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Thomas Ades - Conducts Ades makes NPR Music's 25 favorite albums of 2020....so far

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How can it be possible that we're only halfway through the year? On its relentless whiplash toward the middle, the first six months of 2020 have reframed, redefined, shocked, torn down, confounded and crumbled our expectations, our priorities, our concepts of distance and closeness, of responsibility, of tragedy, of joy. They changed how we listened to music, too: so often alone, through wires and screens and glitches and delays. But in six full months packed with moments where we needed music to cope with challenges new and old, there was so much to see us through. These artists had their lives upended as well – it's amazing to look back on this six months of music and realize they made nearly all of it before the year even began. They'll give us so much more in the months to come, no doubt, as reckoning continues to rise to the surface of their songs. (Oh yeah, there's also a Beyoncé visual album on the way.)

Below, you'll find more than two dozen records from 2020's first six months that are worth holding onto for the next six, and beyond. We didn't vote on them. Each is the favorite of one member of the NPR Music team. You can find our favorite songs of the first half of 2020 here.

With a wink to heart-on-sleeve Romantic piano concertos by Rachmaninov, British composer-conductor Thomas Adès unleashes perhaps the most pleasing concerto written yet this century. A jolt of sheer joie de vivre, the piece features flamboyant orchestration (a duet for xylophone and piccolo?), sizzling passages deftly navigated by pianist Kirill Gerstein and a central slow movement that pushes yearning to new emotional levels. Adès Conducts Adès dropped in February and I listened to its concerto nonstop, until the pandemic hit hard. Then I turned to the grim and masterful Totentanz (Dance of the Dead). Adès was inspired by a 15th-century frieze depicting the figure of death waltzing with representatives of each rung of society, from Pope to peasant and finally an infant. Baritone Mark Stone sings the role of death with self-assured devilry, while mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn sensitively interprets his impotent victims. In orchestration that is massive, beautiful and frightening, Adès's music singularly underscores the inevitability of death in deadly times. -Tom Huizenga

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