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Jan 19–31: Leif Ove Andsnes Plays Dvořák & More on North American Solo Recital Tour, Capped by First Carnegie Hall Recital Since 2015

Leif Ove Andsnes (photo: Helge Hansen for Sony Classical)

(November 2022)—“In Andsnes, Dvořák could not have a more compelling storyteller,” writes Gramophone about Leif Ove Andsnes’s new Sony Classical recording of Dvořák’s Poetic Tone Pictures. Having just added a seventh Gramophone Award to his already extensive string of honors, early next year Andsnes showcases his interpretation of the Czech composer’s unjustly neglected piano cycle alongside works by Beethoven, Janáček, Vustin and Silvestrov on a high-profile North American solo recital tour. After dates in La Jolla (Jan 19), Costa Mesa (Jan 20), San Francisco (Jan 22), Denver (Jan 23), Washington, DC (Jan 24), Toronto (Jan 26), Atlanta (Jan 28) and Chicago (Jan 29), this takes the celebrated Norwegian pianist to New York City (Jan 31), for his first Carnegie Hall recital since 2015. U.S. audiences will also have the chance to see Andsnes in concert next spring, when he returns to the Cleveland Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas for Debussy’s Fantaisie (April 13–16).

I think it is the great forgotten cycle of 19th-century piano music. Maybe those are big words, but I do feel that,” says the pianist of the Poetic Tone Pictures. The most substantial of Dvořák’s piano collections, the cycle comprises 13 little-known gems that signal a stylistic shift away from the formal constructions of his earlier instrumental writing towards a freer, more Romantic aesthetic. Andsnes explains:

“The pandemic gave me the chance to study Dvořák’s strangely neglected Poetic Tone Pictures, Opus 85. He intended the set to be performed as a cycle, not just as individual pieces, and I love its programmatic mix of high art and low. Poetic short stories like ‘Twilight Way’ and ‘At the Old Castle’ rub shoulders with the frivolity of ‘Joking’ and ‘Tittle-Tattle.’ There is intimacy in ‘Reverie,’ drama in ‘At a Hero’s Grave,’ wild virtuosity in ‘Bacchanal,’ and a ‘Serenade’ that develops into the most touching of love songs. Studying the cycle has been a most wonderful discovery, for this is life-affirming music of the greatest invention and imagination.”

Released on October 28, his recording of the work for Sony Classical has already inspired glowing praise. “Andsnes is persuasive throughout and his championship of these charming miniatures has yielded dividends,” observed the Financial Times. Veteran British critic Rob Cowan agreed:

“Andsnes, whose teacher was Czech, melds a seemingly limitless command of keyboard colours with a deep understanding of this immediately appealing repertory. … Much as I value first-rate recordings of these pieces by distinguished Czechs such as Kvapil and others, Andsnes – whose playing is beautifully recorded – must now take pride of place.”

As BBC Radio 3 concluded: “This performance is full of colour. Every miniature is very characteristic and you are immediately drawn into these worlds. … Extraordinary!

At all destinations on the upcoming tour, Dvořák’s cycle forms the second half of a recital program that opens with three more recent works. The first of these is Lamento by the late Russian composer Alexander Vustin. Andsnes recalls:

“In 2019 I invited Vustin, then 70 years old, to the Rosendal Chamber Music Festival in Norway. It was only his second time traveling outside Russia and he was clearly affected by having lived for so many years under the oppressive regime there. I found it very touching, not only to get to know him and his music, but also to see him listening with his whole being to festival performances of Shostakovich. Later I was deeply saddened to learn that Vustin passed away during Moscow’s first wave of Covid infections, in April 2020.”

Andsnes then segues to Janáček’s Piano Sonata 1.X.1905, “From the Street. He writes:

“Paying tribute to a worker killed in a demonstration on October 1, 1905, the sonata is still chillingly relevant today. As I write these lines in late September 2022, young Iranian demonstrators are being killed in the streets of Tehran, and brave Russians are out voicing their resistance to the devastating war that threatens their lives. Janáček’s sonata is full of the anger and sadness we feel as we confront the meaningless war in Ukraine.”

