"If you'd like a glimpse of the future of symphonic music — or if you just want to know what devilish majesty the New York Philharmonic will shortly unleash — this two-year-old YouTube video from the Proms in London is a good place to start. It shows the world premiere of Thomas Adès's Totentanz (Dance of Death), which the Philharmonic will perform March 12 through 14," wrote Justin Davidson in New York Magazine.
The critical buzz anticipating these performances, conducted by Adès himself, extends to The New Yorker's Alex Ross, who wrote that Adès is "securely established as a modern master, each new piece assuming the trappings of an event."
In The New York Times, William Robin wrote a piece titled "They're Always Stealing His Stuff" about Adès's huge influence on younger and middle-aged composers such as Andrew Norman and Caroline Shaw. He wrote, "Based on a grim 15th-century frieze, Totentanz is far from the uproarious polystylism of Asyla, though it shares its balance of the lyrical and the unsettling."
The Wall Street Journal's Pia Catton did a piece on Adès and Totentanz on March 10. She quotes soprano Christianne Stotijn:
“Sometimes it’s an ecstasy of panic, especially when they don’t want to die,” said Ms. Stotijn, describing the music. “You have grown-up characters who react like children. You have a knight who acts like a hero. It’s full of color.”
To portray such a variety of characters, Mr. Adès employed a wide range of nontraditional instruments, such as a standard referee’s whistle with which Death controls the proceedings.
“When he blows his whistle, you have to stop what you’re doing,” said Mr. Adès.
Also onstage are snake rattles, whips, ratchets and bamboo canes. “I’ve gone to town with the percussion,” he said, in order to have instruments that people in the 15th century might have had. “The bones and the clappers and things that can be bashed together.”