Thomas Adès: The Complete Composer
British composer, pianist and conductor Thomas Adès travels the world at a tempo presto. We caught up with him at the launch of his latest opera at the Salzburg festival 2016.
A crowd clusters around Thomas Adès as he emerges from the wings, exhausted from the performance of his newly launched opera, The Exterminating Angel. In the Austrian August heat, he’s swapped his conductor’s attire for an “I Love Buñuel” T-shirt, a nod to the director of An Andalusian Dog, as well as The Exterminating Angel, made in 1962. “The librettist Tom Cairns and I worked very hard to adapt the film script into an operatic text,” says Adès. “We wrote no fewer than six versions before I composed a note. And changes were constantly being made to the libretto until the day of the premiere.” He gives a Mona Lisa smile: Adès comes across as being as mysterious as he is facetious, a characteristic that may have contributed to the success of his latest opus, which is based on a comical yet disturbing story. After an opera, a group of socialites are invited to fête the maestro and the singers (mirror, mirror . . .); there’s a great deal of laughing, drinking and congratulating, but time passes and eventually, they find they are unable to leave. The audience in Salzburg, however, always leaves the Haus für Mozart enthralled. Adès is a poet whose hallmark is intermusicality. Since his first work for piano, Darknesse Visible (1992), a deconstructed reinvention of a madrigal by John Dowland underscored with a long, continuous trill, he has displayed a genius for mixing genres. He is a fisher of rare pearls that he puts together to create astonishing melodic compositions. The listener is swept up into a singular musical landscape with bursts of pop, jazz, tango and waltz. There are bursts of laughter, too, such as when one of the characters, Bianca, sits down at the piano and strikes up in a light soprano, “I’m going to play some Adès!” Mirror, mirror . . . of a Salzburg that seems wrapped up in its past, and yet which puts on new works each year, invites up-and-coming talents and unearths little-known works, all the while giving prominence to women. After all, the boss here is a lady, Helga Rabl-Stadler, the festival’s president, who works closely with the artists and who is firmly committed to contemporary music. “Salzburg is a special place where you can develop special projects. Working in Salzburg is more relaxed than in the UK or the States, but also more demanding,” says Adès, whose guardian angel will be opening the doors to the finest stages in Europe for him in the spring.