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Simon Rattle opened his era as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic with the music of Thomas Adès in 2002. Three years later, he programmed the same piece (Asyla) again. The special relationship continued last year, with the commissioning of an “asteroid” to go with Holst’s Planets. Wednesday brought the world premiere of Adès’s first full-length symphonic work for the Berliners.
Tevótis a bold, brash, busy one-movement symphony for a super-sized symphony. Co-commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic Foundation and the Carnegie Hall Corporation, it was obvious from the start that this would be a piece with a proper budget. Adès has helped himself liberally. With quintuple winds, eight horns, a battalion of percussionists, a piano and a lavish spread of strings, this is never going to be a cheap piece to perform. But it is definitely effective.
As is his wont, Adès takes an evocative title and makes much of it. Tevótis the Hebrew word for musical measures. There are echoes of the Biblical Teva, which also refers to Noah’s Ark and to the basket of rushes in which the infant Moses floated. Accordingly, Adès has created a piece which is rhythmically assured, teeming with life, and gently rocking in turn. There are frequent echoes of both Britten and Berg, and there is plenty of glint and glitter.
Adès knows how to write a piece that his audience can follow. Clearly identifiable motifs evolve and interact, balancing deftly between consonance and dissonance. There are startling effects and bright splashes of colour. There is a scorching climax that sinks into tender, melting string sounds. It is clever, well-made and rounded out with meditative moments. Quite clearly, it is written with this muscular orchestra and the extroverted Rattle in mind.
But could Adès possibly, just possibly, be talking down to us? It remains hard to escape the feeling that he chooses to say less than he could.
This programme, which opened with a curiously unmotivated take on Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 and ended with a white-hot, focused Janacek Sinfonietta, will be repeated in London on March 7 and Brussels on March 8. ★★★☆☆
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