Edited transcripts of nine intense interviews with the celebrated British composer.
Guardian music critic Service is respectful and generous throughout these conversations, which traverse much of the geography of classical music, then and now. Occasionally, he even accepts a body blow without much complaint. In a discussion about Benjamin Britten, for instance, Adès calls the content of Service’s question “the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard.” The conversations focus often on Adès’ own compositions, especially his opera The Tempest (2004 premiere), based on Shakespeare’s play, and Service elicits from him a number of insights, large and small (he composes on an electric piano with earphones). Their talk also ranges into the past, and we learn that Adès loves Stravinsky and Beethoven, and that he admires Verdi’s “pure animal cunning.” Although there is some music-theory-techie talk here (discussions about stacked fifths and “irrational functional tonality”), most readers will have no trouble following the flow. Adès emerges as highly articulate, rarely wry and often peremptory—the words “I could be wrong” are not in evidence. But he does say many arresting and memorable things—e.g., “Writing music is like trying to capture the face in the fire”; “I think my music ought to affect something in the individual; not something in the shared, lizard part of the brain, as perhaps some stadium music does.” Service manages to get Adès talking rather than debating, but the interviewer does challenge when Adès says something surprising, like calling the finale of Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 “a terrible waste of space.”
Some mild friction between two bright men sparks striking observations about music.