Press Room

Leif Ove Andsnes: Rachmaninov and Risor

Celebrated Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes takes two key projects to festive conclusions this fall. Shortly after the release on October 26 of a new Rachmaninov recording on EMI Classics, Andsnes embarks on a tour with the Risor Chamber Music Festival, which culminates in performances at New York’s Carnegie Hall this December.  The new recording of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos 3 and 4 with Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra – quickly named a Gramophone Editor’s Choice – joins his previous Rachmaninov recording of Concertos 1 and 2 with Pappano and the Berlin Philharmonic, completing the cycle of the great Russian composer’s four piano concertos.  Later this fall, Andsnes winds down his tenure as co-artistic director of the renowned Risor Chamber Music Festival with concerts in Oslo (Nov 20), Brussels (Nov 22 – 24), London (Nov 26 – 28), and New York (Dec 1 – 4).
In his Editor’s Choice commentary, Gramophone editor James Inverne praised the “immense musicality” and “jaw-dropping dexterity” of Andsnes’s new Rachmaninov recording.  Reviewer Geoffrey Norris noted the “judicious sensuality” and “impressive physicality” of Andsnes’s performance of the third concerto, a work known, says Norris, for its “notoriously difficult and stamina-sapping” qualities”. Turning to the fourth concerto, Norris characterizes it as “a performance in which grandeur, wistfulness and incisiveness coalesce to striking effect.” He asserts that “the strengths of the collaboration in the Third are equally in evidence in the Fourth, together with an impulse that reveals the music’s blend of Romanticism and modernity with exhilarating freshness.”  A video preview of the new recording is available here:
Andsnes’s previous Rachmaninov release, featuring Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 with Pappano conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, won a coveted Gramophone Award in 2006 and was nominated for a Grammy Award.  Early in 2011, EMI Classics will release Andsnes’s recording of Schumann’s complete Piano Trios with violinist Christian Tetzlaff and his sister, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff.
Andsnes’s first U.S. performances of the season come later this fall, when he joins a dynamic group of musicians for a four-day residency in New York inspired by the Risor Chamber Music Festival.  The concerts at Carnegie Hall will span a remarkably diverse spectrum of repertoire, beginning on December 1 with a program at Zankel Hall that includes the Risor Festival Strings in Honneger’s Symphony No. 2, “Symphony for Strings”, as well as the two-piano arrangement of Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps, for which Andsnes is joined by Marc-André Hamelin. The wide-ranging program on December 2, also at Zankel Hall, mixes the U.S. premiere of works by two Scandinavian composers – Rolf Wallin’s Under City Skin and Bent Sorensen’s Schattenlinie – with Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor and Mozart’s late masterpiece, the Quintet for Clarinet with Strings, K. 581, with clarinetist Martin Fröst.  The Risor forces move to Carnegie’s main stage for the December 3 performance, which features Richard Strauss’s luminous Sextet from Capriccio, Andsnes’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 14 in E-flat major, K. 449, soprano Measha Brueggergosman singing Schoenberg’s arrangement of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, and Bartók’s Divertimento for Strings. The final program of Carnegie Hall’s Risor Festival takes place on December 4 at Zankel Hall and features a mixed program of chamber music and songs, including Grieg’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1, Brahms’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, and Brueggergosman in music by Liszt, Duparc, Brahms and Wagner, as well as Chausson’s Chanson perpétuelle, Op. 37. 
The Risor Chamber Music Festival, now in its 20th season, is located in a scenic fishing village in southern Norway. Looking back on two decades of work in Risor, including his close collaboration with violist Lars Anders Tomter, Andsnes reflected in an interview: 
“It’s hard to describe how important the Festival has been in my life. I came here when I was 20, and Lars Anders asked me to play in the first two festivals, following which he invited me to join him as Artistic Director. I have met so many people through this festival – so many musicians that I have continued having relationships with, recording and touring with, and I’ve met many friends here and learned so much music.”
The festival’s inspired programming – mixing old and new music in thought-provoking combinations (this year’s festival was tied to the theme of “Revolt”), glorious natural setting, and pairing of both world-renowned musicians and young, up-and-coming Scandinavian and other artists have made this small town in Norway an international cultural destination.  New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini visited Risor in July 2002 and reported about it enthusiastically: 
“Discovering the Risor Festival of Chamber Music, held in this small coastal town of fishing boats and wood-framed houses situated between two gaping fjords in southeast Norway, is like stumbling upon a fabulous little out-of-the-way restaurant that you are almost reluctant to tell people about for fear it will be overrun and lose its character. But after experiencing four days here last week, a whirlwind of music, music and more music, with time out for a harbor cruise, a hilltop bike ride and some elegant meals, I am professionally compelled to share my excitement and spread the news. …Under the artistic leadership of the acclaimed Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and the eloquent Norwegian violist Lars Anders Tomter, the Risor Festival…has redefined what a chamber music festival can be.”
