‘Almost everything in the piece comes out of a haunting little tune and reflections of it… but there’s a kind of very poetic quality about this initially, before it goes layer by layer into some pretty wild places.’ The Miami Herald


3(II=picc.III=picc+afl).3.3(III=bcl).2.contraforte(or cbsn with low A) – 4(or 8).ptpt.3.3.1(contrabass if possible) – timp – perc(6): mar/vib/glsp/t.bells/crot/wood chimes/shell chimes/tam-t/BD – 2 harp – pno(=cel) – strings


Score 0571536824 on sale, parts for hire

For the video installation, please contact the Hire Library for a referral to the video artist

Programme Notes

Thomas Adès' new work is scored for orchestra including groups of brass instruments which may be isolated from the stage. These instruments always play in canon, once in each of the three sections of the piece, entering in order from the highest (trumpets) to the lowest (bass tuba). Their melody, like all the music in this work, is derived from a magnetic series, a musical device heard here for the first time, in which all twelve notes are gradually presented, but persistently return to an anchoring pitch, as if magnetised. With the first appearance of the twelfth note, marked clearly with the first entrance of the timpani, the poles are reversed. At the start of the third and final section a third pole is discovered which establishes a stable equilibrium with the first. 

The piece is named for Polaris, the North Star, or Pole Star, around which the other stars appear to rotate as if it were itself a magnetic pole, and which has since ancient times been used by seafarers as a navigational tool. 

Polaris - Voyage for orchestra was composed for the opening of the New World Symphony's new hall at Miami Beach, Florida, designed by Frank Gehry, and the first performance took place on January 26, 2011 under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas.

© Philip Jones, 2010


‘I’ve written the piece so that members of the brass have these big, mobile phrases that are played over everything else.  It’s very much built to show off the space, so you can hear the hall to its fullest advantage.’
The Miami Herald (Thomas Ades), 23, January 2011
‘The title refers to the North Star, or Pole Star, around which other stars appear to rotate.  For this 15-minute score Mr. Adès has devised an elusive melody that is played in canon by groups of brass instruments in alcoves and on balconies around the hall.  All 12 pitches are used, but the notes keep circling back to a magnetic main pitch.  While this almost ancient-sounding musical element unfolds, the rest of the orchestra plays murky riffs and skittish passages that evoke watery, gurgling patterns, in drips and droplets.
Mr. Rosner’s film, projected on the various sail-like surfaces, explores themes of navigation and separation by depicting two young women who wait on rocky cliffs and wander sandy beaches, looking to the sea, wondering about the sailors who have left them ashore.
Mr. Thomas drew a colorful and commanding performance from the players.  One exploding orchestral climax was like a Big Bang, scattering motifs into shards of notes to reveal a lumbering, elemental bass line that gravitationally pulls the music back to earth.’
The New York Times (Anthony Tommasini), 27 January 2011


BOZAR (Brussels, Belgium)

Belgian National Orchestra, Hugh Wolff


Grand Manège - Namur Concert Hall (Namur, Belgium)

Belgian National Orchestra, Hugh Wolff


Koerner Hall, Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto, ON, Canada)

Esprit Orchestra, Alex Pauk

Find Out More


Amphithéâtre de l'Opéra National de Lyon (Lyon, Rhône-Alpes, France)

Yi-Chen Lin, L'Orchestre de l'Opera de Lyon


Japanese premiere of Polaris

Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall (Tokyo, Japan)

Ryusuke Numajiri, Tatsuki Narita, Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra