"The Beethoven Journey": guided by this title, Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and the MCO embark on their joint Beethoven cycle in spring 2012. Over the course of three years, all of the composer’s piano concertos will be performed in concert and recorded for CD release by Sony Classical. Leif Ove Andsnes will lead the MCO from the piano.
On the first tour of the cycle in May 2012, Piano Concertos no. 1 and no. 3 will be played at the International Piano Festival Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli in Brescia and Bergamo, in Lugano and Torino, at the Semperoper in Dresden, at the Prague Spring Festival and in Bergen. The tour in 2013 will feature concertos 2 and 4, and in 2014 concerto 5 will be paired with the "Choral Fantasy". Sony Classical will release a CD with the corresponding recordings each year. Beethoven’s piano compositions will be matched with orchestral works by Igor Stravinsky on each tour. The entire project will culminate in the season 2014/15, when the complete cycle will be performed in a total of ten international classical music centres.
Leif Ove Andsnes, will you prepare for this project in a special or different way, especially considering that it extends over more than three years? Leif Ove Andsnes: Certainly. Before recording the concertos, I will be playing them a lot with different orchestras, with many different conductors and also a few times leading orchestras myself. At the same time I am also trying to include quite a few of the Beethoven sonatas in my recital programmes, and will hopefully be playing Beethoven’s chamber music also. I have often in my life worked intensely with one composer within a certain time frame, but never as extensively as in these coming years with Beethoven.
What does a Beethoven cycle mean in the artistic life of a pianist? Leif Ove Andsnes: I am realizing more and more how great Beethoven’s music is, and that it is becoming very important for myself to be working on this music regularly. In this sense, doing a Beethoven cycle is a gift and a pinnacle, because there is such diversity in the material and in the emotions that one never grows tired of this world. The piano was Beethoven’s instrument, and one feels that tremendous creativity has gone into the piano writing, through his fingers and through his incredible ability to improvise at the piano.
Do you see a special link between Beethoven and Stravinsky, who will serve as a kind of a musical counterpart in the programming? Leif Ove Andsnes: Well, a link is that they are both magnificently original composers. I mean, when I hear Beethoven’s "Eroica", or the Fourth Piano Concerto, or opus 111 or many of the string quartets, I often think: where did this music come from!? How could he hear that? It is so original, and so new, and so often not at all following in footsteps from the past. The same can be said of Stravinsky, of course. Where did Petroushka or Sacre come from? For me these two composers are, together with a few others — Berlioz, Chopin, Debussy — the most striking original minds in music history.
Is it a special challenge for you to lead the concerts from the piano or does it feel easier to work without a conductor? Leif Ove Andsnes: It is certainly a challenge, but I think it has advantages. When I am leading the orchestra, I am sitting with my back to the audience, playing on a piano without a lid. This might sometimes lead to some problems for the piano sound to project clearly into the hall, but it also means the possibility for very direct contact with the orchestra. I am facing them, we have eye contact, and we hear each other much better this way. These concertos are certainly real concertos, where the piano part is often a separate entity, sometimes even seeming to fight against the orchestra. But there are also so many passages of sheer chamber music, where the intimacy of sitting close together and having such direct contact is wonderful.
What were the reasons why you chose the MCO for this project? Leif Ove Andsnes: I am extremely happy to be doing this project with the MCO, which I consider to be the best of the best, and an absolute perfect orchestra for this music. I would also never have suggested to lead these concertos from the piano if it hadn’t been for the fact that I will have such great musicians to work with here, musicians who don’t need a conductor to actively show the beat all the time, but who are so strong in each group that it becomes at times like a huge chamber music happening. I am certain that I will be very inspired by what this orchestra can give to these masterpieces.