“But however charming the setting,” Tommasini reminded his readers, “it’s the music-making that is putting this festival on the map.”  And it’s that dynamic, intensive and intimate style of music-making that will be front and center when Andsnes and his colleagues bring the spirit of Risor to New York this fall. 
Tommasini’s entire report from Risor can be read at the New York Times web site:
Leif Ove Andsnes discusses his new Rachmaninov CD and the fall tour of the Risor Chamber Music Festival in the Q & A that follows.
For additional information, visit
Leif Ove Andsnes Discusses Rachmaninov and Risor
You’ve told some interviewers that you personally rank your new Rachmaninov CD as the concerto recording you are most proud of.  That must feel like a great way to finish your cycle of the composer’s four concertos!
Yes, I am very pleased with how this recording turned out.  It’s the second time, in fact, that I have recorded the third concerto, which is one of the first big concertos that I learned.  I began focusing on it when I was just 20, studied it intensely for a year a half, and threw myself into playing it for the first time when I was 22.  There was definitely something crazy about taking on this composer’s biggest piano work at this time.  This was the first work by Rachmaninov that I learned, and I was starting with the most difficult of all of his difficult pieces! It is such a gigantic thing to lift off. 
What are the greatest challenges?
There are numerous ones, but the most important is that the music has to really fly and show all the contrasting, diverse emotions.  It’s often been put in a box as this impossible virtuoso piece – nearly impossible to play – but there’s so much more to this piece.  Horowitz played it with such great fireworks, but there are 40 different ways you perform and record it.  There’s so much room for interpretation.
How different is your new recording of the third concerto from your first recording of it?
I was only 25 when I recorded it the first time, and I think my approach to it now has much more contrast and temperament.  I suppose you can say that my playing is much more daring this time around.   I really love this piece, and it was such an important work for Rachmaninov.  The work possesses a very romantic language, and it’s full of nostalgia, but it also has something dangerous in it:  a wild – I suppose you could say 20th-century – undercurrent that you don’t find in the second concerto.  Something new appears in the third!
And what is the fourth concerto all about?
With the fourth we experience such a new language as Rachmaninov tries to integrate and incorporate 20th-century elements.  There are neo-classical elements reminiscent of Stravinsky, sounds that suggest the music of Copland and the influences of urban life. Those vertical chords at the end of the first movement are New York City and skyscrapers – very urban and far from what we usually think of with Rachmaninov.
How about jazz influences?
Absolutely.  Rachmaninov was wild about and influenced by Art Tatum.  The second movement is lounge music, but so refined and sophisticated that he takes it to a completely different level.  There’s also something very mystical about this work, a quality that reminds you that he and Scriabin were friends.  With its harmonic language and structures it is very much a restless 20th-century concerto. 
Why do you think the fourth has lagged in popularity?
I think it’s because, except for the second movement, it doesn’t have the long, sweeping melodies people expect from Rachmaninov. It’s very difficult to perform together with the orchestra.  I can hardly think of a piece that is more underrated or misunderstood, and it’s important to me to champion it. I often think it’s my favorite. 
Well, many lesser-known but worthy works really do require impassioned advocacy to find their way into the public’s hearts and minds.
The Britten Concerto is such a piece as well.  I made my Proms debut with it.  With the huge repertoire available to a pianist, there are so many pieces that can get lost.  I hope our new recording really helps people connect with Rachmaninov’s fourth. I feel like I had a complete understanding with the conductor with this project.  Antonio Pappano and I work very well together, and I’m very proud of what we achieved.
Another of your big priorities for the fall will be a four-city tour of the Risor Chamber Music Festival. 
It’s hard to believe, but this is my last year as an artistic director of this wonderful festival.  In fact, the last concert at Carnegie Hall on December 4 will be my last concert as director.  It’s such a wonderful thing to bring the festival around to places outside our little village in Norway. The concept of the tour started with invitation to New York, but we’ll also be stopping in Brussels and London.  It’s quite a big undertaking, especially because we knew that if we were going to show what it’s all about, we had to bring the orchestra!
Tell us about the programs.
