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1 Jan 2017

Part of our Cue the New season online resources, offering the chance to discover the works we’re performing, their context and the composer’s creative mind.

Thhomas Adès


Ahead of our first concert of 2017; an exploration of Thomas Adès' masterful In Seven Days, we’ve put together this playlist to help set the scene. We’ve featured a selection of some of Adès' most iconic pieces, alongside works by György Kurtág, Conlon Noncarrow, Per Nørgård and Poul Ruders.

Kurtág taught a young Adès, and of his teacher, he remarked "hearing his music…when I was 15 or 16, although not knowing what it was about, I could tell from the very first line that there was blood rushing through it. It had an emotional interest that I didn't necessarily hear in a lot of his contemporaries. A door into that sound world had been opened." 


American composer Noncarrow is said to be a particular favourite of Adès, whilst Nørgård’s and Ruders’ works have featured regularly in his performing career. 




We caught up with cellist Zoë Martlew ahead of our performance of In Seven Days at the Royal Festival Hall, at which she will be presenting a break-down of the music, together with actor Sam West.

1. We’re really looking forward to In Seven Days on 1 February – can you tell us what draws you to this particular work?

The technical virtuosity of this fearless tackling of the Genesis myth combined with it's haunting harmonic beauty makes In Seven Days a definite keeper for me, imparting a delicate magic that has grown with repeated hearings.

2. What should audiences listen out for/do you have a favourite moment in the piece?

The beginning of the third movement Land - Grass - Trees is a particularly fave spot: an unforgettable evocation of burgeoning plant life, truly beautiful music.

3. Can you talk about the challenges of the work? (We’ve heard this is particularly difficult to play for even the finest musicians!)

As in so much of Adés' music, contrasting rhythmic patterns and tempi are superimposed, so that the musicians have to number crunch while also negotiating extreme registers of their instruments and sudden leaps in pitch. During a rehearsal of the ferociously tricky opening section, Adés (who was conducting) told the violins to imagine that they were carrying a large tray of water which had to be balanced evenly while walking, without spilling a drop. A perfect description of what it can feel like to play his music.

4. Thomas has discussed the piano part as the “consciousness” of the work. As a listener, what are your thoughts on the importance of the piano part in the telling of the story?

Unlike a traditional piano concerto where the soloist gets to show off in a cadenza, in this piece the piano part, for me, is both a mathematical weaving of musical DNA and an intrinsic force both in the creation of the piece's world and commenting on it. By the time we get to the seventh day – Contemplation – one can indeed relate to the idea that the piano part represents pure consciousness, an enlightened sense apart from the physical structures that appear to bring it into existence. Or in other words, soul, to risk a loaded term. 

5. How do you think the worlds of science and religion have merged in this intricate work?

The book of Genesis may well have summed up the cutting edge scientific creation theories of the time, which happen to follow pretty much what is currently believed about the order of post Big Bang events. Reflecting the notion of life emerging from primordial soup, the piece is crafted meticulously from tiny musical cells which develop with fractal precision throughout the piece. The music follows the story, event by event, and the devotional quality lent by the piano’s "consciousness" and the glowing harmonic language, makes this as close to a sacred work as Adés has written to date.

Now we’d like to get to know you a little better!

6. What do you regard as your greatest artistic achievement so far?

Staying alive. That, and my “vegetable wok udon surprise”, a total one-off.

7. Describe yourself in three words.

Metaphysically-inclined blonde.

8. What’s currently on your coffee table at home?

Middlemarch by George Eliot, Ruby Woo lipstick (down to the last half inch), Slow Days, Fast Company by Eve Babitz, Private Eye, Confronting Silence - selected writings of Takemitsu, Dagvatin DVD (2nd series of Icelandic TV series), Nitiraj incense (lit) in engraved wooden holder, Donald Ritchie's A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics, church candle (lit),  single shot espresso in weird owl cup, small bowl of mango, raspberries and burnt almonds (favourite combo), a few postcards of Kabuki actors, more books and a huge vase of tiger lilies.

