Leif Ove Andsnes: Moments of freedom (part 2)

In the first part of our interview with the luminary Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes he put into words his experiences of personal transcendence through music and the ultimate reward of absolute freedom. In part two we discuss concrete projects: the highly anticipated Pictures Reframed project, The Risør Festival of Chamber Music and Andsnes’ burgeoning role as a teacher.

Leif Ove Andsnes 2009 (photo: Yngve Leonhardsen/MIC) 3

Again, the concept of transcendence is at the heart of the audacious artistic endeavour Leif Ove is undertaking this year with visual artist Robin Rhode. Pictures Reframed is an ambitious audiovisual performance of Russian romantic composer Mussorgsky’s seminal piano piece Pictures at an exhibition.

-Pictures at an exhibition is the most image-evoking piece written for piano, says Leif Ove. And that is coming from me, who never experiences music in images! The music was inspired by the paintings of Mussorgsky’s friend Hartmann, but in my opinion Mussorgsky’s visions are infinitely much larger than those of the pictures that inspired it. The narrative of the music is incredibly strong and our aim with this project is to let both the musical and the visual aspects take up this strength in equal measure. It would be a tragedy if the images came across as mere illustrations of the music, or vice versa. What we want is to transcend both perceptive paradigms and hopefully create an entirely new experience; something both extremely abstract and completely concrete. Robin takes his inspiration from the original paintings, from the music and from Mussorgsky himself. This entails a set of very diverse visual expressions, and the clue is that the grand piano –with me behind it- is a concrete part of this imagery. Thus the music materializes as part of a concrete context, while the concrete also has an abstract simultaneity.
The whole idea is that these aspects coexist in equal strength. It is not a matter of a struggle that will be resolved, but rather a juxtaposition that will result in something new, transcending both sights and sounds.

Leif Ove Andsnes is at the very summit of the world of classical music, which also entails the power to realize his own projects.

-It is a wonderful feeling to have the leverage to see my own ideas come to fruition. A lot of people are working very hard to make Pictures Reframed happen, and it is a great privilege to have access to that kind of resources. It is a form of power of course, but first of all I think of it as a great liberty: Normally the role of the classical musician is to fit into programs conceived by someone else.

More than anywhere else Leif Ove exercises this freedom at the Risør Festival of Chamber Music in southern Norway. Under the artistic direction of Andsnes and Lars Anders Tomter the festival has been established as one of the best and most popular chamber music festivals in the world, not least among the musicians.

-I think it is very important and wholesome that musicians take things into their own hands, says Leif Ove. In the classical world things have a tendency to become very abstract; you travel around the world and work within a framework engineered by others. At Risør everything is very concrete and hands-on.
Leif Ove Andsnes 2009(Photo: Yngve Leonhardsen/MIC) (300x441)

Leif Ove started as artistic director at Risør almost twenty years ago, when he was still very young. In his extremely busy international schedule it has become one of the very few regular events of the year, and a sanctuary.

-Yes, Risør has become an important anchorage for me personally and socially. Over the years I have met so many people and made so many friends there. Many of the people involved with the festival are like an extended family of mine.

The festival used to take its theme from a composer, but for the past three years they have opted for a more conceptual approach. This year the leitmotiv is revolution.

-Our notion is to focus on composers that were audacious and made great artistic leaps in their time. The chief character is Beethoven, he is the most revolutionary composer of all, but we also want to present the revolutionary context that he worked within. He was a child of the French revolution: ideas of struggle, uprising and victory permeated the whole of society. We want to exhibit the importance of context and point to the fact that politics and art are always intertwined. At Risør we certainly hope that there will be a lot of yelling and throwing of tomatoes.

Leif Ove has to run from our interview. Before tonight’s performance with The Norwegian Chamber Orchestra in Oslo he is off to give piano lessons at the Norwegian Academy of Music where he holds a 20 % post as professor.

-The desire to teach is something that has grown forth over the past few years, says Leif Ove. I learn a lot from teaching because it forces me to put problems into words and conceptualize. Passing things on is a very valuable way of developing. I wish I had more time, but fortunately the Academy has a travel budget, which means that my two students can come and visit me at home in Bergen or Copenhagen.

Two students with every reason to be content with the arrangement of their studies then: regular lessons at home with on of the leading pianists of our time.

(Part 1)

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