They are rather ambitious, and of course they show quite a few of the aspects of the Risor programming, especially the wild contrasts between familiar classical and chamber works coupled with contemporary new pieces and commissions. I’m very excited to be doing Stravinsky’s Sacre for two pianos:  we performed it two years ago and it was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done.  The fall programs we’ll be doing are a summary of the past few years.
Besides your approach to programming, what are other key elements that make the Risor experience so special?
The festival is such a great meeting place for musicians.  We try to combine musicians that haven’t worked together before, mixing established international artists with the best Scandinavian or younger artists that don’t have solo careers.  Orchestra musicians play chamber music.  It’s an explosive way of doing programs!  Everyone is so keen and prepared.  At Risor, we avoided doing solo recitals featuring one artist.  Instead, we put different groups together in each program, mixing songs, sonatas, vocal works, and contemporary works with various numbers of musicians.  People listen to each other perform, and there’s such a feeling of community.  I think this is the way to put together great programs.  You can’t normally do things this way, because you don’t have 30 people to work with for most performances.  With this festival approach, I don’t play one recital, but participate in several programs – and it’s an extremely rewarding experience.
Leif Ove Andsnes: upcoming engagements
October 30
London, UK
London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2
Nov 1-7
European tour with London Philharmonic / Vladimir Jurowski
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2
Madrid, Spain (Nov 1)
Pamplona, Spain (Nov 2)
Stuttgart, Germany (Nov 4)
Friedrichshafen, Germany (Nov 5)
Düsseldorf, Germany (Nov 6)
Hannover, Germany (Nov 7)
Nov 20-28
Risor Chamber Music Festival tour (Europe)
Oslo, Norway (Nov 20)
Brussels, Belgium (Nov 22-24)
London, UK (Nov 26-28)
Dec 1-4
Risor Chamber Music Festival tour (New York, NY)
Carnegie’s Zankel Hall (Dec 1) includes Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring with Marc-André Hamelin
Carnegie’s Zankel Hall (Dec 2) includes music by Debussy, Wallin, Sorensen, and Mozart
Carnegie Hall (Dec 3) with Risor Festival Strings and soprano Measha Brueggergosman
Carnegie’s Zankel Hall (Dec 4) with soprano Measha Brueggergosman
Dec 12
Berlin Philharmonic Pianist-in-Residence
Chamber concert
Dec 19-21
Dresden, Germany
Dresden Staatskapelle / Herbert Blomstedt
Mozart: Mozart Piano Concerto No. 24
Jan 20 & 21, 2011
Bergen, Norway
Bergen Philharmonic / Edward Gardner
Hvoslef: Piano Concerto
Feb 2, 4
Amsterdam, Holland
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / Mariss Jansons
Feb 5
Amsterdam, Holland
Chamber concert
Feb 6-14
European tour with Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / Mariss Jansons
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 24 or Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2
Hamburg, Germany (Feb 6)
Copenhagen, Denmark (Feb 7)
Oslo, Norway (Feb 8 & 9)
Stockholm, Sweden (Feb 11)
Luxembourg (Feb 13)
Paris, France (Feb 14)
Feb 17-19
Chicago, IL
Chicago Symphony / Riccardo Muti
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2
March 16-18
Berlin, Germany
Berlin Philharmonic Pianist-in-Residence
Berlin Philharmonic / Bernard Haitink
March 28 (t.b.c.)
Copenhagen, Denmark
March 30
Bergen, Norway
April 1-7
U.S. recital tour
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 21 in C, Op. 53 “Waldstein”; Brahms: Four Ballades, Op. 10; Schoenberg: Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 19; Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111
Jordan Hall, Boston, MA (April 1)
Symphony Hall, Chicago, IL (April 3)
Krannert Center, Champaign-Urbana, IL (April 5)
Carnegie Hall, New York, NY (April 7)
April 13 – May 16
European recital tour
Rome, Italy (April 13)
Perugia, Italy (April 14)
St. Petersburg, Russia (April 16)
Berlin, Germany (Berlin Philharmonic Pianist-in-Residence) (April 18)
Madrid, Spain (April 26)
Vienna, Austria (April 28)
Hamburg, Germany (May 8)
Geneva, Switzerland (May 11)
Dijon, France (May 13)
Toulouse, France (May 16)
May 25
Paris, France
Orchestre de Paris / Paavo Järvi
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2
May 28
Vienna, Austria
Orchestre de Paris / Paavo Järvi
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2
June 8
Berlin, Germany
Berlin Philharmonic Pianist-in-Residence
Chamber concert



Return to Press Room