Let there be light and sound:Adés­doesGe­n­e­sis

Lead­ing young com­poser ThomasAdés has en­listed his Is­rael video-artist part­ner Tal Ros­ner to help pro­duce a con­certo based on the Book of Ge­n­e­sis. They tell Jean Han­nah Edel­stein why they wanted to work to­gether

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

THOMAS ADÉS I S one of t he world’s finest young clas­si­cal­mu­sic com­posers. Tal Ros­ner is an ac­claimed Is­raeli video artist. They are al­ready part­ners — they were among the first cou­ples in the UK to en­ter into a le­gal civil part­ner­ship — but the world pre­miere next week of Adés’s pi­ano con­certo In Seven Days will mark their first pro­fes­sional col­lab­o­ra­tion. The con­certo was com­mis­sioned to cel­e­brate both the open­ing of the Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall in Los An­ge­les and Lon­don’s lav­ishly ren­o­vated Royal Fes­ti­val Hall. The Lon­don Sin­foni­etta will per­form un­der the guid­ance of Adés’s ba­ton at the Fes­ti­val Hall on Mon­day, ac­com­pa­nied by Ros­ner’s video in­stal­la­tion, which will be dis­played across six screens.

Dis­cussing the project over cof­fee near their home in Cen­tral Lon­don, on a rare break from their in­tense prepa­ra­tions, it is ap­par­ent that the pair are good at keep­ing their work­ing re­la­tion­ship sep­a­rate from their per­sonal one. “I knew Tal’s work and mine,” 37-year-old Adés ex­plains. “I think when this sug­ges­tion came my way for a video piece, I sud­denly felt that the time [to work to­gether] was right.”

De­vel­op­ment of the vis­ual side of the con­certo started slightly be­fore the com­pos­ing. Ros­ner, who is 29 and was born in Jerusalem, be­gan col­lect­ing pos­si­ble images for his in­stal­la­tion at the time that the piece was orig­i­nally con­ceived, about a year ago, tak­ing hun­dreds of pho­to­graphs and video clips, whereas Adés be­gan the com­pos­ing process only about nine months ago. From the very be­gin­ning, how­ever, they were in agree­ment that the piece would need to be based around a solid sto­ry­line for it to work.

“We both felt that we needed some kind of story… that it should be a story that was so well-known,” says Adés, who grad­u­ated from King’s Col­lege, Cam­bridge in 1992.

Ul­ti­mately, they opted for the Book of Ge­n­e­sis. Nei­ther Adés (whose pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther was Jewish) nor Ros­ner is re­li­gious, but both agree that us­ing the ver­sion of the To­rah story in the orig­i­nal He­brew made it pos­si­ble for them to ex­plore the cre­ation in a unique and un­fet­tered fash­ion. This ren­ders In Seven Days, in many re­spects, quite a Jewish work.

“It’s so much clearer, it’s very log­i­cal in He­brew…” says Adés, who is not flu­ent, but is study­ing the lan­guage. “In the English, it’s not nearly as clear. I have noth­ing much Jewish in my up­bring­ing at all, but I’ve kind of be­come very fas­ci­nated.”

While they ac­knowl­edge that the King James ver­sion of the Old Tes­ta­ment might be more familiar to many of their au­di­ence, it quickly be­came clear to Ros­ner and Adés that it would not have the kind of pre­ci­sion they were look­ing for in terms of what they wished to ex­press in the work. For ex­am­ple, Adés points out, the way in which the state of the world is de­scribed at the very be­gin­ning of Ge­n­e­sis. “In the English, the trans­la­tion which ev­ery­body knows is ‘with­out form and void’, whereas in He­brew… it’s about chaos.”

That con­cept of chaos is one which lends it­self nicely to the piece, as does the cycli­cal na­ture of the Old Tes­ta­ment story, with par­al­lels be­tween the first three and sec­ond three days of cre­ation of­fer­ing Adés an op­por­tu­nity to em­ploy re­cur­ring themes in the mu­sic. “Hav­ing it all so log­i­cal like that makes it much eas­ier to fol­low in the mu­sic,” he says.

