Fifty-two year old Thomas Adès is one of the greatest contemporary composers. With George Benjamin, his compatriot, he is one of the two greatest British living composers. He is also a well-known pianist, conductor and an airplane pilot as well.
At forty-one, Adès earned a place at the National Portrait Gallery in London where his portrait peeks out from among those of Benjamin Britten and Edward Elgar. He came to international prominence at the age of twenty-two with complex works for large orchestra. He caused a scandal when, at twenty-four, he composed and produced a chamber opera, Powder Her Face, unusually long - two hours and twenty minutes of music - on the sexual exploits of the Duchess of Argyll, called 'The Dirty Duchess' and at the center (because of her adventures) of various trials.
The work, performed for the first time in Great Britain (with great success) in 1995, arrived in Rome in November 2002 on the initiative of the Accademia Filarmonica Romana and the Istituzione Universitaria dei Concerti. Then it was called 'porno-opera' because of the 'fellatio' aria in full Baroque style. (In fact, the seventeenth century La Callisto by Giovanni Cavalli, in the edition by Herbert Wernicke, presented in the 1980s at La Monnaie in Brussels and available on DVD, is sexually even more explicit.)
Adès' most recent opera, The Tempest - based on William Shakespeare's last stage work - was commissioned by Covent Garden and has already been seen in Copenhagen, Strasbourg, Santa Fe and Lübeck, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and at Quebec Opera. The Tempest, acclaimed as the Peter Grimes of this first glimpse of the twenty-first century, arrived at La Scala in November 2022 and was successful.
In 2012 the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia presented a synthesis of The Tempest : some particularly eloquent scenes both at the beginning and at the end in a concert (repeated three times) directed by Adès in person, and preceded by a seminar meeting at Maxxi (the museum of contemporary art) together with a projection of the work - there is a DVD on the market. The concert also included Asyla - a four-part Adès symphony commissioned by the Berliner Philarmoniker.
On 18 March 2023, Adès presented in Rome, as part of the symphonic season of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, of which he will be artistic director for the next five years, a diptych that could be considered as the opposite of Powder Her Face - Celestial Spheres.
The first part is a series of portraits by Gustav Holst (1874-1934) on The Planets.
The second is one of Adès' compositions for ballet: the third part (Paradiso) of the Dante Ballet, a composition inspired by the Divine Comedy.
I have known Adès since, in Aix-en-Provence in 1998, he alternated with Claudio Abbado for Don Giovanni directed by Peter Brook which he toured for various theaters and was a great success. About twenty-five years have passed since then. Adès has gained a few pounds and his hair has turned gray. However, he remains a great concert performer and as such treats Holst and himself very differently.
Holst's 'Planets' suite is all atmosphere and colors, even flamboyant - for example Jupiter, 'bearer of joy' - while the third part of the Ballet inspired by Dante is all rhythm. Despite 18 March 2023 being a Saturday and also, thanks to the good weather, being when the Romans begin to go to the sea, the hall was quite full and the applause was thunderous both in the interval and at the end of the concert - a sign of good luck for the assignment that Adès is about to assume.
Copyright © 22 March 2023