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Composed: 2020

Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd=piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd=English horn), 3 clarinets (2nd=E-flat clarinet, 3rd=bass clarinet), 2 contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani (=rototoms), percussion (1=glockenspiel, vibraphone, bass bell, snare drum, suspended cymbal, crash cymbals, hi-hat, woodblock, tambourine, anvil, whip; 2=antique cymbal, crotales, snare drum, suspended cymbal, crash cymbals, hi-hat, triangle, whip, tambourine, castanets, cowbell, mark tree, tam-tam; 3=antique cymbal, triangle, whip, suspended cymbal, bass drum with mounted crash cymbals, tam-tam), harp, piano, and strings

About this Piece

Composed in 2020, this Symphony is an orchestral rendering of music from Adès’ third opera, The Exterminating Angel. Based on Luis Buñuel’s classic surrealist movie from 1962—about a collection of society characters who find themselves inexplicably trapped together at a post-opera party—Adès’ work premiered at the 2016 Salzburg Festival and has since traveled to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; New York’s Metropolitan Opera; and the Royal Danish Opera, Copenhagen. 

   In the symphony’s opening movement, “Entrances,” the guests arrive for dinner; in an early sign that they are leaving “reality” behind, they arrive twice. Then comes the ferocious and obsessive “March” that bridges the opera’s first two acts: the music for their first night under the spell of the Exterminating Angel. The third movement is a “Berceuse” which draws on some of the work’s most exquisite and memorable music—one of the yearning, melancholy duets between the doomed lovers Beatriz and Eduardo: Fold your body into mine / Hide yourself within its hand. 

   Adès describes composing “Waltzes”—the Symphony’s final and most extensive movement—as like “joining together the bits of a broken porcelain object.” Unlike the earlier movements, which draw on fairly complete passages from the opera, here the waltz fragments that surface throughout the score are brought together to create something wholly original. “What interests me about the waltz is the seductiveness of this music,” remarked Adès in an interview before the opera’s premiere. “I often feel that the waltzes by Johann Strauss are saying ‘why don’t you stay a little longer? Don’t worry about what’s going on outside.’ So in the context of this opera, the waltz becomes very dangerous, potentially fatal. 

   The Exterminating Angel Symphony was commissioned by City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra as part of its Centenary Commissions, together with the Cleveland Orchestra—Franz Welser-Möst, Music Director, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, Orquesta Nacionale de España, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Radio France, and Luzerner Sinfonieorchester. 

notes courtesy Faber Music