At its concert premiere by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel in May, Adès’s ballet score Inferno elicited huge, spontaneous applause following its penultimate section. Two months later, the success was repeated in an ambitious all-Adès dance production which saw the LA Philharmonic combine forces with The Royal Ballet and Wayne MacGregor.
Conducted by Adès, the evenings also included Outlier (MacGregor’s existing choreography to the Violin Concerto with Leila Josefowicz), and the Company Wayne MacGregor in new choreography for In Seven Days developed with AI technology from Google (Kirill Gerstein was the pianist). Inferno featured striking designs by none other than Tacita Dean.
The first part of what will become an evening-length ballet based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, the 45-minute score to Inferno unfolds over 13 sections. A riotous carnival of the macabre, it is imbued with the spirit of Liszt. ‘Liszt really owns hell and the demoniacal’ Adès explained to the LA Times. ‘I looked at what he’d done, and those sounds that arose in him were still completely live cultures. I could put them in passages and new things would happen. So the music in Inferno moves from absolutely 100% me, to 100% Liszt and every gradation in between. I wanted to have this strange feeling that you were almost falling down into the past.’
In his first score designed specifically for ballet, Adès demonstrates in no uncertain terms his total intuitive understanding of writing for dance. From the arresting opening ‘Abandon Hope’ to the final pages which depict Satan in the frozen lake, before Dante and Virgil climb out of Hell and see the stars, Adès keeps us spellbound. A dark-hued rendering of Liszt’s La Lugubre Gondola ushers in The Ferryman who rows dead souls across the river Styx whilst extraordinary orchestrations of the Bagatelle sans tonalité and the Grand Galop Chromatique transfigure the virtuosic piano writing of the originals into great visceral riots of orchestral sound, further amplifying the music’s manic, devilish energies.
‘ambitious and electrifying’
‘Spectacular… Inferno, the first half of what will eventually be a full-length Dante ballet, makes an uproarious heaven of hell… It proved the most ambitious and electrifying of more than five-dozen commissions celebrating the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s centennial season and a bonanza for choreographer Wayne McGregor… McGregor’s style fits Adès’ well. The choreographer’s characteristic mix of fluid movement and sudden change of direction for this limb or that, effortless lifts that suggest flight, limn the bigger gestures of the music… Dean’s cavernous black-and-white backdrop was remarkable for its ability to change character through inventive lighting design… Each movement has a vivid musical character, with Adès’ flamboyant and whimsical take on Liszt appearing to be what interested McGregor most… The wildly galloping thieves at the end were a showpiece of whirling dervishes transformed into rocket-propelled worms.’
The LA Times (Mark Swed), 14 July 2019
Inferno will form the first part of a whole eveningchoreographed by Wayne McGregor for the Royal Ballet in London entitled The Dante Project which opens on 6 May 2020. Adès will conduct and Tacita Dean will once again design sets and costumes.
photo: Inferno (Photographs taken by Craig Mathew Imaging at the Walt Disney Concert Hall provided courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association)