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For Leif Ove Andsnes, February Brings Release of Two-Piano Stravinsky Album with Marc-André Hamelin, Plus Next Leg of New York Philharmonic Residency

On February 2, Leif Ove Andsnes – the celebrated Norwegian pianist whose discography has already been recognized with six Gramophone Awards and BBC Music’s “Recording of the Year” – looks forward to the release of Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring & Other Works for Two Pianos Four-Hands.

Recorded with Marc-André Hamelin for Hyperion, the new album is the first to capture on disc the collaboration that has, in live performance, been variously hailed as “a keyboard partnership of titans” (The Times of London) and “a meeting of two champions at the top of their game” (Washington Post). Just days after the release, Andsnes returns to the New York Philharmonic, where he currently serves as 2017-18 Artist-in-Residence, for Britten’s Piano Concerto under Antonio Pappano (Feb 8–10), before heading to Miami for Debussy’s Fantaisie for piano and orchestra with Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony (Feb 17 & 18). Click here to hear an excerpt from Andsnes and Hamelin’s performance of The Rite of Spring at Carnegie Hall earlier this year.


New Stravinsky album on Hyperion

The centerpiece of Andsnes and Hamelin’s all-Stravinsky two-piano album is The Rite of Spring. First heard in public when the composer played through its opening half with Debussy, the piano four-hands arrangement of the Rite was also the first version to be published. For their two-piano arrangement, however, Andsnes and Hamelin have included a number of passages from the orchestral version that were missing from the four-hand original. Comparing their version with the orchestral one, the Norwegian pianist explains:


“In the two-piano version, listeners can really hear the inner workings, the ‘skeleton’ of the piece, and its rhythms and harmonies are more clearly delineated. For people who know the orchestral version very well and then hear it on two pianos, they get a fresh look into the piece. It becomes so transparent how the composition is built, its intrinsic workmanship. It’s very fascinating. Furthermore, there is sometimes such barbaric, direct, violent language in this composition that it’s pretty good on two pianos because the piano can be a very percussive instrument.”


Click here to hear Andsnes explain further.

The new recording also features the Concerto for Two Pianos. One of Stravinsky’s most important neoclassical keyboard works, the Concerto was written to perform with his son Soulima. Andsnes says:


“Stravinsky’s Concerto for Two Pianos is rarely performed. It is a very good title because it really is concerto-like for both instruments. It’s a virtuoso piece, full of colors and rhythmic excitement.”


Rounding out the album are three of the shorter pieces that Andsnes and Hamelin played as encores on tour. It was Soulima Stravinsky who transcribed “Madrid” for two pianos. Although better known as the fourth of his father’s Quatre études for orchestra, this was originally scored for pianola. By contrast, the tonal and popular Tango was written for solo piano, and – like the Circus Polka – arranged for piano duet by famed duo pianist Victor Babin. Subtitled “For a Young Elephant,” the Circus Polka was composed for the ballet George Balanchine choreographed for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which premiered at Madison Square Garden with a cast of 50 ballerinas and as many elephants. Andsnes confesses:


“These pieces are just so much fun to have as encores. You can’t do the Circus Polka without the audience giggling – it’s such a humorous piece! It’s so nice to send people home with smiles on their faces.”


Despite the unforgiving nature of duo piano performance, and the rigorous synchronicity it requires, the quality of the Norwegian pianist’s collaboration with Hamelin must also be credited with many of those smiles. “To be in a musical partnership with real trust – there’s nothing better than that,” Andsnes says. When the two pianists toured together, critics on both sides of the Atlantic were quick to recognize their rare rapport. After their Wigmore Hall performance, The Guardian admired the “ideal balance” they achieved, in which “neither had lost his individuality, but the team was the thing. … Andsnes and Hamelin’s performance [of the Rite] had the irresistible power and momentum of a juggernaut.” The Financial Times marveled at their “mesmerising partnership” and the “myriad colours” they brought to the Concerto. The Times of London agreed: “We know their separate brilliancies … and at Wigmore Hall they combined with a sort of chemical finality. It was explosive.” Likewise at Carnegie Hall they impressed the New York Times with their “fearless, incisive and surprisingly alluring account” of the Rite and “commanding performance” of the Concerto, while their Chicago concert was “a resounding success,” in which “the judiciously balanced Hamelin and Andsnes struck sparks off one another to produce an astonishingly clean yet tremendously exciting performance. Here was a very different Rite of Spring than most of us know … [that] one was grateful to experience at white heat” (Chicago Tribune). A “mini-taster” preview video for the album is available here.