9. On 1 February, we work side-by-side with students from the Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble – what advice would you give to musicians starting their careers now?

Since forever, music conservatoires have tended to give the impression that there are but four mutually exclusive categories of work open to emerging young musicians: sparkly soloist, chamber musician, orchestral job or (god forbid) teach. While all these still apply – teaching being a vital component of self discovery as a musician in my experience – there is now SO much more out there for those of brave heart and open mind. One can combine a classical training with improvisation, film, electronics, theatre, composition, dance, pop, rock, folk, jazz, video art and so on. So be prepared to take risks, explore and most importantly, keep the passion for what you do burning in whatever way you can! 

That, and practice practice practice. One is still only as good as one’s last gig. That’s how you get hired.

10.  Your best musical joke?

Arnold Schoenberg walks into a bar. “I’ll have a gin please”, he says, “but no tonic”.

Step 3: How to LIsten


Philip Cashian (composer and Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music) has kindly created an audio guide for In Seven Days. He discusses the work and what to look out for when listening to the recording. 


In Seven Days was originally conceived as a work for solo piano and orchestra with video projections and is based on the story of the creation as described in the Book of Genesis. The movements are:

1   Chaos – Light – Dark
2   Separation of the waters into sea and sky
3   Land – Grass – Trees
4   Stars – Sun – Moon
5   Fugue – Creatures of the Sea and Sky
6   Fugue – Creatures of the Land
7   Contemplation

Tom Adès was born in 1971 and early works such as Living Toys (1993), Powder Her Face (1995) and Asyla (1997) quickly gained him an international reputation as well as that of a pianist and conductor. Whilst still in his twenties he won the highly prestigious Grawemeyer Award.

Adès was 37 when he wrote In Seven Days for the pianist Nic Hodges: a joint commission between the London Sinfonietta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In an interview with Tom Service he says:

The story is set as a set of variations, reflecting the two-part structure of the story: Days 1, 2, and 3 are complemented by Days 4, 5 and 6. In Day 7 the theme is presented in its simplest form. " Thomas Adès

Although the piece is heard in one single span the seven movements are clearly discernable and there’s a real clarity to the musical narrative that’s made all the more audible by his brilliant orchestration, making every corner perceptible. The music unfolds with such strong contours, slowly turning, transforming and accumulating, that there’s the real sense of a musical landscape being revealed and described in front of us.


First movement: 
00:00 – 04:28: The 1st movement is the most substantial and begins with lively contrapuntal string writing, slowly spreading around the orchestra woodwind at 01:10 and low bassoons at 01:24, more legato, faster moving flutes at 02:01 and a sustained brass figure at 02:58. The gradual accumulation ends with the entry of the solo piano at 03:33 and (to my ears) a jazz infused riff with pizzicato strings and subtle small percussion at 03:39.

05:00 – 05:47: There’s a lot of passages in this piece that are clearly descending like the piano at 05:00 arriving with low, dark strings at 05:47. Then listen out for the horn’s bold figure at 06:49 to 07:40.

Second movement: 
00:00 - 01:27: bell like chords and metal percussion with the piano slowing climbing down from the top of it’s register, set against low pedals and giving a tremendous feeling of space.

Third movement: 
03:30 - 05:26:  the music slowly accumulates and leaves the piano in the foreground.

Fourth movement:
01:05 - 02:12: I particularly like the busy, rhythmic flute writing that quickly spreads, pushed along by the brass, into the rest of the woodwind section.

Sixth movmeent:
00:00 - 00:47: The 6th movement begins with fugal piano writing, very quickly spreading around the orchestra giving an immediate sense of movement and activity. Also listen out for the hand bells at 01:04 – 01:16 briefly accompanying the piano. From this point on (01:20- 02:29) the solo piano is richly polyphonic calming around 02:09 and leading into the contemplative final movement.


Step 4: How to Compose


We take a peek inside Thomas Adès’ handwritten score for In Seven Days – explore for yourself, or watch the composer and filmmaker/video artist Tal Rosner (with whom the piece was originally conceived) discussing the work below.