19 June, 2023
The laureates in the 15th Frontiers Awards are physicists Anne L’Huillier, Paul Corkum and Ferenc Krausz in Basic Sciences; David Baker, Demis Hassabis and John Jumper in Biology and Biomedicine; Alberto Sangiovanni Vincentelli in Information and Communication Technologies; Susan Alberts, Jeanne Altmann and Marlene Zuk in Ecology and Conservation Biology; James Zachos and Ellen Thomas in Climate Change; Timothy Besley, Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini in Economics, Finance and Management; Steven Pinker and Peter Singer in Humanities and Social Sciences; and British composer and conductor Thomas Adès, in Music and Opera.
The evening’s program will be performed by the Basque National Orchestra, now the main partner orchestra for this event, led by conductor Pedro Halffter Caro, and will feature as soloist the American pianist Kirill Gerstein. Opening the concert will be Sospiri by Edward Elgar, followed by In Seven Days by Thomas Adès and, in the second part, Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, known as the “Rhenish.”
With its five-minute length, Sospiri sits within the group of short pieces by Elgar infused with the spirit of the salon music so widely popular in the closing years of the 19th century.
Thomas Adès’s In Seven Days is the story in music of the first seven days of the creation, as told in the book of Genesis. Musically, it has been described as tiny particles of sound that combine, recombine, and jostle against one another in a perpetual state of change. Creation, in Adès’s vision, eschews the catastrophic, unfolding instead as a series of processes. “The separation of sea and sky, for instance, is imagined in what might be an infinite simultaneity of ascending and descending lines, perhaps suggesting Escher’s perpetual staircases. Plant life burgeons, Land – Grass – Trees, growing from the extreme bass to a majestic climax.” The closing Contemplation is the secret that unlocks the work, holding in suspense a proposition that may be about to recommence, giving the piece, and the creation itself, the feel of a never-ending cycle.”
Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, op. 97 stands chronologically at the end of a period of happiness in its composer’s life, colored by the Romantic notion of music’s primacy over any other art, such that far from being considered a form of expression, it was hailed as expression itself, the realm of the infinite.
“It is an honor to conduct this concert,” said Pedro Halffter, “especially with Maestro Adès among the public. His In Seven Days is a complex and demanding, but also extremely beautiful work. It is also a challenge to conduct, both from a musical and a human standpoint, imbued as it is with a deep spirituality. So to do so in front of the composer is a great responsibility. But then I have the benefit of working with Kirill Gerstein, who has played it with the author many times. I hope the audience have a pleasurable time, that the laureates feel honored and that Maestro Adès can enjoy his work in a fantastic performance by the Basque National Orchestra.”
Pianist Gerstein, who has praised In Seven Days for its “cosmic immensity” offers this description of the work: “If the universe as a whole is a gigantic sphere, then this piece is a very large sphere within it, which contains so much. There’s a lot of exuberance, but also much loneliness and darkness. It’s a very wide world, musically, as well as emotionally.”
The power to connect with diverse audiences while opening up future horizons
Thomas Adès received the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Music and Opera for “the communicative capacity of his music, which connects transversally with diverse audiences around the world while opening up future horizons,” in the words of the prize committee. The committee also singled out his “extensive catalogue of compositions comprising all genres – symphonic, piano, chamber music, ballet, and opera,” which, along with his “intense activity in concert halls as a pianist and conductor,” make him “an essential reference in today’s musical scene.” Adès, the committee adds, has a deep knowledge of the Western musical tradition, which he seeks to reinterpret, incorporating elements “from the most diverse musical sources.”
One of the keys to his connection with audiences, said Victor García de Gomar, committee secretary and Artistic Director of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, is “his ability to combine contemporary compositional techniques with the resources needed to restore feeling and expressiveness to the musical stage. He returns music to its natural space, the ear, creating a perfect harmony between ear and mind. It is this gift that makes his music so intensely modern, employing a language that connects with the affections, entwining the rational with the emotional. Creating music that needs to be expressed, not just performed.”