As something of an epilogue, Andsnes follows the sonata with one of the Bagatelles by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, which the pianist describes as “dreamy fragments that seem to evoke memories of times past, or perhaps hopes of something better.”

At both Atlanta’s Spivey Hall (Jan 28) and New York’s Carnegie Hall (Jan 31), Andsnes completes his opening half with Beethoven’s beloved “Pathétique” Sonata. He writes:

“As in Janáček’s sonata, there is also anger in the ‘Pathétique.’ In the first movement, the sudden outbursts and pianistic effects, such as the constant bass tremolo and the crossing of hands in the second theme, were shocking for their time and can still feel radical to us today. The other movements provide relief and contrast: the melodies of the second movement are all-embracing and the final Rondo is Mozartian in its balance of energy, drama and grace.”

Elsewhere, at all his other North American tour stops, Andsnes instead performs Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 31, Opus 110. He notes:

“Vustin’s Lamento anticipates the ‘Song of Lamentation’ (‘Klagender Gesang’) in Beethoven’s Opus 110. A most profound operatic aria, the song represents the heart of this compact sonata, in which Beethoven juxtaposes the ‘high art’ of the last movement’s spiritual arias and fugues with the ‘low art’ of the scherzo’s child-like folk songs.”

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Following the tour, Andsnes returns to the U.S. for spring performances of Debussy’s Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra with Michael Tilson Thomas and the Cleveland Orchestra (April 13, 15 & 16). Withdrawn by the composer before its scheduled premiere, the Fantaisie remained unpublished in its entirety until a full half-century after Debussy’s death. When Andsnes and Tilson Thomas performed it with the New World Symphony, South Florida Classical Review was moved to marvel:

“The fleet-fingered Andsnes conveyed a full range of pianistic colors. A master at sweeping, big-boned whirls of melody and pyrotechnics, he played the Rachmaninoff-like sections at full power … but also displayed a sensitive touch. … Terrific.”

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The pianist’s international honors already included six Gramophone Awards, and he received a seventh last month, when he was recognized with Gramophone’s 2022 “Special Achievement” Award for his two-volume Sony Classical series, Mozart Momentum 1785/86. “This had Gramophone Award written all over it,” said jury member Harriet Smith. She continued:

The sense of a shared journey of exploration between Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra makes for a thrilling listen. … What is striking is the egalitarianism: Andsnes is the leader of a gang who clearly adore him both as person and musician. (You can hear it in every note, just as you could see it watching him and his fellow musicians interact in the Royal Albert Hall.) These recordings could not have been made without the experience of the earlier ‘Beethoven Journey’ project, but Andsnes’s relationship with the orchestra, impressive then, has deepened. … Mere words are not going to cut it: go and experience this music-making for yourself – it will make the world feel like a better place.”

Click here to download high-resolution photos.

Leif Ove Andsnes: upcoming North American engagements

Jan 19–31: North American solo recital tour
     Jan 19: La Jolla, CA (La Jolla Music Society)
     Jan 20: Costa Mesa, CA (Segerstrom Concert Hall)
     Jan 22: San Francisco, CA (Davies Symphony Hall)
     Jan 23: Denver, CO (Newman Center for the Performing Arts)
     Jan 24: Washington, DC (Washington Performing Arts Society)
     Jan 26: Toronto, ON (Koerner Hall)
     Jan 28: Atlanta, GA (Spivey Hall)
     Jan 29: Chicago, IL (Chicago Symphony Center)
     Jan 31: New York, NY (Carnegie Hall)
VUSTIN: Lamento
JANÁČEK: Piano Sonata 1.X.1905, “From the Street”
Valentin SILVESTROV: Bagatelle, Op. 1, No. 3
BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 31, Op. 110 [most locations] BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 8, Op. 13, “Pathétique” [Atlanta & NYC only] DVOŘÁK: Poetic Tone Pictures

April 13, 15 & 16
Cleveland, OH
Cleveland Orchestra/ Michael Tilson Thomas
DEBUSSY: Fantaisie

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© 21C Media Group, November 2022


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