Success of recent Sibelius release

The new album follows on the heels of Leif Ove Andsnes: Sibelius. Released in September by Sony Classical to a chorus of approval, the pianist’s latest solo title broke the top ten on Billboard’s traditional classical chart and reached the number two spot in France. Gramophone named the recording a November “Editor’s Choice,” calling it “a real discovery!” and Classical Source welcomed it as “a milestone recording of poetic address, … a voyage of intimate personal belief and dedication … [that] is revealing, rewarding, cathartic.” France’s Le Monde called the pianist “a magician of sound, a liberator of buried secrets,” while Radio France heralded his new collection as “a major discovery.” France’s Figaro agreed: “Andsnes brings depth and delicacy, which only reinforces the poetry of the collection. A beautiful rediscovery.” According to The Guardian, “You feel a door to Sibelius’s mysterious world has been unlocked. And the playing is beautiful.” “Andsnes transports the listener with a wonderful landscape of color,” affirmed Germany’s NDR Kultur. As the UK’s Arts Desk put it, “This wonderfully recorded collection deserves to sell in spades. Spread the word.


February dates with New York Philharmonic & New World Symphony

This fall, 20 years after making his New York Philharmonic debut with Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto under Neeme Järvi, Andsnes launched his tenure as the orchestra’s 2017-18 Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence with “a revelatory account” (New York Times) of the composer’s rarely-programmed Fourth Concerto, now under the leadership of the conductor’s son Paavo Järvi. His Sibelius encore was “devilishly captivating and again showed how Andsnes is pure magic” (Bachtrack).


Rachmaninoff’s Fourth is just one of the cornucopia of rarities Andsnes explores over the course of the residency, which sees him return to New York in the New Year for performances of Britten’s little-known Piano Concerto, conducted by Antonio Pappano. The pianist’s 1999 recording of the work with Paavo Järvi and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was heralded as “ravishing” (Gramophone), and he reprises it with multiple European orchestras this winter, namely the Vienna Symphony, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, and Oslo Philharmonic with Alan Gilbert.


For his second U.S. concerto collaboration of the winter, Andsnes joins the New World Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas for Debussy’s Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra, another remarkable rarity that is also the vehicle for the third and final orchestral program of his Philharmonic residency this spring (April 26–28). Click here to see Andsnes discuss his residency at the New York Philharmonic.


Acclaim for European recital tour

These orchestral engagements follow the pianist’s extensive fall recital tour, which took him to 14 of Europe’s musical hotspots with a program of Sibelius, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, and Jörg Widmann. Once again, the critical consensus was overwhelmingly positive. In a five-star review, the Financial Times singled out his “classical sensibility allied to the most ethereal of touches,” and the way he commanded “the audience’s rapt attention.” “Andsnes has produced an extremely original program, which contained authentic rarities … all played superlatively,” noted Spain’s El País, proclaiming him “one of the best pianists of today.” Conjuring “pure poetry in everything from Beethoven and Schubert to Sibelius and Widmann,” this was “interior magic from a master colourist,” concluded The Arts Desk. “No encore flash from this pianist, only infinite depths.”


To download high-resolution photos, click here.


Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring & Other Works for Two Pianos Four-Hands

Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin, pianos

Label: Hyperion

International release date: Feb 2

Click here to preorder from iTunes


Stravinsky (arr. Andsnes/Hamelin): The Rite of Spring

Stravinsky: Concerto for Two Pianos

Stravinsky (arr. Soulima Stravinsky): Madrid

Stravinsky (arr. Babin): Tango

Stravinsky (arr. Babin): Circus Polka


Leif Ove Andsnes: winter engagements


Jan 18 & 19

Oslo, Norway

Oslo Philharmonic / Alan Gilbert

Britten: Piano Concerto

Feb 8–10

New York, NY

New York Philharmonic / Antonio Pappano

Britten: Piano Concerto


Feb 17 & 18

Miami, FL

New World Symphony / Michael Tilson Thomas

Debussy: Fantaisie for piano and orchestra


Feb 23 & 24

Bergen, Norway

Schumann: Songs (with Matthias Goerne)


March 8

Berlin, Germany

Pierre Boulez Saal

Schubert: Winterreise, D. 911 (with Matthias Goerne)


March 17

Berlin, Germany

Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin / Alain Altinoglu

Britten: Piano Concerto


March 21 & 22

Vienna, Austria

Vienna Symphony Orchestra / Jakub Hrůša

Britten: Piano Concerto


April 6 & 7

Stavanger, Norway

Stavanger Symphony / Eivind Gullberg Jensen

Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2


April 12 & 13

Oslo, Norway

Oslo Philharmonic / Michael Tilson Thomas
Debussy: Fantaisie for piano and orchestra


April 18

London, UK

London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski

Royal Festival Hall

Debussy: Fantaisie for piano and orchestra


April 26 & 28

New York, NY

New York Philharmonic / Edward Gardner

Debussy: Fantaisie for piano and orchestra


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© 21C Media Group, December 2017

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