Concerts assembled by a musician compelled by his own compositional instincts often reveal unexpected influences and connections. In that spirit, composer-conductor-pianist Thomas Adès presents three concerts this month at Carnegie Hall in which he performs and conducts. But it is Adès the composer who links the programs together, with one of his own works being presented on each.
The English press have been making excited and hopeful comparisons between Adès and another British composer-conductor-pianist, Benjamin Britten (1913 _1976), for quite some time. For Adès to even be considered as a successor to the standard bearer of 20th-century English classical music is doubtlessly flattering and terrifying: and perhaps ultimately not helpful.
One connection between the two Englishmen that seems safe to note without creating excessive expectation is that both can be viewed first and foremost as composers. Adès, in fact, sees himself as "a composer who is a pianist," a self-description that harkens back to a direction he definitively took in the late 1980s, when, after faring brilliantly in piano competitions as a teenager, he spent some years away from the instrument to write music. This decision rapidly led to commissions, residencies, and appointments, which thereby encouraged more composition. (Last month, Emanuel Ax gave the world premiere of Adès's Three Mazurkas, Op. 27, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall.) Still, Adès, who held the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer's Chair during Carnegie Hall's 2007 _ 2008 season, says he would have difficulty being a composer who never performs. He remains a premier pianist and is also at ease on the podium, despite claiming to have no formal training as a conductor.
On March 19, Adès is joined by violinist Anthony Marwood and cellist Steven Isserlis in a concert that seeks common ground in duos and trios by Liszt, Poulenc, and Ravel. Also on the program is the US premiere of Adès's Lieux retrouvés, commissioned by Carnegie Hall, the Aldeburgh Festival, and Wigmore Hall. Adès's work, whose title translates as "Undiscovered Places," is a four-movement programmatic exploration of contrasting landscapes: water, mountain, field, and city: in various compositional styles.
Adès then conducts the musicians of Ensemble ACJW on March 24 in a program of English and Irish music by Purcell and Gerald Barry: as well as a bit of Brahms: in addition to Adès's The Origin of the Harp, a romantic chamber work that takes its title from a Daniel Maclise painting that depicts a Celtic nymph whose body and flowing hair together suggest the shape of the instrument.
Finally, in a March 27 solo recital, Adès plays works that range from Janacek's On the Overgrown Path, Book II; to Prokofiev's Sarcasms; to Beethoven's Bagatelles, Op. 126. The Adès work represented here is the New York premiere of Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face, based on the composer's 1995 chamber opera that takes for its subject the "Dirty Duchess" of the 1960s: Margaret, Duchess of Argyll. Depicting the duchess's campy and prurient downfall in the language of the solo piano should make: in the resourceful hands of the composer-pianist: for an entertaining adventure.
Thomas Adès performs at Carnegie Hall on March 19 and March 24 in Zankel Hall; and March 27 in Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage.
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