Thomas Adès

Léonie Sonning Prize-winner 2015 Thomas Adès

The British composer and conductor Thomas Adès was awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 600,000 Danish kroner during a concert at the DR Concert Hall on Thursday 8 October. The concert was broadcast on the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s P2 radio channel, streamed via the corporation’s website and later televised on 28 October via its television channel DRK.


Thomas Adès Asyla
Thomas Adès America. A Prophecy
Thomas Adès Totentanz  

Emma Bell, mezzo soprano

Christianne Stotijn, mezzo soprano
Mark Stone, baritone

The Danish National Concert Choir
The Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Thomas Adès, conductor


Bertel Krarup, a member of the Léonie Sonning Music Foundation’s board, presented the prize and gave a personal speech that included the following testimonial:

‘The Léonie Sonning Music Prize 2015 and 600,000 Danish kroner is awarded to the composer Thomas Adès, who over a period of twenty years has produced an array of works characterized by strong emotional expression and dazzling virtuosity, linking tradition with the artistic imperatives of today. His works cover almost all genres, embody a broad field of expression, and have demonstrably opened doors to modern music to a large audience. He is also an outstanding pianist and conductor.’

In the days surrounding the prize concert Thomas Adès’s music was played at a number of events.

4 October: workshop and concert at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen with Thomas Adès and conservatory students

At the workshop these works were performed:

Thomas Adès: Traced Overhead

Matias Vestergård Hansen Sturmhelm und Jägerhorn

Martin Stauning The Sandman

Thomas Adès Lieux Retrouvés (first movement)


Students from the Royal Danish Academy of Music, Copenhagen

At the concert the same evening, the following works were performed

Thomas Adès Traced Overhead

Thomas Adès Arcadiana

Thomas Adès Piano Quintet

Hans Abrahamsen 10 Præludier


Thomas Adès, piano

The Danish String Quartet

6 October at the Royal Danish Library and 9 October at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Concert with Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen


Thomas Adès Chamber Symphony

Poul Ruders Abysm

Thomas Adès Three Mazurkas

Harrison Birtwistle Silbury Air

Thomas Adès Living Toys (6 October only)


Thomas Adès, piano

Athelas Sinfonietta Copenhagen

Pierre André Valade, conductor


Thomas Adès in Denmark

In 2002, Adès’s chamber opera Powder Her Face was performed at the Musikhøst Festival in Odense. It was subsequently staged by the Royal Danish Opera, on its Takkelloftet stage, in the Autumn of 2016. In 2004, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Concert Choir gave the first Danish performance of America: A Prophecy and in 2005, Adès himself conducted his opera The Tempest at the Copenhagen Opera House. As a pianist, Adès has recorded the Danish composer Poul Ruders’ Piano Sonata No 2 and conducted the world premiere of Ruders’ tone poem Abysm.

The daily press wrote the following about the prize concert at the DR Concert House

Asyla takes the listener to the disco. The whole orchestra of deep, dark shades typical of Adès resembles an overfilled dance-floor on ecstasy. The fourth movement, with the cutting pale light of the next day, gives you the hangover. With its compressed energy and huge array of powerful percussion, it is music driven forwards by its own structure. It is skillfully written, with a knowing idea of what will give the listener a fright. The same goes for the unfortunate doomsday work America: A Prophecy. Also from the 1990s, this work came shortly before 9/11 toppled more than two tall buildings; it couples old Mayan prophecies about the destructive union of the Spaniards and the Americans, as they stood and faltered “weak from fuck and drink.” Totentanz for choir, orchestra and two soloists is based on a famous frieze from St Mary’s Church in Lübeck, bombed in 1942. Here, Adès reveals his gift for the grim in music that no longer sustains itself from within. The Gregorian chant Dies Irae is elegantly dissected in a dance of death, with rattling bones and distorted dances; church bells and white-hot savagery drift into a sense of calm repose not far removed from the world of Mahler’s Wunderhorn.

Thomas Michelsen, Politiken, 10 October 2015

Of the concert with Athelas Sinfonietta, the press wrote:

The genius of the young Thomas Adès transcends ‘isms’ and even those of a sensitive disposition. In a way, he is the perfect composer. At first these three pieces appear entirely different: the on-point Chamber Symphony from 1990, Living Toys from 1993 with all sorts of instrumental colour and the Three Mazurkas, with Adès himself at the piano, echoing old romantic Chopin – a uniquely beautiful work. The most important thing is what they have in common. Adès is never just modern or traditional. The British composer constantly balances the new and the old, the unknown and the safe. He teaches us something central about man in the 20th and 21st centuries: that we like our modernity, but at the same time have a longing for the lost.

(Søren Schauser, Berlingske Tidende, 8 October 2015)


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Barbara Hannigan

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