On 10 June the Barbican will host a 50th birthday concert for Thomas Adès with Britten Sinfonia, celebrating his work as both composer conductor and pianist in a programme that features Beethoven, Sibelius and Janáček alongside Adès’ own Concerto Conciso and the UK premiere of his Shanty – Over the Sea for Strings.

An intricate 8-minute work for 17 strings, Shanty – Over the Sea 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, Istanbul Music Festival, and Barbican Centre with Britten Sinfonia.

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.’

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 Märchentänzea violin piano work, at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a major focus with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and Tower, a new fanfare for Frank Gehry’s Luma Arles.