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.
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. In Spring 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.