On 20 April Anne-Sophie Mutter joined Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the US premiere of Thomas Adès’ Air – Homage to Sibelius for violin and orchestra (2022) at Boston’s Symphony Hall. The orchestra then performed the 15-minute piece, which premiered at the Lucerne Festival in August last year, at New York’s Carnegie Hall on 25 April. The composer discussed the forthcoming performances of the piece in an interview with the Boston Globe. 

Air – Homage to Sibelius was commissioned by Roche as part of ROCHE COMMISSIONS for Lucerne Festival, and co-commissioned by Anne-Sophie Mutter, Carnegie Hall and Boston Symphony Orchestra. Adès describes the genesis of Air – Homage to Sibelius here, including excerpts from its world premiere, with soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter discussing her involvement in the work's creation here

Mutter gives the German premiere of the piece with Andris Nelsons and the Leipzig Gewandhaus in May 2024, as part of Thomas Adès’ two-season artistic residency with the orchestra; Adès himself conducts the UK premiere with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican on 30 May 2024.

Air is an inverted chaconne, led by the suspended violin line. Adès’ described his use of the form in an interview with Thomas May last year:

I have united two things in this new piece as regards the passacaglia or chaconne model. One is quite a Baroque idea of the passacaglia at the beginning of a sort that Henry Purcell might possibly have done, although the idea is turned on its head so that the whole thing hangs down from the high treble. But then I turn it into a spiral so that rather than always repeating in the same time, which it does the first few times, the theme starts to spiral upwards.

The chaconne has been a recurring feature of Adès’ music, recently explored in orchestral Chacony Dawn, where the unfurling movement of the bass suggests the rotation of the earth and the endless sunrise that unfolds across it. The 2020 piece was released on disc this year by Nicholas Collon and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

“Air”…devotes itself to a single idea — one of fragile beauty…The way Adès pitches the violin writing high up, almost daring the soloist to sustain it, recalls the extreme tessitura for the soprano role of Ariel in his opera “The Tempest.” This time, though, the effect is serene instead of unnervingly otherworldly.

Mutter…played at Carnegie with a platinum tone, densely concentrated. The orchestra drew mesmeric circles around her, conjuring a world of glass, as Mutter’s sound irradiated a childlike innocence full of whispered awe.

New York Times (Oussama Zahr) 26 April 2023

At this stage of his career Adès has little left to prove, and he, in fact, already has a formidable violin concerto under his belt…“Air” by contrast has a still more liberated relationship to the concerto genre. It is described by the composer as a massive canon, and it plays out as if in a single breath, a sustained 13-minute reverie. Above a churning orchestra dotted with plinking percussion, the solo violin soars in the stratosphere for the entire work, spinning out one endless, self-perpetuating melody.

The Boston Globe (Jeremy Eichler) 21 April 2023