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Leif Ove Andsnes Plays Chopin on New Sony Release; Schumann, Bartók and Janáček on North American Solo Recital Tour; and Brahms and Mozart in Concert
Source: 21c

Leif Ove Andsnes, “a pianist of magisterial elegance, power and insight” (New York Times), kicks off his 2018-19 season with Sony Classical’s release on September 7 of Chopin: Ballades & Nocturnes, his first recording of the composer’s music in more than a decade. In recital, the celebrated Norwegian pianist debuts a colorful program of Schumann, Bartók and Janáček, which he performs extensively in Europe before embarking next January on a North American solo recital tour of Boston, San Francisco, La Jolla, Montreal, Chicago, and New York, where he returns to Carnegie Hall. Brahms’s First Piano Concerto is the vehicle for collaborations with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra and for tours of Germany with the Staatskapelle Dresden and Japan with the Berlin Radio Symphony (BRS). Also with the BRS, Andsnes plays Mozart, whose concertos are the focus for his dates with the Munich Philharmonic, Budapest Festival Orchestra, and Mahler Chamber Orchestra (MCO), which he leads from the keyboard on a tour of Germany, France, and Portugal that marks the launch of his major new multi-season project, “Mozart Momentum 1785/86.”

New Sony Chopin album

On Chopin: Ballades & Nocturnes, Andsnes intersperses the Romantic master composer’s four Ballades – works immense in the range and power of their expression – with three of his nocturnes. The pianist explains:
“My new Chopin album features music I’ve loved since I was twelve years old, and over time I’m just getting closer and closer to this world. This is very elusive music! It’s so confessional, and it speaks to me like no other. It’s not only the amazing melodies and harmonies – though already that’s ingenious – but how Chopin goes in a split second from one emotion to another – from something simple and superficial into a very deep, sorrowful place. This is particularly the case with the four Ballades, which are so incredibly rich and surprisingly epic for pieces that only last between seven and eleven minutes each. This is the peak of Romanticism for the piano. That’s why I consider this a Mount Everest recording for me: I have always thought this the greatest piano music we have.”
The four Ballades are widely recognized as Chopin’s crowning achievement. On the new album, Andsnes performs them all: No. 1 in G minor, a work known, as he puts it, for one of “the most haunting melodies in the whole of piano literature;” No. 2 in F, which is dedicated to Schumann and captures the two extremes of the composer’s personality; the gentle and elusive No. 3 in A-flat; and No. 4 in F minor, which the pianist considers Chopin’s “most complex masterpiece,” and has only recently started performing in public.
To create breathing space, Andsnes intersperses the Ballades with three of Chopin’s nocturnes. Drawn from different periods of the composer’s life to show their range and diversity, the three he has chosen are the Nocturne in F, Op. 15, No. 2, which he describes as “very innocent with a dark stormy middle section;” the tragic Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1; and the Nocturne in B, Op. 62, No. 1, “a serene, beautiful piece, typical of Chopin’s late style, … reflecting his love for Bach.” (See track listing below.)
Andsnes’s feeling for Chopin has already drawn notice in live performance. His recital at London’s Royal Festival Hall last November prompted a five-star review in the Financial Times, which marveled:
“Andsnes brings to Chopin a classical sensibility allied to the most ethereal of touches, adorning Chopin’s bel canto melody with decoration of rare delicacy. His First Ballade combined a glowing beauty and a fearless but never reckless technique.”
The new recording is the latest addition to Andsnes’s already extensive and distinguished discography. Now an exclusive Sony Classical artist, he is a Gramophone Hall of Fame inductee whose output has been recognized with six Gramophone Awards, eight Grammy nominations, an unprecedented ten Norwegian Spellemannprisen, and BBC Musicmagazine’s “Recording of the Year.” His most recent solo title, Leif Ove Andsnes: Sibelius, was released by Sony Classical last September to a fanfare of approval, breaking the top ten on Billboard’s traditional classical chart and reaching the number-two spot in France.

North American solo recital tour: Schumann, Bartók and Janáček

This winter, Andsnes tours on both sides of the Atlantic with a creative new solo recital program comprising Schumann’s Three Romances and Carnaval, Janáček’s On an Overgrown Path, and Bartok’s Three Burlesques. He says:
“The biggest piece is Schumann’s Carnaval, which I’ve loved since I was little, but this is the first time I have really studied it. It’s his Opus 9, written when he was in his twenties. The ‘carnaval’ of imaginary figures that he created was so crazy and so new at the time. It was the big Schumann piece for older generations of pianists, but now I find that one doesn’t hear it so often. You are more likely to hear the Fantasie or Kreisleriana. I find it amazing to study Carnaval now, it is so full of wild wonderful ideas.”
After dates in Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt, Florence, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other key European cities (Dec 1-19), this program takes him back to Boston’s Celebrity Series(Jan 18), La Jolla (Jan 20), San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall (Jan 22), New York’s Carnegie Hall (Jan 24), Montreal (Jan 26), and Chicago’s Symphony Center (Jan 27).
The New York date marks Andsnes’s first appearance in the city since completing his season-long tenure as Artist-in-Residence of the New York Philharmonic, during which he showcased a number of little-known works by well-loved composers, with “an incisive account” (New York Times) of Rachmaninoff’s Fourth Piano Concerto, a demonstration of “easy virtuosity and panache” (New York Times) in Debussy’s Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra, and “an exhilarating performance” of Britten’s Piano Concerto that was “a revelation” (New York Times). He concluded the residency with a solo recital at David Geffen Hall that once again showed him to be an “exceptional pianist,” ever willing “to take chances and get audiences thinking” (New York Times).

