They're Always Taking His Stuff ; for American Composers, Thomas Ades Offers a Wealth of Inspiration

By Robin, William | International New York Times, February 11, 2015 | Go to article overview

They're Always Taking His Stuff ; for American Composers, Thomas Ades Offers a Wealth of Inspiration


Robin, William, International New York Times


Despite his young age, the British composer Thomas Ades commands a devoted following among younger American composers.

CORRECTION APPENDED

Thomas Ades almost broke up the Punch Brothers. "I wanted to be him," Chris Thile, the frontman of that progressive bluegrass band, recently recalled of his first encounter with the surreal music Mr. Ades composed. "I was wondering if I should go back to the drawing board: put everything on hold for five years and figure out a way to do something more like that."

Mr. Thile ultimately kept the band together -- and wrote a mandolin concerto to release some bottled-up creativity -- but the experience had lasting repercussions.

At 43, Mr. Ades is youthful by classical music's standards, though it has been more than two decades since he was first hailed as Britain's compositional messiah. And despite his young age, he commands a devoted if unexplored following among even younger American composers, as they disclosed in recent interviews. "He's unlocked some sort of secretive, complicated rhythm, wherein your body is moved even if your mind is titillated," Mr. Thile said.

That has deeply informed the Punch Brothers' sound, including that on the band's newest album, "The Phosphorescent Blues." "The boys and I have listened to a ton of Ades," Mr. Thile added. "Particularly in the polyrhythmic department -- that's absolutely affected what Punch Brothers is up to these days."

The composer Andrew Norman voiced similar enthusiasm for Mr. Ades's oeuvre. "There's something about his music that is particularly, so vividly imagined that people love stealing from it, myself included," he said. On Feb. 22, the Calder Quartet will juxtapose Mr. Norman's "Sabina" and Mr. Ades's "Arcadiana" in a concert sponsored by Carnegie Hall at the Brooklyn Public Library's Central Library.

"Andrew really looks up to and respects Ades," said a violinist for the Calder, Andrew Bulbrook, who recounted Mr. Norman's excitement: "'Oh, wow, I'm on a concert with the greatest string quartet composed in the last 50 years!"'

That fervor is pervasive among Mr. Thile and Mr. Norman's generation. "Composers are a catty bunch," said the composer Timo Andres. "That Ades is pretty widely adored, at least among my peers, says something."

Minimalism and pop are often cited as the foremost influences on America's eclectic younger composers. But Mr. Ades, with his strong commitment to both classical tradition and the avant-garde, complicates that narrative. Teasing out his place in American music reveals much about how today's composers absorb influence and forge a dialogue with one another. Mr. Ades's trans-Atlantic reach might hark back to the role Stravinsky once played in reshaping American music. But unlike that of Stravinsky (and his American acolytes), the impact of Mr. Ades has been felt across multiple aesthetics and even genres.

For many musicians, his 1997 composition "Asyla" represents a singular fount of inspiration. A compressed symphonic masterwork, "Asyla" was the culmination of Mr. Ades's omnivorous early style, and its 1999 recording entranced Mr. Norman and his college classmates. "We would just listen to that thing over and over again and discuss it -- a lot of us stole quite liberally from it," he said.

Others attested to the persuasive grip of "Asyla." "There was this moment where the third movement of 'Asyla' circulated in the new-music community almost like a hit single," the composer Gabriel Kahane said. That movement, "Ecstasio," masses swirling orchestral forces to summon the druggy techno of a London nightclub. Mr. Kahane cited the irregular rhythms of his pop song "Haircuts & Airports" as indebted to Mr. Ades.

The composer Ted Hearne recalled a debate among friends over the best new orchestral music: "I remember them being like: It's 'Asyla,' Ted! It's 'Asyla!"'

Christopher Cerrone described microscopic details he filched from Mr. …

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