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Ades conducts Ades album cover
Ades conducts Ades album cover

Adès Conducts Adès (CD)

Boston Symphony Orchestra


Album documents landmark premiere of Concerto for Piano and Orchestra given by Kirill Gerstein and Boston Symphony under composer’s direction.

Selected by The New York Times as one of the Best Classical Music Premieres of 2019 and hailed by critics worldwide, Thomas Adès’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra entered the concert repertoire within months of its first performance last March and is fast approaching a tally of fifty performances. Both this work and the composer’s Totentanz receive their world premiere recordings in a new album from Deutsche Grammophon.

Adès Conducts Adès celebrates the extraordinary talent of Thomas Adès, acclaimed equally as composer, pianist and conductor. The Grammy Award-winning British musician directs the Boston Symphony Orchestra and soloist Kirill Gerstein in the debut recording of his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. Adès and the BSO are then joined by mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn and baritone Mark Stone in Totentanz, an all-encompassing dialogue with Death for two soloists and vast symphonic forces.

“Here is an unabashed showpiece in the grand manner, replete with thundering double octaves, frame-rattling two-hand chords, and keyboard-sweeping glissandos,” observed Alex Ross in The New Yorker about Adès’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. The three-movement work’s first performance, given at Boston’s Symphony Hall under the composer’s direction on 7 March 2019, was lauded by the New York Times for being “refreshingly, even radically, normal” and “an affectionate, joyous … tribute to tradition”. Its international reception has proved equally enthusiastic: The Times (London) found the work’s UK premiere last October to be a “joyous surprise”, while the Financial Times ranked it in company with the piano concertos of Rachmaninov and Prokofiev.

The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was commissioned for Kirill Gerstein by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, of which Thomas Adès has been Artistic Partner since the 2016-17 season. The piece was inspired directly by the virtuosity and majestic musicianship of the composer’s friend and duo partner Gerstein. He proposed that Adès should consider writing a piano concerto while they were preparing performances of the latter’s In Seven Days with the BSO in 2012.

“I don’t think we have had such a piano concerto in the literature since Prokofiev and Ravel,” Gerstein noted in an interview with Gramophone. “I really think it’s a masterpiece. It’s quite concise. It does what a piano concerto should do – it has octaves, a cadenza, a slow movement of gravitas. He references the traditional models, but you never think he is doing something derivative.”

Tradition also played its part in Totentanz. Adès took the work’s text from the anonymous verse attached to a fifteenth-century cloth frieze by German artist Bernt Notke (c. 1435–c. 1509) in Lübeck’s Marienkirche. “Destroyed by bombing in World War Two, the frieze depicted members of every category of human society in strictly descending order of status, from the Pope to a baby,” the composer observes. “In between each human figure was an image of Death, dancing and inviting the humans to join him. In this setting, each of the humans in turn is represented by a low soprano, and Death by a baritone.” Totentanz reflects the full range of the original poetry, conjuring up everything from the horror to the humour of death. It is dedicated to the memory of Witold Lutoslawski (1913–1994) and of his wife Danuta.

Adès conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Christianne Stotijn and baritone Simon Keenlyside in the work’s world premiere at the Royal Albert Hall on 17 July 2013. He chose Totentanz to launch his tenure three years later as the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Artistic Partner, a post specially created for him. “I am delighted to be joining the BSO family of musicians and colleagues and to embark on this particular artistic adventure,” said Adès at the time. “From my first rehearsal with this amazing orchestra – almost exactly five years ago – I knew that we shared a musical wavelength, and in our subsequent meetings I’ve been gratified to sense the relationship deepening each time.”