Adès was born in London to art historian Dawn Adès and poet Timothy Adès. He studied piano with Paul Berkowitz and later composition with Robert Saxton at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London. After attending University College School, he achieved a double starred first in 1992 at King's College, Cambridge, studying with Alexander Goehr and Robin Holloway. He was made Britten Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, and in 2004 was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Essex.
He entered a civil partnership, later terminated, with Israeli filmmaker and video artist Tal Rosner in 2006.
In 2007 a retrospective festival of his work was presented at the Barbican Arts Centre in London and he was the focus of Radio France's annual contemporary music festival, "Présences" and Helsinki's "Ultimo" festival. The Barbican festival, "Traced Overhead: The Musical World of Thomas Adès", included the UK premiere of a new work for Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, Tevot. Journalist Tom Service wrote of the piece, "Of any piece of new music I've heard at its premiere, this is one of the most immediately, richly powerful." In the spring of 2007, The Tempest returned to the Royal Opera House.
In 2009, he was the focus of Stockholm Concert Hall's annual Composer Festival and was in 2010 appointed foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.
- for orchestra, commissioned for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) by the John Feeney Charitable Trust, was premiered in Symphony Hall, Birmingham in October 1997 by Simon Rattle and the CBSO. It received its London premiere at the BBC Proms on 15 August 1999 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the Composer. This work received the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition in 2000, making Adès the youngest ever to receive the award.
- On 7 September 2002, Simon Rattle gave his first concert as principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra with Asyla and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5, both of which have also been released on CD and DVD by EMI.
- Asyla has since been performed across the world, including on a recent tour of the Far East by Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic.
- America: A Prophecy
- commissioned for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra's Millennium Messages in November 1999 and it received its UK premiere at the Aldeburgh Festival in June 2000. A recording of the work is available on EMI Classics (2004).
- Concentric Paths
- Adès's violin concerto received its premiere in September 2005 with a performance by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe with Anthony Marwood as soloist, which received critical acclaim.
- for orchestra, was premiered in Berlin by Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic on 21 February 2007, and received its American premiere as part of the Berlin in Lights Festival at Carnegie Hall. The work has been hailed as a groundbreaking new work by such critics as Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times and Richard Morrison of The Times.
- In Seven Days
- for piano, orchestra, and six video screens, was premiered by the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Adès at Royal Festival Hall in London on 28 April 2008. Video segment was created by Tal Rosner, Adès's partner. The work was co-commissioned by the South Bank Centre and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
- for orchestra and five video screens (moving images by Tal Rosner), was written for the opening of Frank Gehry's New World Arts Center in Miami, Florida, and premiered by the New World Symphony Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas on 26 January 2011. The work was co-commissioned by the New World Symphony Orchestra with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony and the Barbican Centre, London.
- for mezzo-soprano, baritone, and large orchestra, commissioned by Robin Boyle and dedicated to Witold Lutosławski and his wife Danuta, was premiered on 7 July 2013 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra as part of that year's BBC Proms.
- Powder Her Face
- Adès's 1995 chamber opera with a libretto by Philip Hensher, won both good reviews and notoriety for its musical depiction of fellatio. The opera was commissioned by Almeida Opera Festival, and has since been given new productions by chamber opera groups around the world. The Duchess depicted in the opera is the notorious Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll whose scandalous behaviour in Britain in the early 1960s was revealed during her divorce trial with the introduction into evidence of photographs of her various sexual acts. Adès's "Concert Paraphrase" on Powder Her Face for solo piano was premiered by the composer for the Vancouver Recital Society on 14 March 2010 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; the work was co-commissioned by the VRS, San Francisco Performances, and the Barbican Centre in London.
- The Tempest
- with a libretto by Meredith Oakes adapted from Shakespeare's play, was premiered to critical acclaim at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in February 2004, followed by productions at the Strasbourg Opera and the Copenhagen Opera House later in 2005. Its US premiere staging by the Santa Fe Opera took place on 29 July 2006. The opera was revived by Covent Garden in March 2007 to great acclaim. A production by Frankfurt Opera, staged by Keith Warner and conducted by Johannes Debus in January 2010 was the first in Germany. EMI's recording of the Covent Garden performance of The Tempest won Adès the title of Composer of the Year in the 2010 Classical BRIT Awards. The Metropolitan Opera included The Tempest in its 2012–13 season, conducted by Adès and produced by Robert Lepage. The same production was seen in Vienna in the summer of 2015.
- The Exterminating Angel
- after Luis Buñuel's 1962 film El ángel exterminador, was premiered at the 2016 Salzburg Festival, and was later produced at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Metropolitan Opera, New York and Royal Danish Opera, Copenhagen; the four co-commissioners and co-producers of the opera.
- The Fayrfax Carol
- a cappella choral composition. Written originally for King's College, Cambridge, 1997, the piece has been recorded by ensembles such as the BBC Singers and also the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus. The work received its U.S. West Coast premiere by International Orange Chorale of San Francisco.
- Five Eliot Landscapes
- Adès's first opus, published in 1990.
- a seven-movement, 20-minute string quartet (Op. 12), was recorded in 1998 along with other work from the 1993 to 1994 period.
- Cardiac Arrest
- a work for chamber ensemble of 7 players. The piece is based on song by Madness. It received its premiere at Meltdown, Purcell Room, London in 1995 by Composers Ensemble.
- a mixed chamber work for clarinet, piano, violin and violincello. It premiered in 1993 at St George's, Brandon Hill, Bristol by Lynsey Marsh, Anthony Marwood, Louise Hopkins and Thomas Adès.
- Chamber Symphony
- a work for 15 players, Chamber Symphony lasts approximately 13 minutes and was given its first performance at the Cambridge Festival of Contemporary Music, West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge by Contemporary Music Festival Ensemble under the baton of Thomas Adès in 1991.
- Concerto Conciso
- a work for piano and chamber ensemble (10 players). The piece was given its premiere at the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group under Thomas Adès in 1997.
- Court Studies
- this chamber work for clarinet, violin, cello and piano lasts approximately 8 minutes and was given its premiere in 2005 at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh Festival by the Composers Ensemble.
- Four Quarters
- this string quartet was commissioned by the Carnegie Hall Corporation, and, was premiered in 2011 at Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York by the Emerson String Quartet.
- Les baricades mistérieuses
- for clarinet, bass clarinet, viola, cello and double bass. Written for Wilfred Mellers's 80th birthday, it was first performed at Dartington International Summer School's Great Hall by The Composers Ensemble in 1994.
- Lieux retrouvés
- for cello and piano. Co-commissioned by the Aldeburgh Festival, Wigmore Hall and Carnegie Hall. First performed at Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Suffolk by Steven Isserlis and Thomas Adès in 2009.; 2016 BBC Proms UK Premiere of Version for orchestra
- Life Story
- a work for soprano and chamber ensemble of 3 players, Life Story is set to Tennessee Williams's text. It was written for The Composers Ensemble and received its first performance in 1993 at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge University.
- Living Toys
- for chamber ensemble of 14 players. The work was commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain for the London Sinfonietta. Conducted by Oliver Knussen, the work was premiered in 1994 at the Barbican Hall, London.
- The Origin of the Harp
- a mixed chamber ensemble work for 10 players was commissioned by the Halle Orchestra. It began life in 1994 at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester under the baton of the composer himself.
- Piano Quintet
- received its premiere at the 2001 Melbourne Festival, Australia by Thomas Adès (piano) and the Arditti Quartet. Recording of the work with Adès on the piano and the Arditti Quartet (plus Schubert's Trout Quintet – with Belcea Quartet – as its companion) was released in 2005 on CD by EMI.
Other musical activities
In 1993, at the age of twenty-two, Adès gave his first public piano recital in London as part of the Park Lane Group series of recitals.
Adès was the first Music Director of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group from 1998 to 2000. He served as Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival from 1999 to 2008; he was succeeded in 2009 by the pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard.
In 2000, he was composer-in-residence of the Ojai Festival in California (along with Mark-Anthony Turnage), under the artistic direction of eminent music impresario Ernest Fleischmann. While there, performances included:
- The U.S. West Coast premiere of "Asyla," with Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic
- "Darkness Visible" and "Still Sorrowing" performed by pianist Gloria Cheng
- "These Premises are Alarmed" conducted by Rattle with the Los Angeles Philharmonic
He is also a noted pianist, having been a runner-up in the BBC's Young Musician of the Year competition in 1990. EMI has released a CD of Adès as a solo performer called "Thomas Adès: Piano" and several CDs as an accompanist, frequently with Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and others. As a student Adès was a percussionist; he is noted for having played percussion in Stravinsky's "Les noces" under Sir Simon Rattle.
He was resident with the Los Angeles Philharmonic during their 2005/6 and 2006/7 seasons as part of the orchestra's "On Location" series at Walt Disney Concert Hall and other locations. Performances included:
- Adès conducting the U.S. premiere (co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Berlin Festival) of the Violin Concerto, performed by Anthony Marwood, along with selections of "The Tempest".
- Chamber concerts with L.A. Philharmonic musicians with Adès at the piano in pieces by Schubert and Beethoven.
- Chamber concerts of music for piano and violin by Stravinsky, with Adès at the piano and Anthony Marwood on violin at the Doheny Mansion for the Da Camera Society of Mount St. Mary's College.
- Adès conducting a Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group "Green Umbrella" concert featuring Piano Quintet (U.S. West Coast premiere), Origin of the Harp (U.S. premiere), and Chamber Symphony, Opus 2 (U.S. West Coast premiere), plus "Scenes from a Novel" by György Kurtág (Elizabeth Keusch, soprano soloist) and "Cantus Planus" by Niccolò Castiglioni.
- "Powder Her Face" with the USC Thornton Opera and members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, at the Bing Theater on the campus of the University of Southern California, conducted by Adès, with stage direction by Ken Cazan, set design by Peter Harrison, and lighting design by David Jacques.
- A chamber music programme featuring Adès on the piano with members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a programme that included Jean Françaix's "Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano," "Nell'ombra, nella luce" by Steven Stucky, and the "Piano Quintet No. 2" of Gabriel Fauré
- Adès conducting a Green Umbrella programme featuring the U.S. premiere of Gerald Barry's "The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit."
- Adès conducting "Asyla" with the Los Angeles Philharmonic
- Adès conducting the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in a program of works including Adès' Overture from The Tempest, his Violin Concerto Concentric Paths, and his and Rosner's (visuals) In Seven Days Piano Concerto with Moving Image
- Adès and the Calder Quartet in a program of works including Adès' Arcadiana, his Darkness Visible, his Three Mazurkas, and his Piano Quintet, with Adès as pianist
- Adès conducting the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) in a program or works including Adès' Les Baricades Misterieuses, his Three Studies from Couperin, and his Chamber Symphony
- ANAM presenting a program of works including Adès' Living Toys
Adès, who frequently performs works by Leoš Janáček, contributed an essay titled "'Nothing but pranks and puns': Janáček's solo piano music" to Paul Wingfield's compilation entitled Janáček Studies, published in 2006 by the Cambridge University Press.
- Powder Her Face was made into a film by Channel 4 and shown on Christmas Day 1999 in the UK. The film was released on DVD in the UK for Christmas 2005, including a documentary film about Adès made by Gerald Fox at around the same time. It is also available in the US.
- Asyla (along with Mahler's 5th Symphony) formed Sir Simon Rattle's opening concert with the Berlin Philharmonic. The two concerts given were recorded and released as a DVD in 2002.
- "The Tempest": the Metropolitan Opera production from 2012, conducted by Adès, was issued on DG. Prospero: Simon Keenlyside; Ariel: Audrey Luna; Caliban: Alan Oke; Miranda: Isabel Leonard; Ferdinand: Alek Shrader; King of Naples: William Burden; Antonio: Tony Spence; Stefano: Kevin Burdette; Trinculo: Iestyn Davies; Sebastian: Christopher Feigum; Gonzalo: John Del Carlo. The production was by Robert Lepage.
Audio CD as composer
- Life Story (1997)
- Living Toys (1998)
- Asyla (1999)
- Powder Her Face (1999)
- America (2004)
- Adès/Schubert: Piano Quintets (2005)
- Violin Concerto (2007), download release.
- The Tempest (2009)
- Tevot, Violin Concerto, Three Studies from Couperin, Dances from Powder Her Face (2010)
- Thomas Adès: Anthology (2011) including Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face and Three Mazurkas
- In Seven Days (Signum Classics, Nicholas Hodges, Rolf Hind, Thomas Adès, 2011)
- Polaris (2012), download release.
- Lieux retrouvés (Hyperion, Steven Isserlis, Thomas Adès, 2012)
- Cello World (with Steven Isserlis) (1998)
- Thomas Adès: Piano (2000)
- Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared (with Ian Bostridge) (2002)
- The Music of Poul Ruders, vol.4 (2004)
- Stravinsky: Complete Music for Violin and Piano (Hyperion, Thomas Adès/Anthony Marwood, 2010) 
- "Holloway: Trios – 'quick-witted music'" by Richard Fairman, Financial Times, 6 July 2018
- "University of Essex Calendar". University of Essex. Archived from the original on 7 October 2012.
- Huizenga, Tom. "Berlin Philharmonic, in Concert at Carnegie Hall". NPR Music. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- "New board elected: Thomas Adès, Joseph Calleja and Alessandro Di Profio new members", European Academy of Music Theatre, 10 October 2015
- Thomas Ades – Asyla 1997 Accessed 3 May 2013
- Prom 38, 15 August 1999 Accessed 3 May 2013
- "2000 – Thomas Ades". grawemeyer.org. 30 November 1999. Archived from the original on 31 December 2013.
- London Sinfonietta/Adès – review | Music. The Guardian. Retrieved on 14 January 2014.
- Fleshler, David. "The New World Symphony opens its new multimedia home". theclassicalreview.com. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
- The Tempest Archived 18 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine at Oper Frankfurt, January 2010. Accessed 6 November 2012.
- "Boston Symphony Orchestra Members – Boston Symphony Orchestra". www.bso.org. Retrieved 26 October 2017.
- The Tempest at Metropolitan Opera, 2012. Accessed 6 November 2012.
- Tom Service: "Sailing Into Stormy Musical Waters", The New York Times, 19 October 2012
- "The Exterminating Angel review – Adès delivers unmissable operatic adaptation" by Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 30 July 2016
- Arcadiana – Chamber/Ensemble Works – Repertoire. Faber Music (23 April 2001). Retrieved on 14 January 2014.
- Cardiac Arrest – Chamber/Ensemble Works – Repertoire. Faber Music. Retrieved on 14 January 2014.
- Catch – Chamber/Ensemble Works – Repertoire. Faber Music (27 February 1999). Retrieved on 14 January 2014.
- Chamber Symphony – Chamber/Ensemble Works – Repertoire. Faber Music (21 October 1996). Retrieved on 14 January 2014.
- Concerto Conciso – Chamber/Ensemble Works – Repertoire. Faber Music (18 November 1997). Retrieved on 14 January 2014.
- Court Studies from The Tempest – Chamber/Ensemble Works – Repertoire. Faber Music. Retrieved on 14 January 2014.
- Four Quarters, The – Chamber/Ensemble Works – Repertoire. Faber Music (14 March 2011). Retrieved on 14 January 2014.
- Les baricades mistérieuses – Chamber/Ensemble Works – Repertoire. Faber Music. Retrieved on 14 January 2014.
- "Lieux retrouvés". www.fabermusic.com. Retrieved 26 October 2017.
- Life Story – Solo Voice – Repertoire. Faber Music. Retrieved on 14 January 2014.
- Living Toys – Chamber/Ensemble Works – Repertoire. Faber Music (24 August 1997). Retrieved on 14 January 2014.
- Origin of the Harp, The – Chamber/Ensemble Works – Repertoire. Faber Music (6 October 1994). Retrieved on 14 January 2014.
- Piano Quintet – Chamber/Ensemble Works – Repertoire. Faber Music. Retrieved on 14 January 2014.
- Rian Evans (18 March 2008). "BCMG/Adès (CBSO Centre, Birmingham)". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 April 2008.
- "Thomas Adès". www.fabermusic.com. Retrieved 26 October 2017.
- "Film Review: Colette" by Peter Debruge, Variety, 21 January 2018
- Steven Isserlis. "Cello World". Amazon. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
- "Stravinsky: Complete music for violin and piano". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
- Adès, Thomas and Service, Tom: "Thomas Ades: Full of Noises: Conversations with Tom Service". Faber and Faber, UK, 2012. ISBN 9780571278978
- Fox, Daniel. 2014. "Multiple Time-scales in Adès's Rings" in Perspectives of New Music, v. 52, no. 1.
- Inverne, James, "A Most Auspicious Star", New York: Opera News, v. 69, no. 11, May 2005 pp. 46–51
- Mays, Desirée, "The Tempest" in Opera Unveiled, 2006, Santa Fe, New Mexico: Art Forms Inc, 2006[page needed]
- Whittall, Arnold. 2001. "Adès, Thomas (Joseph Edmund)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Thomas Adès – official site
- Thomas Adès discography at Discogs
- Thomas Adès profile at Faber Music
- Thomas Adès on EMI Classics
- Thomas Adès list of works at Faber Music
- Thomas Adès at Askonas Holt Ltd
- Thomas Adès at Sonning Music Prize
Reviews and other
- Service, Tom, "Writing music? It's like flying a plane", The Guardian, 26 February 2007. Rare interview, focussing on Tevot
- Culshaw, Peter, "Don't call me a messiah", The Daily Telegraph, 1 March 2007. Another rare interview, previewing UK premiere of Tevot, the "Traced Overhead" festival at the Barbican, and The Tempest revival at Covent Garden
- Fox, Christopher, "Tempestuous Times: the Recent Music of Thomas Adès", Musical Times, Autumn 2004 (short article)
- Ross, Alex, "Roll Over Beethoven: Thomas Adès", The New Yorker, 2 November 1998
- "Noises, Sounds, Sweet Airs From Young British Hope" by Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, 23 February 2004. Review of the Royal Opera House, London premiere of The Tempest
- Downey, Charles T., "Ionarts in Santa Fe: The Tempest," Ionarts, 31 July 2006. Review of the Santa Fe Opera's U.S. premiere of The Tempest
- "Thomas Adès biography" (in French). IRCAM.
- Adès, dieu des concerts, 2012 Interview (in French) 15 June 2012, Liberation