By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 17 JUNE 2013 "My love of Beethoven goes back to my
early childhood", Leif Ove Andsnes, the Norwegian pianist told me shortly
before his concert at the Théatre des Champs Elysées in Paris in April.
"But although I played some of his music in my twenties, it isnt until
now that I felt ready to record his works and had something new and
different, something really personal, to add to the many very good
recordings already around. I cant put into words what it is; if I could,
I wouldnt have made the recording," he laughed, "but Im working with the
Mahler Chamber Orchestra and leading them, conducting them if you prefer,
as well as playing the concertos, and thats not so common. Its rarely
been done on a recording, but it gives me complete control. I love being
so involved with the story the music is telling. Im completely in the
drama when Im playing and conducting at the same time instead of simply
sitting and waiting for my next entrance."
"Perhaps the main reason I have made this recording is because I really
enjoy playing his work which moves me profoundly. Beethovens music is the
most human and deeply spiritual there is, and each time I play there is a
surprise round every corner. There is the discovery of something new and
original; each of the five concertos, too, is so very different."
The pianist, now aged 42, told me that his first memory of Beethoven
was probably of the "Moonlight" Sonata when he was about six, when he
remembers being aware of the energy in the music as well as feeling that
Beethoven, very foreign to him, was really big and substantial.
"Of course there are child-like elements in his music, but they are not
so easy for a child to understand as he uses extremes, writing very high
in the trebles, or down in the bass," he continued. "I felt better and
more cosy with Mozart, for Beethoven is anything but! He almost seems to
be preaching and always has something important to say to humanity.
"Then, when I was 13 or 14, I got all his scores from the local library
and settled down to get to know the music. We had many recordings at
home," he added.
His parents were not professional musicians, but taught music to
children in schools, as well as having private pupils at home, which
prompted the young Leif to ask to play the piano too. As soon as he could
coordinate his two hands, he began to play pieces, not by ear, but by
reading the music. "I could probably say that music was my first
language", he smiled, "for I certainly knew how to read scores before I
could read childrens books."
Leif Ove Andsnes
One of the questions I asked him was why he chose to call his
recording, The Beethoven Journey.
"It might seem a pompous title, but thats how it feels to me for
several reasons," he replied. "Its a personal journey for me, and I
wanted to play these pieces everywhere, in different concert halls, in
different surroundings. I want to know what it was like at the beginning
of the 19th century. Although Ive played many of these pieces before,
there are still others which are new to me. Its also a geographical
journey, for Ive been playing and will play this music all over the
world. The Beethoven Journey covers a four year period, where I
will have played in over 50 cities, giving over 150
"Moreover, the recordings dont take place in Norway, where I now live,
nor Germany, but at the Dvorak Hall in Pragues Rudolfinum which is
a wonderful concert hall with outstanding acoustics. Its great there, and
the sound is so rich. And as the recordings are live, we have two concerts
to base the final recording on as the Spring Festival in the city offers
us two concerts a year.
"It was also an important place for Beethoven too, where some scholars
say he actually performed his first piano concerto.
"Im also happy to undertake this journey with the Mahler Chamber
Orchestra," he continued. "Its an orchestra so full of vitality and
capable of being both forceful and playful. It is much more intimate than
larger symphony orchestras as there are less musicians, an advantage with
this music. If there are too many string players, there is a carpet of
sound which isnt flexible. The sound becomes massive. Also, since there
are less of us, everyone is much more involved and it helps me find an
active way of phrasing which I love and which brings a greater diversity
of ideas and expressions to these magical pieces. When I play, Im often
looking at the other musicians and listening to them playing. Theres a
real dialogue between us."
Leif Ove Andsnes is currently working on the 2nd and 4th concertos in
preparation for further recording, always in Prague, at the end of May.
And future projects include Beethoven concerts in Chicago and Carnegie
Hall, New York, before playing all the concertos in Los Angeles with the
L. A. Philharmonic conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.
Will he miss conducting the orchestra? "If I was a viola player with a
small repertoire of pieces, then yes, I would be very tempted to take up
conducting, but there is such a variety of music for the piano that I want
to play. Im rational enough to realize that with so much great music
out there for the piano, why make a fool of myself as a conductor. Id
love to spend time with the French composers and am very attracted by
Debussy. And then Henri Dutilleux wrote a superb piano concerto in the
1950s which he considers one of his greatest pieces. I would love to play
Meanwhile, when not touring, and since having a young family of his
own, Andsnes is spending more and more time at his home in Bergen, where
he studied at Conservatoire of Music, and that despite the climate and
lack of contact with other international musicians.
"Its a small town with only 200,000 people, but it has a very fine
symphony hall and a good festival at the end of May where I play every
year. Its probably the best festival in the Nordic countries. I stopped
playing in the South of Norway after 17 years, when I became a father, and
the peace and quiet in Bergen is the perfect place to work. Perhaps all
that is in contradiction to how I felt ten years ago, but times have
The Beethoven Journey
Beethoven: Piano Concertos,
Nos. 1 & 3
Leif Ove Andsnes (conductor, piano)
Based in Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is a senior
editor and member of the editorial board of Culturekiosque. She last wrote
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