On 26 November Thomas Adès' Növények, seven Hungarian poems for mezzo-soprano and piano sextet, premieres at Wigmore Hall as part of the IMS Prussia Cove 50th anniversary series of concerts. The 17-minute piece will be performed by Hungarian mezzo Katalin Károlyi, the Ruisi Quartet, Graham Mitchell (double bass) and Joseph Havlat (piano). The concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 29 September at 7:30pm.
Növények is Adès’ first set of original songs in nearly thirty years, since Life Story (1993) and Five Eliot Landscapes for soprano and piano (1990). Adès sets four great Hungarian poets: Attila József (1905-1937), Miklós Radnóti (1909-1944), Sándor Weöres (1913-1989) and Otto Orbán (1936-2002). He writes of the piece,
The word Növények means plants, but with the sense of ‘things that grow’ rather than ‘things that are stuck in the ground’. All the poems use botanical images as metaphors for aspects of the human condition. The metaphor is particularly direct in the case of Radnóti, who was murdered by Hungarian troops loyal to the Nazis. His last poems, including ‘Gyökér’, were found in a notebook in his coat pocket when his body was exhumed over a year later.
‘Gyökér’ – ‘Root’ – provided the germ for the larger work, composed in 2020 for Katalin Károlyi and four percussionists; it premiered on film. Its instrumentation was partly inspired by György Ligeti’s Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedűvel ('With Pipes, Drums, Fiddles'), which was also premiered by Károlyi.
The rest of the ensemble for Növények was hand-picked from musicians Adès has worked with at IMS Prussia Cove. Adès has a longstanding relationship with the International Musicians Seminar, which he described in the July issue of The Strad. It was at IMS Prussia Cove where Adès was taught by György Kurtág, whose music Adès has recorded and performed to acclaim as a pianist. The concert features a world premiere from Kurtág: Circumdederunt… in memoriam Rita Wagner, performed by cellist Steven Isserlis.
Növények was commissioned by IMS Prussia Cove with the support of the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, with additional support from The Nicholas Berwin Charitable Trust and The Fidelio Charitable Trust; and the generous assistance of The Nicholas Boas Charitable Trust, Jonathan Gaisman, Gilbert and Helen McCabe, The Overli Foundation and The Martin Smith Foundation.
The Wigmore Hall weekend will also see Adès appear as pianist on Sunday 27 November Adès, performing Bartók’s Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano with musicians from Prussia Cove; on September 26 Adès also gives a masterclass featuring the De Beauvoir Piano Trio and Cristian Sandrin.
Adès setting of Weöres’ poem ‘Az ág’ (‘The branch’), the 4th song in the cycle, exists in a version for piano written for Víkingur Ólafsson and released by him earlier this year on his Deutsche Grammophon album From Afar.