We are fans of Thomas Adès at Ionarts, after hearing his opera The Tempest in Santa Fe, as well as some of his piano music played by Louis Lortie. This month the 30-something British composer is being honored at the 17th Présences Festival in Paris (recent honorees include Krzysztof Penderecki, in 2006, and Marc-André Dalbavie, in 2005). An article by Pierre Gervasoni (Thomas Adès, jeune tête d'affiche du festival Présences, February 9) for Le Monde has the details (my translation):
Who is Thomas Adès really? This Englishman is one of the headliners of the 17th edition of the Présences Festival, whose average age he has lowered considerably, from February 9 to March 4 at Radio France. Born in 1971, Adès has dominated, for more than a decade, the racetrack of contemporary music as composer and performer. The young composer refuses to give any interviews. His work is published by two companies (Faber for score and EMI for recordings) that hold exclusive contracts. So, it is only through his music that one can hear Thomas Adès' voice. Or rather his voices, so much does the composer's style change from work to work. Not through militant eclecticism, but as a way of finding in each case the appropriate form of expression for a specific project. In this sense, Adès represents the archetype of today's composer, precocious, brilliant, prolific, and more concerned with serving an idea promptly than a cause globally. [...]The program has more music by Thomas Adès than you could shake a stick at, much of it with Adès conducting or playing the piano. Ah, France.
At the heart of Adès' already full catalogue is Powder Her Face (1995), the first of his two operas, which drew attention to the English prodigy, not always for strictly musical reasons. Based on the true story of the Duchess of Argyll, whose sexual escapades shocked the world, this stage work as licentious in its libretto (which requires the lead female role to intone an air "with mouth closed" because it simulates fellatio) as by its instrumentation (rich in accessories like fishing rod reels) sums up the problem with this composer without ever answering it, while always whispering into the listener's ear: who is Thomas Adès really?