British composer, conductor, and pianist Thomas Adès has achieved an inordinate amount of acclaim very early in his career. After studying composition with Robert Saxton and piano with Paul Berkowitz at the Guildhall School of music, he moved on to King's College, Cambridge where he worked with composers Alexander Goehr, Robin Holloway, and Hugh Wood. Hailed by critics and the public alike for his accessible originality, Adès' musical style is, in fact, difficult to pin down. Not a devotee of any particular school or technique, Adès uses traditional harmony, dissonance, and elements of various genres to create a uniquely individual voice. He first rose to prominence when the BBC Philharmonic and Ensemble Modern performed his Chamber Symphony, Op. 2 (1990).
Arcadiana, Adès first string quartet, was commissioned by the Endellion Quartet in 1994 to be performed at the Cambridge Elgar Festival. An evocative work in seven continuous movements, it is mercurial in its quick changes of character. Each quartet member is put to the test technically as well as expressively. The first movement is a languid nocturne with impressionistic overtones. Movement four is a darkly subtle tango followed by the lilting, shimmering L'Embarquement. O Albion, the very beautiful sixth movement, has been compared to the profoundly moving Nimrod section from Sir Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations. For those who enjoy the style of Arcadiana, the music of Americans George Rochberg and George Crumb may be of interest.