 41-year-old English composer provides both, along with sharp psychological insight, humor, magic, and a lingering air of melancholy. Shot through with the archaic beauty of Meredith Oakes’ libretto and brought to life in a dazzling and thought-provoking production by Robert Lepage, The Tempest is one of the most satisfying operas to blow onto the stage of the Met in years.

Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, The Classical Review, 24 October 2012
British composer Thomas Ades has written a magical score for "The Tempest," his setting of Shakespeare's tale of revenge and reconciliation…And it sounded glorious Tuesday night when the Metropolitan Opera presented it for the first time with a strong cast and the composer himself conducting. 
Ades wrote the work on commission for the Royal Opera House in London, which premiered it to acclaim in 2004. It's a compact piece, barely two hours of music, but profoundly dense and intricate in the way it manages through shifting melody, rhythm and orchestral texture to recreate the world of the play in all its tumult and richness.
The score, by turns dissonant and lyrical, frenzied and calm, is filled with memorable passages of striking originality. Among them: the turbulent opening storm scene, when the exiled magician Prospero shipwrecks his enemies; a haunting aria in which the half-savage Caliban describes the sounds of the island to which he is rightful heir; a duet tinged with wonder for Prospero's daughter Miranda and her newfound love Ferdinand; a soaring, lyrical quintet for five of the principals in the final scene. And Ades has made the role of the spirit Ariel a tour de force for coloratura soprano, giving her a vocal line that hovers much of the time well above high C…
The Met season is only a month old, but it's safe to say "The Tempest" will be remembered as one of its musical highlights.

Mike Silverman, Associated Press, 24 October 2012

Gerald Barry

The Importance of Being Earnest

Barbican Centre & Symphony Hall, Birmingham

It's all ferociously difficult to sing and play, but the performance under Adès seemed staggeringly good.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 27 April 2012
Thomas Adès conducted the virtuoso Birmingham Contemporary Music Group with panache…
Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph, 27 April 2012
… the mercurial interplay between voices and instruments, superbly sustained here by the conductor Thomas Adès.
Richard Morrison, The Times, 29 April 2012

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Britten Sinfonia

An ingenious programme linking Adès to François Couperin, via Ravel's Tombeau and Stravinsky's two Suites for Small Orchestra, it communicated a deep-rooted, unshakeable joy. It wasn't the kind of transient euphoria that comes from having been thrilled, cajoled or even simply bowled over by the talent and enthusiasm of the playing (though these were part of it – one expects nothing less from this inspirational orchestra), but a more lasting emotion, the kind that affects our sense of how, and who, we are.

Guy Dammann, The Guardian, 29 February 2012

Alice Tully Hall, New York

Britten Sinfonia

This acclaimed British ensemble presented an imaginative program conceived and conducted by the composer Thomas Adès, whose skills as a pianist were also on display. It was worth the wait.…This appearance was part of the orchestra’s “Concentric Paths” tour, the title being that of Mr. Adès’s exhilarating 2005 violin concerto, featured in the tour. This 20-minute work in three movements explores circular patterns in which spiraling, sometimes frenzied violin riffs coalesce into long spans of breathless, propulsive orchestral wildness…It began with Mr. Adès’s performance on piano of a Couperin harpsichord piece, “Les Baricades Mistérieuses” (“The Mysterious Barricades”), all undulant contrapuntal lines and flowing filigree. Mr. Adès played with milky impressionist textures while bringing out crucial voices and harmonic shifts. Then he conducted five players from the orchestra in his unconventional arrangement of the piece, complete with bass clarinet. Mr. Adès teases out clashing dissonances and jerky rhythmic interplay from the original.… The first half ended with Mr. Adès conducting a refreshingly articulate and colorful performance of Ravel’s “Tombeau de Couperin,” a suite of four pieces that lightly evoke the style, dance forms and idiom of Couperin in plush music that is pure Ravel…The performance of Mr. Adès’s formidable concerto, which ended the program, drew a deserved ovation…
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 23 February 2012