Brahms’s First Piano Concerto in Europe and Japan

Twenty years ago, when Andsnes recorded Brahms’s First Piano Concerto with Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Gramophone magazine observed:
“The more I hear it the more aware I am of just how formidable Andsnes’s playing is technically, and how mature emotionally. … It has about it a true sense of ‘occasion’, with beauties, excitements and moments of torrential splendour that are distinctively and thrillingly its own.”
Now, after many years apart, the pianist returns to the Brahms on tours with three major German orchestras. With the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin and Vladimir Jurowskihe tours Japan, playing the concerto in Tokyo, Hyogo, and Nagoya, besides giving solo recitals in Tokyo, Toyota, and across the Korea Strait in Seoul (March 17-27). The Brahms likewise takes him to concerts with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony and Andrés Orozco-Estrada (Feb 7 & 8) and to Dresden, Berlin, Dortmund, Munich, Cologne, Stuttgart, and Freiburg with the Staatskapelle Dresden and Herbert Blomstedt (Nov 10-21). The pianist comments:
“I can’t wait to do this music with the Staatskapelle Dresden: it has a depth of sound that is so fitting! And it’s so wonderful to do it with Blomstedt, who is so committed and young at heart at the age of 90.”
The concerto is also the vehicle for appearances with both London’s Philharmonia Orchestra under his frequent collaborator, Edward Gardner (Nov 1), and Spain’s Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia under Otto Tausk (Oct 19 & 20).

“Mozart Momentum 1785-86”

The other primary focus of Andsnes’s upcoming orchestral collaborations is Mozart. He plays the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C for an additional engagement with Jurowski and the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin (Feb 22) and in concerts with Manfred Honeckand the Budapest Festival Orchestra (April 27-29). Similarly, leading both orchestras from the keyboard, he pairs the concerto with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor in returns to the Munich Philharmonic (June 5-7) and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (MCO), with which he tours to Frankfurt, Berlin, Grenoble, Neauvecelle, Paris, and Lisbon (May 11-19).
The MCO tour marks the launch of “Mozart Momentum 1785-86,” a major new multi-season project that sees Andsnes and the MCO explore one of the most creative and seminal periods of the composer’s career, through concert and festival performances on three continents and a forthcoming Sony Classical recording. By showcasing Mozart’s transformative role in the development of the piano concerto, the pianist and orchestra look forward to presenting a rich portrait of the Classical master at the top of his game. As Andsnes explains:
“When you realize how quickly Mozart developed it is truly extraordinary. Within a year his concertos sound completely different. It makes you ask: why did this happen? What was going on? … It’s about the momentum of his creativity at this time, which must have been inspired by the need for this kind of concert and these kinds of pieces where he could show his abilities as a composer, performer and improviser. … The diversity of the five concertos written in these two years is unbelievable. … He’s at this place where he has total mastery.”
The project follows the success of “The Beethoven Journey,” perhaps Andsnes’s most ambitious achievement to date. This epic four-season focus on the master composer’s music for piano and orchestra took him to 108 cities in 27 countries for more than 230 live performances, highlighted by complete concerto cycles with the MCO at residencies in Bonn, Hamburg, Lucerne, Vienna, Paris, New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Bodø, and London. The subsequent hit Sony Classical series, The Beethoven Journey, was named one of the “Best of 2014” by the New York Times.

Matthias Goerne, Bent Sørensen, and more

Andsnes rounds out his 2018-19 season with recitals of Schubert lieder in Paris, Essen, and Barcelona with German baritone Matthias Goerne, one of his most frequent collaborators (Feb 23–March 10), and with a number of dates in and around his Norwegian homeland. These include headlining the Bergen Philharmonic’s season-opening concert with a performance of the Britten concerto (Sep 6) and anchoring a celebration of Bent Sørensen’s 60th birthday at the ULTIMA Oslo Contemporary Music Festival (Sep 15-21), where Andsnes looks forward to recording two works – his Piano Concerto No. 2, “La Mattina,” and Schattenlinie for clarinet, piano and viola – both written for Andsnes by the Danish composer. The pianist confides, “I feel very close to him and his music.”
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