Thomas Adès Blazes With Wit and Brilliance in Orchestral Album

Monday, March 13, 2017

Thomas Adès: Asyla, Tevot, Polaris. 'Thomas Adès: Asyla, Tevot, Polaris.' (LSO Live)

In 1997, at the age of 26, Thomas Adès wrote Asyla, an enormously ambitious symphonic work, and the world of orchestral music was rocked. Among other things, Adès had borrowed extraordinary new colors and rhythmic possibilities from the avant-garde, and grounded them in compellingly familiar pulses and tonal harmonies. To listeners discovering Asyla or Adès' 1994 chamber opera, Powder Her Face, it felt as if Adès had found a new way forward from the 20th century: complexity without opacity; humanity without pandering.

Two decades since Asyla, this feeling has only been confirmed. Young composers describing their influences now mention Adès in the same breath as György Ligeti, and Adès has only continued to build a rich repertoire: another pair of highly celebrated operas, a host of scintillating chamber pieces, and of course more spectacular, deeply satisfying orchestral works in the vein of Asyla.

The London Symphony Orchestra has just released an album (on their LSO Live label) offering a new recording of Asyla, conducted by the composer, along with an orchestral song and a pair of those meaty new orchestral works: Tevot and Polaris, which leap forward from Asyla with inventive forms that each develop continuously over the course of one long, engrossingly structured movement.

These are works that demonstrate not only Adès' genius, but also his wit. Asyla is named for the plural of the word "asylum," and teases out its double meanings of "shelter" and "madhouse," offering both comfort and mania; Tevot plays on the triple meanings of a Hebrew plural meaning not only musical measures, but also both Noah's ark and Moses' cradle, and is organized around a rhythmic gesture that evokes the gentle rocking of an infant one moment, and in another, the sublime rocking of an impossibly great vessel.

Listen to Alarm Will Sound conductor Alan Pierson talk about Thomas Adès and Tevot.

The last word on the album belongs to a more intimate exploration, a setting of pianist Alfred Brendel's poem "Brahms," sung by Samuel Dale Johnson. Adès' setting is as uncanny as Brendel's ghost story itself, bringing the composer's wit to bear on an apparition — a spectral Johannes Brahms — whose humane, yet cerebral aesthetic is certainly a forebear to that of Adès himself.

Thomas Adès: Asyla, Tevot, Polaris
LSO Live | Released March 3

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