Gavin Plumley

Conversations with Tom Service | Thomas Adès: Full of Noises

9:54, 6th October 2012

Revealing the crucible of a composer’s talent is a huge challenge. It is made doubly difficult when the subject is one of the more oblique characters working in music today. Full of Noises is the sprawling result of that search, spanning a series of conversations between Tom Service and Thomas Adès that are as magnetic as they are argumentative.

For Adès, desire comes before design in music. Talking in abstract but pragmatic terms about the inner life of notes, he clearly operates on a completely different plain to his audience. As he describes a series of doors onto new music possibilities, Service works feverishly to follow him into those imagined rooms.

There is a winning petulance to the encounter, which Service as editor has done well to leave unexpurgated. Adès is often flippant: Brahms’s fourth symphony is a ‘terrible waste of space’; Albert Herring is a much more successful opera than Peter Grimes; and neither Verdi nor Wagner dodges his censure.

Many will disagree with such positions, but you cannot doubt Adès’ zeal. And while some conversations outstay their welcome, they all serve to underline this witty if pugnacious unorthodoxy. Dismissive of academic and cultural totems, Service reveals a personal logic akin to Lewis Carroll, whose work Adès often cites.

Grappling with an untameable subject, Service tries to ground Adès’ flippancy. Childish, philosophical, witty, exasperating, noisy, calm, Service shows us the full gamut of opinion, passion and precision driving one of our most engaging talents. It is a great battle of wills and provokes an unapologetically complex book.

Gavin Plumpley

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