Adès’ Life Story

Heather Leviston

Thomas Adès is a featured artist of this year’s ambitious Metropolis New Music Festival, and has curated three concerts for the festival program.
Adès’ Life Story

As the main featured artist of this year’s ambitious Metropolis New Music Festival, composer, pianist and conductor Thomas Adès has curated three programs comprising some of his own compositions as well as those of other significant composers of new music. Thursday night’s performance proved to be a fascinating showcase of works that are seldom performed in Australia, especially at the excellent standard achieved by those involved in this concert.

The title of the concert may have been a little misleading for those who expected to hear some kind of biographical account of the life of Thomas Adès, but not entirely so, since, as curator, he had chosen works that have been important to him in some respect; he was, as he put it in his short address, ‘doing my favourite thing’.

For instance, the opening piece, Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto, has been an influence on Adès’ own music making since childhood. The second item, Acid Dream, by Melbourne composer, Jeanette Little, constituted his championing of quality new music being performed for the first time. Both works were performed in a way that revealed their rhythmic intricacies and imaginative gradings of instrumental colour.

Hila Plitmann was truly remarkable in Oliver Knussen’s Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh and Adès’ setting of the Tennessee Williams’ poem, Life Story – whence came the title of the program. She was equally at ease in the simple naiveté of the Knussen, where she displayed a vocal range and purity reminiscent of Edda Moser in Hans Werner Henze’s work, and the world-weary lolling on a chair for the Adès. Her complete change of character and vocal colour was reinforced by her change of costume from innocent turquoise, so appropriate for Cloud Piece, to a side-split gold number as she captured the mood of Williams’ extraordinary inventions surrounding a one night stand.

Zubin Kanga joined Adès in a masterful rendition of Conlon Nancarrow’s studies No’s. 6 and 7. Although listeners will be able to hear the broadcast on ABC Classic FM on Wednesday 17 April, they will miss out on the accompanying films by Tal Rosner and Sophie Clements. The first, of changing coloured landscapes, and the second, of kaleidoscopic black and white geometric shapes, were most successful additions to the musical experience rather than distractions, as can so often be the case with background images.

For the final item’ Adès’ Concerto Conciso, Kanga again displayed his expertise as a notable exponent of new music soundscapes. David Thomas also made a fine contribution to this piece, as he had in the opening Stravinsky concerto for clarinet and other works.

This was an enterprising concert full of interest and musical excitement. The two remaining concerts are sure to be rare treats and deserving of capacity audiences.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5


2013 Metropolis New Music Festival,

Presented by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra


Adès’ Life Story

Melbourne Recital Centre

11 April


About the author

Heather Leviston is a Melbourne-based reviewer.