« »

2013.07.17 – Totentanz, Royal Albert Hall, London (Prom 8): Christianne Stotijn, Thomas Adés

Royal Albert Hall, London

Prom 8

17 July 2013

  • Britten

    Sinfonia da Requiem (20 mins)

  • Lutosławski

    Concerto for Cello (24 mins)

  • Thomas Adès

    Totentanz (c45 mins)
    World Premiere

  • Paul Watkins cello
  • Christianne Stotijn mezzo-soprano
  • Simon Keenlyside baritone
  • BBC Symphony Orchestra
  • Thomas Adès conductor

About this event

Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem opens a programme of testimony and remembrance. Paul Watkins is the soloist in Lutosławski’s bleak and beautiful Cello Concerto, composed for and dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich in a period of violent protest and political repression in Poland.

Thomas Adès conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra and soloists Christianne Stotijn and Simon Keenlyside in the world premiere of his Totentanz, a commission in memory of Lutosławski, which sets an anonymous 15th-century text that accompanied a frieze destroyed when Lübeck’s Marienkirche was bombed in the Second World War.

click here to see some photos of the frieze with (German) explanations


Live broadcast on BBC radio 3 and recorded for broadcast on BBC Four on 28 July

click here for the text (German and English) of the Totentanz

Photo Gallery

 Twitter comments

    • Largest drum I’ve EVER SEEN at the Proms for Tom Ades’s new piece, Totentanz. No-one’s hit it yet but I think we’re in for a loud evening.
    • Adès’ Totentanz is fantastic – really loved it and had some great orchestration.  Simon Keenlyside was on great form
    • Nevertheless, brilliant programme of Lutoslawski, Ades & Britten. Keenlyside & Stotijn were fantastic. Great evening @bbcproms
    • Swept away by Totentanz and Lutoslawski. Bravo, fearless @BBCSO et al. And what music!
    • Tom’s TOTENTANZ at the Proms a really thrilling affair, storming the roof off. Incredible.
    • Totentanz. Even on t’internet radio over here in Munich it was magical! Can’t wait for 28th July on BBC4.

Sound bites


” … Adès’ symphonic dance-cum-song-cycle behaves as if some malevolent spirit has taken possession of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and then invited us to the exorcism. Death is a baritone – the amplified Simon Keenlyside – and his victims, or would-be “dance partners”, a mezzo soprano – the also amplified Christianne Stotijn in flowing black and wild hair like an avenging angel with sepulchral bottom notes.  …”

Michael Church, The Indenpendent, 18.7.13

5 stars

” … It makes huge demands on the baritone and mezzo-soprano who must carry the drama and hold their own against the percussion-heavy orchestra, but in Simon Keenlyside and Christianne Stotijn Tom Ades had struck gold: both made utterly convincing sense of their daunting melodic lines, often in grotesque duet: Keenlyside’s suggesting giant inexorability, and Stotijn’s a nightmarish torment. On the podium, Ades was able to bring out both the savagery and the beauty of his score, but I suggest that he doesn’t stop there: with a suitably Expressionist staging, this could make a very effective one-act opera. …”

 Barry Millington, Evening Standard, 18.7.2013

4 stars

” …  The two excellent soloists, Simon Keenlyside as Death, Christianne Stotijn as his interlocutors, were amplified, which at least made their words audible over the pandemonium, though often there is no discernible connection between text and music. …”

Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 18.7.2013

4 stars

” …  In Adès’s piece the baritone is death’s mouthpiece – declamatory, angular and rather Bergian (the opening of the work very much recalls the prologue to Lulu), with just a few moments of insidious quietness, while the mezzo, more lyrical, more vulnerable, represents the victims who vainly try to resist him. Throughout their exchanges the orchestral machine moves relentlessly on, constantly changing tack and inventing new sound-worlds but always keeping its power in reserve, and consuming everything it encounters. In the closing pages death and humanity seem to reach a truce in a passage of almost Straussian lyricism, Adès’s most frankly expressive music to date, but it proves  only temporary and the work ends in the lowest depths of the orchestra, having worked its way downwards. The performance was wonderfully compelling, with the BBCSO revelling in the virtuoso challenges Adès sets them, and the soloists giving their roles an almost operatic vividness. In the hall Stotijn’s and Keenlyside’s words were hard to decipher even with discreet amplification; listening again online later, the radio balance was much better. …”

Claire Seymour, Opera Today, 19.7.2013

” … In Totentanz, Death, a baritone (Simon Keenlyside) invites in turn a succession of human representatives – including Pope, Emperor, Cardinal, King, Monk, Usurer, Merchant and Parish Clerk – to join his inescapable and deadly dervish, delighting that, ‘When I come, great and small,/ no grieving helps you’. … Thus, Death’s proposals – sung with seductive charm by Keenleyside, mingled with imperious contempt – ‘duet’ with a range of instruments and groupings; trembling double bass as he addresses the Emperor, a repetitive pattern played by the celli when his words are directed at the King, a dialogue with trombones as the Monk is called to the dance.  …”

Andrew Clark, FT.com, 19.7.2013

4 stars

” … Not if we are to judge from Totentanz, Thomas Adès’s 35-minute dramatic cantata, of which the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave the first performance at the Proms on Wednesday, with soloists Christianne Stotijn and Simon Keenlyside.  …”

