Up the mountain, through the fields, into town

Wheat field with cypresses, painted in 1889 by van Gogh

The shimmering air on a summer afternoon – a physical phenomenon that astonishes me time and again. Air is transparent per se and still you can see it when it ascends, being heated and becoming less dense than the air around it. I had to think of it when I listened to “Les eaux” (The Waters), the first movement of Thomas Adès’ piece of chamber music “Lieux retrouvés” (Places rediscovered). It refers to the flow of water, horizontal, vertical, patterns easily disturbed, leading to turbulence, interferences – the rippling of a water surface caused by wind, a dropped stone. The geometry behind this has fascinated many a composer – we have already found that in the music of Franz Schubert and Maurice Ravel.

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200 years of juggling with sounds, colours and forms

Into spring with Adès and Schubert. © Charles Thibo

It is spring and nature is awakening. Every year, I marvel at this floral miracle, at the explosion of colours, sounds, perfumes. My mind associates with it ideas like youth, optimism, rebirth, courage… Courage? Courage to experiment, perhaps? Definitely. Let’s try this approach with two composers, one form the 19th century and one from today. One from Vienna and one from London. Franz Schubert (1797-1828) and Thomas Adès (born 1971). 200 years separate the two composers; both have written a beautiful piano quintet. These two pieces are related, not only by the fact that Adès has recorded both on an album, but most of all by their daring juggling with notes, colours and forms.

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Illuminated by Shooting Stars and Light Beams

A chandelier in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam - prelude to Adès' Op. 28. © Charles Thibo
A chandelier in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam – prelude to Adès’ Op. 28. © Charles Thibo

Luck was on my side yesterday evening: First, the Doric String Quartet introduced me to Thomas Adès, a contemporary composer, and to “The Four Quarters”, a highly interesting piece. Second, the cellist John Myerscough explained in a few, well-chosen words the structure of that work in order to pave the way for a greater acceptance and a better understanding of this example of Neue Musik. He succeeded on both accounts. The setting of that enriching experience: the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam – my first ever visit in that prestigious concert hall.

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