West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge

Britten Sinfonia

Tonight in New York the Britten Sinfonia makes its American debut. It should be a triumph. I can’t imagine a finer demonstration of its quintessential qualities — virtuoso musicianship and a gloriously imaginative choice of repertoire, soloists and conductors — than this programme.
Thomas Adès was the centre of it, as conductor and composer. But as so often with this orchestra, one thing led quirkily to another. Adès has long been fascinated by the Baroque composer Couperin, so the concert began not with the orchestra, but with him playing Couperin’s enigmatically named keyboard piece, Les baricades mistérieuses, on the piano — the mesmerically recurring harmonic sequences made all the more mistérieuses, it must be said, by Adès’s blurry pedalling.
That led to his marvellously lugubrious arrangement of the same piece for a quintet of low instruments, followed by his Three Studies from Couperin in which the Frenchman’s originals are treated more freely and with a scintillating ear for instrumental combinations. The first is shadowy and baritonal; the second an ecstatic exercise in pointillism; the third a poised French overture given a macabre twist by melodramatic drums.
It was daring of Adès to follow that with another master orchestrator’s homage to the same composer: Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. But his own music lost nothing by the comparison, though the Ravel was played with fleet-fingered exuberance, not least by the oboist Nicholas Daniel, the new recipient of the Queen’s Medal for Music.
The second half was just as stimulating. The Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto, probably the most engaging maverick in classical music today, appeared once to give a startlingly eerie account of Stravinsky’s Airs du rossignol and Marche chinoise, again to supply the piano part in the orchestra’s aptly grotesque romp through the same composer’s Suites Nos 1 and 2 for Small Orchestra; and a third time as a superbly characterful soloist in Adès’s own violin concerto, Concentric Paths. Written in 2005, it’s a fabulous piece: seemingly free-wheeling yet utterly cogent, with elegiac reminiscences of many things interlaced with baleful gestures and stratospheric lyricism for the soloist. If you can’t get to the Lincoln Centre in New York tonight, catch it in Norwich on Saturday, or London (and live on Radio 3) on Monday.
Richard Morrison, The Times, 22 February 2012

Adès: Polaris UK Premiere

New York Philharmonic Orchestra

Barbican Centre, London

The pin-point accuracy of the orchestra’s sound was ideal for Thomas Adès’s Polaris, given its UK premiere on Friday. I was bracing myself for its innocent musical-box beginning to build into an alarming and almost mad complexity, which is what usually happens in Adès’s music. In fact, the music never lost its air of wide‑eyed wonder, even at the biggest moments.
You might say this was fitting for a piece that mused on stars, and the way they guide sailors to their destination. But what about the human aspect of this image? Stars get obscured, sailors become lost, ships go down. The music stayed aloof from all that, floating in beautiful abstraction, and ending in a too-easy affirmation.
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph (5*), 20 February 2012

Adès and Mahler

Barbican Centre, London

London Symphony Orchestra

Full concert regalia, enthusiastic conducting, trim facial hair: Thomas Adès seems to appear more like Henry Wood every day. Not that the venerated Proms founder appears to loom over his music, though Adès’s range of reference as a composer is wide enough, both in subject and style. This tumultuous concert with the London Symphony Orchestra used a platform full of beavering musicians to duplicate the world’s biblical Creation.
Tevot (from 2007) is an immensely- powerful meditation on the Earth as our hearth and home, a safe haven in a chaotic cosmos. It was all very humbling. Adès’s command of a large orchestra’s resources is supreme: in building and executing a symphonic argument there’s not a living composer to top him. Tevot alone gives proof enough with its masterful mix of continuity and disruption. During its voyaging the heavens are hit, the sea bottom scraped; then, eventually, against superfine strings, the music settles into a winding melody, comforting as a cradle, safely carrying its precious charge like Moses’ reed basket or Noah’s Ark.
The LSO, immaculately drilled and polished, guided us with equal safety — as they did earlier through Adès’s slightly later In Seven Days (2008). Stripped for once of Tal Rosner’s video component (six screens of pulsing waves, circles, blobs and spindles), the musical tapestry of shifting patterns easily survived as a vital, stand-alone concert piece.Nicolas Hodges, the piano soloist, masterfully threaded his way from chaos to living creatures. Adès, too, gave it his all, as he does every piece that he conducts: big gestures, big grins, with every dynamic jolt and emotional shiver felt in the bones.Placed alongside these peaks, the programme’s other items could only shrivel. Hidd’n Blue, four-and-a-half minutes from the young Spanish-born Francisco Coll (Adès’s only composition pupil to date) still swirled and juddered with an exuberant orchestral imagination, a good portent for the composer’s future.
Geoff Brown, The Times, 16 January 2012


British Composers - Ades: Life Story

This survey of Adès’s early works for small forces rejoices in a compositional voice of precocious assurance. His sideways look at musical techniques and human frailty consistently provokes, teases, satisfies and delights the ear. His considerable talents as a pianist are also displayed in these first recordings by a composer of and for our time.
EMI Classics

Adès: Tevot & Violin Concerto

Performers on this album include Sir Simon Rattle & the Berliner Philharmoniker, Thomas Adès, Chamber Orchestra of Europe & Anthony Marwood, Paul Daniel & The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.

EMI Classics

The Tempest

Thomas Adès - Composer
Royal Opera House Orchestra & Chorus - Orchestra
Kate Royal 
Ian Bostridge 
Simon Keenlyside 
Toby Spence
Philip Langridge

EMI Classics

Adès: Asyla

Sir Simon Rattle
Thomas Adès
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group