The pair agree that there is an added el­e­ment of rich­ness and play­ful­ness that He­brew al­lowed them to ex­plore. “Meet­ing other Is­raelis, I feel — if I can say this — that in gen­eral they’re much more nat­u­rally fas­ci­nated by lan­guage,” says Adés.

Ros­ner con­curs: “He­brew’s a very play­ful lan­guage, words are re­ally linked.” And hav­ing grown up in Is­rael means that Ros­ner’s re­la­tion­ship with the To­rah — as a his­tory book as well as a book about lan­guage and a re­li­gious text — is re­flected in his mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the an­cient story. “The way that I work is that I take a lot of pho­tos and footage of things, and I de­con­struct them,” he says.

How­ever, Ros­ner re­flects, in some ways the work has been eas­ier for them to cre­ate away from Is­rael. “I’m just think­ing it might be a bit eas­ier to do this here… In Is­rael peo­ple might be a bit scep­ti­cal, I think the peo­ple know [the story] so well.”

“It would prob­a­bly seem ob­vi­ously re­li­gious full­stop,” Adés agrees. Ros­ner nods. “That would be the kind of ori­en­ta­tion,” he says. In con­trast, pro­duc­ing the work in Bri­tain and the US has given them the range to ex­plore the mythic as­pects of Ge­n­e­sis while also ac­knowl­edg­ing the es­sen­tial ac­cu­racy of the To­rah.

“Pretty much ev­ery­thing in the story is more or less in the or­der that we know,” Adés says. “I think at the time they prob­a­bly thought they were mak­ing the most sci­en­tific de­scrip­tion of what hap­pened.”

Putting the work to­gether has been a process of ex­change — work­ing in­di­vid­u­ally, the pair have passed mu­sic and images back and forth in or­der to cre­ate a co­he­sive piece.

“It tends to be that when I’ve fin­ished a chunk, then that week he gets it and re­sponds to it. I think it would be quite dif­fi­cult the other way round,” Adés ex­plains.

“The thing is that the vi­su­als that we’ve done are quite tied to­gether,” Ros­ner says. “The vi­su­als are very re­spon­sive [to the mu­sic]. It’s not like wall­pa­per… it’s ac­tu­ally a very in­tri­cate re­sponse to the sound. Work­ing this way def­i­nitely changed my approach to mu­sic —– in the [projects] which I did be­fore with mu­sic, the piece was al­ready fin­ished be­fore I started.”

The project has also caused Adés to en­gage with a new approach as well. “It’s very hand-in-glove ac­tu­ally,” he says of the col­lab­o­ra­tion. Fol­low­ing his re­ceipt of sec­tions of the video work, he says: “Many times I sort of ended up chang­ing things, chang­ing the colour a lot, chang­ing the whole em­pha­sis — it’s re­ally pushed the mu­sic in all sorts of ex­treme di­rec­tions.”

With the ex­pe­ri­ence hav­ing been so pos­i­tive thus far, will the pair col­lab­o­rate again in the fu­ture? Adés says that the cycli­cal na­ture of the To­rah prompted them to re­flect on the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other be­gin­ning.

“I said: ‘How are we go­ing to end this?’,” Adés re­calls, ad­dress­ing Ros­ner. “And you said: ‘Oh well, we’ll just start the next cy­cle.’ And I thought, that’s a very Jewish kind of con­cept.” In Seven Days is per­formed on Mon­day April 24 at the Royal Fes­ti­val Hall, Lon­don SE1. Tel: 0871 663 250

And he saw it was good: An im­age from Tal Ros­ner’s video work which will ac­com­pany Thomas Adés’s pi­ano con­certo at the Royal Fes­ti­val Hall in Lon­don on Mon­day

Adés ( top) and Ros­ner are ex­plor­ing the mythic as­pects of Ge­n­e­sis while ac­knowl­edg­ing the es­sen­tial ac­cu­racy of the To­rah

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