Thomas Adès: Three Views. Boston Symphony Chamber Players, at Jordan Hall, 30 Oct. 2016
This will be fun. In one afternoon, each facet of Thomas Adès’s residency with the Boston Symphony Orchestra got explored.
Onstage at Jordan Hall with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players Sunday afternoon, Adès honored the spotlight as composer, conductor and as pianist. Slipping easily from one role to another, deferential throughout, Adès gave many signs as to the possible depths of his artistic partnership with the BSO, which begins this week with multiple events and continues through the next three seasons.
Let’s start at the end. Sitting in with Malcolm Lowe (violin), Steven Ansell (viola), Adam Esbensen (cello), and Edwin Barker (bass), Adès partnered at piano in perhaps the least interesting work on this program—imagine that—Schubert’s Trout quintet.
Least interesting because, as usual with the BSO chamber ensemble, with its wealth of instruments and talents the group can explore the furthest reaches of the chamber repertory. Something as traditional as Trout, always a joy to hear beautifully played, seems like an afterthought.
Calling Adès’s playing “conductor-like” gives a flavor to the nature of his approach, but underestimates his stage-mates. Adès certainly led the group, but only through his sensitive interest in all facets of the score. Every phrase was open for a little extra forte, a more generous pianissimo, or a suspenseful stuck fermata.
As a true conductor, Adès’s place in this program was essential, but just as understated. At the podium for Britten’s opus 1 Sinfonietta, and songs by Brahms, Stravinsky and Purcell (beautiful artistry by mezzo Kelly O’Connor), Adès played an indispensable role.
Conducting a small ensemble either means the music is complicated rhythmically, or that the mostly unnecessary conductor (think Peter Phillips, of Tallis Scholars) is there for ego or branding reasons.
Britten’s Sinfonietta, represented here by decet, moves in so many different directions that using a leader to add coherency is a must. Not for the dynamic tension and release, but for the tricky entrances, multiple ideas and rhythms. In that regard, Adès could be appreciated not just for what he did, but for what he didn’t do.
And finally, as a composer, his own Court Studies, morsels taken from his opera “The Tempest,” clearly provided the musical highlight. Understanding the work benefitted greatly from this second hearing.
The Webern-like approach to emotion—focused, but not intense; minimal, but not sparse—grew with this hearing. Not one second of listening time went unrewarded. The playing sparkled with attentive energy. Wonderfully wrought by Haldan Martinson (violin), William Hudgins (clarinet), Esbensen and Adès, Court Studies deserves a place on any program where this instrumentation comes together.
The Boston Symphony Chamber Players performed music of Britten, Stravinsky, Adès, Brahms, Purcell and Schubert Sunday afternoon at Jordan Hall. Adès conducts the BSO Nov. 3-5 in a program that includes his “Totentanz” for mezzo (Christianne Stotijn), baritone (Mark Stone) and orchestra. 888-266-1200; bso.org