On 22 February Thomas Adès conducted the UK premiere of The Tempest Symphony at London’s Royal Festival Hall. The London Philharmonic Orchestra performed the 22-minute orchestral work based on the 2004 opera alongside his Inferno suite, an 18 ½ minute selection of music from his award-winning 2021 ballet score Dante, as well as music by Sibelius and Tchaikovsky on the same subjects. Adès discusses the concert here.
The Tempest Symphony was premiered by Adès and the LPO in Dresden in May 2022. It was co-commissioned by Dresdner Musikfestspiele (for the London Philharmonic Orchestra), and Cleveland Orchestra. Adès conducts the US premiere of The Tempest Symphony with the Cleveland Orchestra on 30 March, where he is joined by Pekka Kuusisto in Märchentänze for violin and orchestra (2021).
The concert received an effusive responsive from audience and critics alike. Spontaneous applause halted the performance after the Liszt-inspired gallop of ‘The Thieves – devoured by reptiles’. The track was released as a single this month from Nonesuch, anticipating the release of Gustavo Dudamel’s recording of the complete ballet score with the LA Philharmonic in April, where it also received a rapturous ovation from the public. The Dante Project, choreographed by Wayne McGregor with designs by Tacita Dean, receives its French premiere in Paris at the Palais Garnier in April with the composer conducting. A DVD of the world premiere production at The Royal Ballet was released last month by Opus Arte.
Battered by wild storms, stung by wasps, suspended in ice, almost eaten by snakes: we hardly got out alive from Thomas Adès’s tumultuous concert…it was the two Adès spin-offs that impressed the most…how could anyone not relish the diverse moods of his Tempest Symphony, with vocal lines so brilliantly reconfigured, or the jigsaw puzzle of his ballet suite — ghostly pavane one minute, Offenbach gallop the next? Not me, not the audience or orchestra, and not, judging by his regular grins, Adès himself.
The Times (Geoff Brown) ****
It took 18 years after the Covent Garden premiere of his opera based on Shakespeare’s late play for Adès to extract his Tempest Symphony from it. Vocal lines are re-assigned to instruments – high woodwind takes over Ariel’s giddy coloratura, for instance, Prospero is sometimes a horn, more often a cello…It’s a shapely precis, flecked with glistening instrumental colours, and a welcome memento of what is Adès’s finest stage work to date.
The Guardian (Andrew Clements) ****
The Tempest Symphony switches the focus onto Adés’s orchestral writing, which is always exquisitely detailed. His stormy overture is clearly indebted to Sibelius but the love duet between Ferdinand and Miranda is entirely individual, dissolving into a beautiful hymn. The beginning of “The Feast” movement is a contrast in its stratospheric polyphony for harp, piano, piccolos and crotales. Magical, in a different way. The tuba solo (Stuart Beard) above a choir of trombones was another lovely moment and the tranquil ending took us into safe harbour.
The music of the Inferno Suite still has its complexities, and its masterful scoring, but it is less esoteric, more direct. There is a polystylism that I love…The wonderful “Pope’s Adagio” even has hints of Michael Nyman in its insistent chord sequence , although scored with a fine brush rather than Nyman’s more broad one...The icy finish had echoes of Vaughan Williams in Antarctica, and the final bars, from hell’s ninth circle, offer no consolation.
The Artsdesk (Bernard Hughes) ****
When is the last time you heard a spontaneous eruption of applause during a piece of contemporary music? The Thieves – devoured by reptiles, the penultimate movement from Thomas Adès' Inferno Suite drew such a response last night at the Royal Festival Hall. It’s a Shostakovich-like circus galop that careered its madcap course pursued by percussion – a particularly enthusiastic whip – and lewd trombones for three exhilarating minutes, with the composer himself firing up the London Philharmonic Orchestra, bouncing off his feet.
In his Tempest Symphony …Sections like The Feast demonstrate Adès’ vivid orchestrational mastery, harp, piano and glockenspiel tickling the ear as Ariel conjures up a feast for the shipwreck survivors.
Bachtrack (Mark Pullinger) *****