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An October of Thomas Adès premieres: Alchymia, Märchentänze, and The Dante Project

Oct. 01, 2021

In the first three weeks of October, a trio of new works by Thomas Adès are unveiled in London and Paris. 

A spellbinding new quintet for basset clarinet and strings, Alchymia, composed for Mark Simpson and Quatuor Diotima, premiered on September 30 at Kings Place. With four movements, each drawing on the alchemical world of Elizabethan London, the 20-minute work was commissioned by Kings Place, with co-commissioners Quatuor Diotima, Bozar, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Milano Musica, NDR das neue werk, and Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ. Thomas Adès first major chamber work since his string quartet The Four Quarters (2010), this extraordinary new piece was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on October 6.

"Outstanding. Armed with a basset clarinet Simpson eloquently led us through calmly descending, clear-textured phrases into the first of four spellbinding movements designed by Adès to further the alchemical processes regularly used by Elizabethan composers to turn simple musical material into gold. After the opening movement’s falling gestures (first serene, later fierce), the second movement, inspired by Byrd, brought on a difficult feast of wriggling quavers, tossed off with inhuman ease. Suspended motion entered with the third, leading to a powerful crescendo of emotion... Adès’s own alchemy was at its peak in the finale, which veered away from Elizabethan sources towards Alban Berg’s opera scorcher Lulu, with moods varying from clarinet screaming to quiet acceptance, at the end, of the power of conventional tonality. Only Adès could have written this strange, magical and arresting piece, and Simpson and the Diotimas served it brilliantly well."
– The Times (Geoff Brown), October 1, 2021

“A triumphant premiere from our greatest living composer… Each of its four movements took something simple and transmuted it into something rich and strange… All very Adès, and there were indeed things about this new piece that seemed familiar… But there were also things that suggested Adès has opened a door onto a new phase… The boldest movement was the last. Based on the “barrel-organ” melody of the final scene of Berg’s opera Lulu the piece took the melody by the hand and led it gently through different keys, dressing it in different musical clothes in a spirit of ironic playfulness.”
– The Telegraph (Ivan Hewett), October 1, 2021

Next, the much-delayed premiere of Thomas Adès’s Märchentänze for violin and piano took take place in Paris at the Fondation Louis Vuitton on October 4, as part of a recital by Pekka Kuusisto and the composer. Commissioned by Fondation Louis Vuitton in association with the Tokyo Opera City Cultural Foundation, the 13-minute work draws on English folk sources. An orchestral version of the work will be premiered on October 29 as part of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra’s Adès Festival.

Finally, on October 14, Thomas Adès conducted the long-awaited premiere of his score for The Dante Project, an epic work of over 80 minutes based on Dante’s "Divine Comedy" that will unite his music with designs by Tacita Dean and the choreography of Wayne McGregor. A riotous carnival of the macabre, Inferno is imbued with the demonic spirit of Liszt. In Purgatorio, for the first time in Thomas Adès’s output, live instruments are combined with pre-recorded sounds. Paradiso sets up an intoxicating finale of ravishing beauty with an extended coda and the introduction of an ethereal chorus. More information can be found on the Royal Opera House website.


Listen to Thomas Adès's Totentanz (2013):

(Totentanz/Thomas Adès'/Christianne Stotijn, mezzo-soprano/Simon Keenlyside, baritone/
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Adès, conductor)

To learn more about Thomas Adès, visit: fabermusic.com.

Thomas Adès
Alchymia (2021)
for basset clarinet and ensemble
basset cl–2vn.va.vc
20'

Märchentänze (2021)
version for violin and orchestra
2(II.pic).2(II.eh).2.2(II.contraforte)–2.2.0.0–timp–2perc–hp–str
13'

Märchentänze (2020)
version for violin and piano
13'

Dante (2019-2020)
Ballet/Dance
I. Inferno
II. Purgatorio
III. Paradiso
3(II.afl.; III.pic).3(III.eh).3(II.E♭cl+bcl.; III.bcl+cbcl).3(III.cbn)–4.3.3.1–timp(3 rototoms)–3perc–hp–pno–6 part female chorus (off-stage)–str(12.10.8.8.6)
ca.82' total (Inferno: ca.40'; Purgatorio: ca.18'; Paradiso: ca.24')

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