Receiving the Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Bilbao, and hearing one of his works performed there, has a special significance for the British composer. At the age of 12, he visited the city with his mother, an art historian specializing in surrealism and fascinated by Dalí’s painting. The experience, he recalls, was a complete revelation. “Spain was the first foreign country I ever visited. I remember it really well because it was the late 1970s and we sailed from somewhere along the south coast of England, and I’ve never forgotten feeling like an Atlantic explorer, however ridiculous that sounds. For the child in me that was a moment of wonder, to arrive somewhere so dramatically different. Perhaps that is why it means so much to me, a symbol for the horizon, like Cortes discovering the Pacific. And that is something I always keep in mind while working, the idea of sailing towards an unknown horizon.”
Adès studied piano with Paul Berkowitz and composition with Robert Saxton at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He went on to read music at King’s College, Cambridge where he was taught by composers Alexander Goehr and Robin Holloway. His catalogue comprises almost ninety works spanning music for chamber orchestra and ensemble, orchestra, the stage (opera, ballet, orchestra and chorus…), voice and solo instruments. He has been Composer in Association for the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, Music Director of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival, holder of the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall, Artistic Partner to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Britten Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
As well as a composer, Adès is a renowned conductor who regularly occupies the podium of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Amsterdam) and Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. As a pianist, he has given solo concerts at Carnegie Hall (New York) and Wigmore Hall (London), while his recorded output includes Stravinsky’s music for violin and piano and works by Janáček, and the album American Counterpoint, with Simon Rattle and Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
The Basque National Orchestra
The Basque National Orchestra, principal partner orchestra of the Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, continues its close association with the BBVA Foundation. Both organizations share an eagerness to undertake ambitious projects, like this gala concert in honor of laureates, or the Tesela initiative: a broad mosaic of international contemporary creation of Basque inspiration, exported to major cultural gatherings like the Venice Biennale.
One of Spain’s foremost symphonic ensembles, with a growing international presence, the orchestra has undertaken a score of world tours that have made it an ambassador of Basque culture. Its activity is followed by thousands of people through its on-site concerts and diverse digital media. As well as working to an established, carefully structured program of four permanent symphonic seasons at its venues in Bilbao (Euskalduna Bilbao), Vitoria (Teatro Principal), San Sebastian (Kursaal) and Pamplona (Baluarte), the orchestra performs chamber music series and special concerts for schools and families, while also keeping up a busy recording schedule.
Kirill Gerstein’s heritage combines the musical traditions of Russia, America, and Central Europe with an insatiable curiosity. From Bach to Adès, his artistry is distinguished by a ferocious technique and discerning intelligence, serving an imaginative musicality that places him at the top of his profession.
Born in the former Soviet Union, Gerstein is an American citizen based in Berlin. His international career ranges from concerts with the Chicago, Boston, and London symphonies, the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Royal Concertgebouw orchestras, and the Vienna and Berlin philharmonics, to recitals in London, Berlin, Vienna, Paris and New York. His flair for curation has been displayed this season as Artist-in-Residence with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and as curator of the “Busoni and his World” series at London’s Wigmore Hall.
A prolific recording artist, his latest album on the Berlin Philharmonic’s in-house label features Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the orchestra and Kirill Petrenko. The 2020 release of his world premiere performance of Adès’s Piano Concerto won a Gramophone Award and was nominated for three Grammys.
Pedro Halffter Caro
Conductor and composer Pedro Halffter Caro was Artistic Director of the Teatro de la Maestranza in Seville from 2004 to 2018. He has also served as Principal Guest Conductor with the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra, Principal Conductor of the Bayreuth Festival Youth Orchestra, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria, and Artistic Director of the Real Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla.
He has appeared in such prestigious theaters and concert halls as the Vienna Musikverein, the Konzerthaus in Berlin, the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, the Teatro Real in Madrid, the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow, the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona and the Philharmonie in Berlin, and has occupied the podium of ensembles like the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Toulouse Capitole National Orchestra, the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra or the Rai National Symphony Orchestra, as well as Spain’s foremost symphony orchestras.
On the opera stage, he has conducted Die Schweigsame Frau at the Bavarian State Opera, Salome and Der Ferne Klang at the Berlin State Opera, and Turandot at the Mannheim National Theatre, Rigoletto at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing and, recently, Madame Butterfly at the Montréal Opera. In October 2022, his opera Klara had its premiere at Harvard University.