Helen Wallace, classical-music.com, 19.7.2013

” … Baritone Simon Keenlyside and mezzo-soprano Christiane Stotijn, who sung the parts of Death and his victims with searing eloquence, needed amplification in the face of a vast orchestra and battery of percussion crowned by a taiko drum the size of a house. We’re in the world of Adès’s orchestral work Tevot, but with a narrative of overpowering momentum. …”

Alexandra Coghlan, Arts desk.com, 18.7.2013

4 stars

” … Simon Keenlyside’s Death was all bluff charisma, luring his victims with lazy charm and absolute vocal ease. He was almost outdone however by Christianne Stotijn, whose still-growing range of vocal colours and power created a constantly metamorphosing play of sound and character. …”

Renée Reitsma, bachtrack.com, 19.7.2013

4 stars

” … The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Adès were joined by baritone Simon Keenlyside, whose previous experience with Adès includes playing Prospero in his opera The Tempest (put on at the Met last year), and Dutch mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn. Their voices blended beautifully, Keenlyside portraying the controlled and rather disinterested Death, with Stotijn’s characters growing progressively more hysterical, portraying the victims of death; a pope, emperor, cardinal, king, monk, knight, mayor, doctor, usurer, merchant, parish clerk, handworker, peasant, maiden, and finally a small child. … One of the most memorable parts of the music was when from the character of the mayor onwards, Keenlyside and Stotijn sung “together” – singing different melodies and text, yet at the same time – guided by the orchestra, who eventually took over and offered a loud, stunning musical climax. … Keenlyside and Stotijn entered into a duet that was almost like a lullaby, comparing rather sweetly to the rest of Totentanz. Of course, the darkness soon returned, and the last word – “Tanze”, sung repeatedly by both Keenlyside and Stotijn – was poignant and impressive.”

Richard Morrison, The Times, 19.7.2013

“… This poem is what Ades sets, with Simon Keenlyside as Death and Christianne Stotijn singing all his doomed victims — both singers amplified to cut through a vast, drum-heavy orchestra.  …”


” … Few conductors tackle his music better than Adès himself, & it was he who directed the première, performed by Christianne Stotijn & Simon Keenleyside (who famously portrayed Prospero in Adès’ opera The Tempest) with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. …”

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

ekaterina shapinskaya August 14, 2013 at 5:48 pm


with translation:
The theme of Death and its inevitability is universal everywhere and always. The masterpiece of mideaval artist Brent Notke existed in two variants, in Lubeck and in Tallinn, where it has been preserved up to this day. The new life to this subject was given by the modern British composer Thomas Ades and vocalist Simon Keenlyside who, with their success in London concert this summer, showed that the themes of midaeval art can be very well expressed by modern expressive means, and the flood of tourisits in Niguliste shows its significance.

link to an article written by Ekaterina – English translation below on the site:

Gudrun July 31, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I’ve just found the youtube video of the BBC broadcast of “Totentanz”:


It’s still more amazing to watch than only to listen to.


Sue July 22, 2013 at 5:05 pm

What a wonderful Prom -Thomas Ades is quite something! Absolutely loved Totentanz, an edge of seat experience, and now I’ve had chance to listen again on i-player I’ve certainly not changed my mind. It was so packed with colours and pictures that I do agree it cries out to be staged in some way.

Such a challenging sing for the soloists, who were both riveting – so much so that I’m waiting for the screening so I will have a chance watch the orchestra. The Royal Albert Hall acoustics are notoriously tricky but luckily from my seat Simon, in particular, was crystal clear. He obviously relished the text and fresh from Wozzeck, his voice was on perfect form for this piece, from the relentless invitations to ‘dance’ to the final tragic lyricism. Massive and prolonged roars of approval from the audience – such a memorable evening!

diana jones July 20, 2013 at 10:21 am

Thank you so much for the video clip! A tantalizing glimpse of what to expect when the whole thing is shown on BBC4 next week! Not being a speaker of German, I found the whole thing difficult to follow on the radio broadcast, so very relieved to see that it looks like it will have subtitles on tv!
Having seen the translation of the text on here, and the graphic pictures of the frieze, I have to agree with Michael Church from the Independent that it would make a very good mini opera! It’ll be interesting to see if Mr Ades will work on his suggestion.


ps. I LOVE Simon in his specs!!

DK July 19, 2013 at 3:11 am

Listened to the broadcast of Ades’s Totentanz on BBC radio 3–immediately took to the work, loved the imaginative percussion, the dance and march motifs, the terrible lyricism of the ending. Though just over a half hour long this was a near-operatic work, and fortunately both soloists were up to it. Brilliant! This will be broadcast on television later this month (28th, I think) but I don’t know if it’ll be available outside the UK. Maybe on The Space if we’re lucky…fingers crossed!

ekaterina shapinskaya July 18, 2013 at 11:09 am

Heard the yesterday concert on BBC, extremely impressed by the work of both Thomas and Simon Keenlyside – a continuation of modern musical interpretation of texts of the past which was so beautifully done in The Tempest. Who would say that the contemporary composers have nothing more to say in the opera field after the Tempest? And the Totentanz brings some reminiscences of Orff though this may be subjective. Congratulations, waiting for the DG release.

Pete Serres July 18, 2013 at 9:39 am

Balance of voices at the rear of the arena wasn’t always ideal but, with some knowledge of German, it was possible to keep “in touch” thanks to excellent diction from both soloists. A very impressive work, and not just the battery of percussion. The subdued ending was a most moving experience.

Leave a Comment