Monday 1 March 2021 marks the 50th birthday of Thomas Adès. Despite much disruption to concert schedules, 8 February saw the premiere of an intricate 8-minute work for 17 strings, Shanty – Over the Sea in Wollongong, New South Wales, with Richard Tognetti leading the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The piece was commissioned by Australian Chamber Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Münchener Kammerorchester, Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Kammerorchester Basel with Gstaad Menuhin Festival & Academy, and Istanbul Music Festival.

Talking to ABC’s Andrew Ford, Adès described the piece and its genesis:

‘It was a strange one, this, because I’d pictured my first piece for string orchestra – such a fascinating strange, and special medium – to be a sonata/symphony, multi-movement type of work. I don’t know whether it’s because of the weirdness that’s been happening all over the world since I started writing it, but it was just determined to be this one statement. It’s a shanty – a repetitive, communal ritual thing – which is designed to create a kind of protective mantra around people who are embarking on great peril… Embarkation – I’m sort of obsessed with that word and what it might mean. I think it is one of the most human tendencies, one of the most human desires: to go somewhere. Some birds have it well, some animals, not than many, but we definitely do but it’s certainly not natural for humans to want to stay in one place… This piece is about that desire.’

Shanty – Over the Sea will be broadcast by the ABC on Sunday 28 February with the ACO also planning to release the work as part of one of their StudioCast streams later this year.

Other recent performances include Gianandrea Noseda conducting the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in the European premiere of a suite from Inferno  (available to stream here) and Sean Shibe giving the first concert performance of a new concert version of the Habanera from The Exterminating Angel at Wigmore Hall (available to stream here).

A birthday concert with the London Symphony Orchestra, with Adès conducting Sibelius’ Sixth Symphony alongside his own In Seven Days (with Kirill Gerstein as soloist) will be streamed on Youtube on 28 March.

Looking ahead, with the easing of corona restrictions, 2021 will see the premieres of Adès’ Dante ballet at Covent Garden and The Exterminating Angel Symphony by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the premiere of Märchentänze, a violin piano work, at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a major focus with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and a new fanfare for Frank Gehry’s Luma Arles.