Thomas Adès

Born 1971

Thomas Adès

Composer • Conductor • Piano


Adès is an active British composer, conductor and pianist whose compositions and performances are in demand throughout Europe and the United States. His works have been featured on more than 15 recordings and he has been featured as a performer on almost as many.

Adès was born in London in 1971 and there he attended the Guildhall School of Music from 1983 to 1988.  After graduating, Adès continued his studies in piano in chamber music in Szombathély, Hungary withGyörgy Kurtág for one year. After returning to England, Adès enrolled at King’s College, Cambridge University. After visiting the United States, he studied again with Kurtág at the International Musicians’ Seminar back in England between 1993 and1994.

While in Hungary, in the late 1980s, Adès composed Five Eliot Landscapes (1990) for soprano and piano. While at King’s College he expanded his output with theChamber Symphony (1990) and in the years immediately following his graduation, his first string quartetArcadiana (1994) and orchestral work ...but all shall be well (1993) were completed during his residency in Manchester for his appointment as Composer in Residence of the Hallé orchestra.

Adès completed many more works in the mid- to late-1990s, including his first operaPowder Her Face (1995) to a libretto by Philip Hensher, which was premiered at the Cheltenham Festival and Almeida Opera in London. Performances of the opera followed shortly after in Germany at the Magdeburg Opera. For the opening of Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, Adès composedThese Premises are Alarmed (1996).In 1997, Adès made his first visit to Los Angeles to attend the Green Umbrella concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and composedAsyla (1997) for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Sir Simon Rattle and The Fayrfax Carol for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge. The following year included a commission by the world-renowned New York Philharmonic, for which he composedAmerica: A Prophecy. He also realized the Concerto for Pianola and Orchestra by Nancarrow at the BBC Proms in London in 1999.

Adès was appointed Music Director of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in 1998, where he stayed for two years, and Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival in 1999, a post he retained until 2008.

The first decade of the 2000s marked a productive period for Adès, who not only conducted the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group’s production ofGerald Barry’s The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit from 2002 to 2006, but he also composed great works such as his second operaThe Tempest (2004), the Violin Concerto(2005), Tevot (2007) for orchestra and a multi-disciplinary work In Seven Days(2008). Other works from this period include the chamber works Piano Quintet(2000), The Four Quarters (2010) for string quartet and Lieux Retrouvés (2009) for cello and piano.

A variety of works for orchestra were also composed during this period includingBrahms (2001) for baritone and orchestra, In Seven Days (2008) for piano and orchestra,Three Studies from Couperin (2006) for chamber orchestra, Polaris: Voyage for Orchestra (2010) in addition to a Mazurkas (2009) for solo piano.

The Tempest, featuring a libretto by Meredith Oakes, has proven to be a highly successful work with many performances across Europe in 2004, including at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London, Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg, France and the Royal Opera in Copenhagen, Denmark. The opera received its US premiere in 2006 at the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico.

Adès took complete advantage of the success of his two operas by arranging various excerpts for diverse ensembles. Works derived from the operas include Court Studies from The Tempest (2005) for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, Scenes from The Tempest(2004) for vocal soloists and orchestra, Dances from Powder Her Face(2007) for orchestra and Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face (2009) for piano.

Adès’ Violin Concerto received its premiere the same year it was written at the Berlin Philharmonic, while the Piano Quintet was performed by Adès in collaboration with the Arditti Quartet in 2001 at the Melbourne Festival in Australia. The Berlin Philharmonic also premieredTevot in 2007 at Carnegie Hall, Barbican in London and Salle Pleyel in Paris.

Adès became the featured composer at the Barbican in London and at Présences in Paris in 2007, the same year in which he conducted his earlier work,Asyla and Barry’sChevaux-de-Frise with the Mariinsky Orchestra in St Petersburg. Other conducting opportunities of his own works have included conducting the premiere ofIn Seven Days in London and at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Violin Concerto andScenes from The Tempest with the Boston Symphony andThe Tempest with the Metropolitan Opera of New York. In addition, Adès conductedThe Rake’s Progress at Covent Garden and at the Zürich Opera.

He now appears regularly as a guest conductor with the Los Angeles Philharmonic <>, Boston Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Melbourne, Sydney and the BBC symphony orchestras and theCity of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. In 2015, Adès conductedThe Tempest with the Vienna Philharmonic at the Vienna Staatsoper.

Soon he will also conduct one of his newest works Totentanz (2013) for mezzo-soprano, baritone and orchestra with four top orchestras: the Boston and Chicago symphonies and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. This highly in-demand work was commissioned in memory of composer Witold Lutosławski and his wife. It has already been performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, theDanish National Symphony Orchestra, the Meininger Hofkapelle, New York Philharmonic, Warsaw Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. In 2016 Totentanz will also be performed by the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra.

Adès’ most recent works include the orchestral arrangement of Lieux Retrouvés (2016) andBlanca Variations (2015) for solo piano in addition to the Totentanz.

Though Adès composed four choral works between 1990 and 1999, he has not returned to the genre and has only used voices for operas and chamber and orchestral music.

Adès has maintained an active career as a pianist, giving piano premieres of his works and playing recitals in prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Barbican in London. He has also appeared as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic.

Adès has also been active annually as a teacher of piano and chamber music at the International Musician’s Seminar in Prussia Cove.

At the age of 45, Adès has composed 45 works and won many prizes including the Grawemeyer Award (1999) forAsyla, the Royal Philharmonic Society large-scale composition awards forAsyla, The Tempest and Tevot, the Ernst von Siemens Composers’ Prize forArcadiana, British Composer Award for The Four Quarters and Best Opera Grammy and Diapason d’or de l’année from Paris forThe Tempest.

Header image courtesy of and BBC Long images courtesy of Askonas Holt