Though it took the English 250 years to find a worthy successor to Henry Purcell, the wait may well have been worth it, given that the Chosen One was Benjamin Britten. Now, just two decades after Britten’s death, the English believe a new musical savior has risen. His name is Thomas Adès, and he’s all of twenty-seven years old. Last year, he was appointed music director of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and this year he assumes the artistic directorship of Britten’s old stamping ground, the prestigious Aldeburgh Festival. In December, his first opera, the three-year-old Powder Her Face, appeared at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), and most of New York’s musical establishment came out to hear it.

The advance word was that here was a work of uncommon brilliance: sharp-edged and provocative, yet also musically inventive and even forward-looking. The British, ever...


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