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Leif Ove Andsnes Returns to U.S.This Week, Crowning Epic “Beethoven Journey"

This week, Gramophone Hall of Fame inductee Leif Ove Andsnes returns to the U.S. to crown the final leg of “The Beethoven Journey,” his epic four-year focus on the master composer’s works for piano and orchestra, with three live performances featuring the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, his fellow traveler since the project’s inception. In a two-night residency at New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Norwegian pianist leads a complete Beethoven concerto cycle from the keyboard, giving accounts of the Second, Third, and Fourth concertos on February 23 and of the First and “Emperor” concertos two days later. Hosted by New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert and Jeff Spurgeon, the first concert will be broadcast live on WQXR, and Andsnes and the orchestra also offer a preview of their first program at the New England Conservatory, in Boston’s Celebrity Series (Feb 22). 

As his journey’s end approaches, the pianist reflects: “Working on these concertos for three years has proven to me that you can’t put Beethoven in any box! His music has total freedom and you have to recreate everything. … Over and over again I have felt the fresh impact of these works” (see his statement in full below).

It is his partnership with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra that anchors “The Beethoven Journey,” and their outstanding musical rapport consistently draws especial praise. The UK’s Guardian comments: “You’d be hard put to find a pianist and orchestra better matched,” while Gramophone magazine observes: “There’s so much more to this partnership than just exceptional playing; there’s a palpable sense of discovery.”

Their Beethoven Journey recording series on Sony Classical, for which label Andsnes records exclusively, has already proved a resounding success worldwide. The first installment was named iTunes’ Best Instrumental Album of 2012 and awarded Belgium’s Prix Caecilia; the second was pronounced “a landmark of artistic integrity, intelligence, and musical insight” (Telegraph, UK); and the third was a Gramophone “Editor’s Choice.” As a three-CD boxed set, The Beethoven Journey was named one of the “Top Music Recordings of 2014” by the New York Times; as Germany’s Rheinische Post put it, “The trite appellation ‘definitive recording’ applies absolutely and unreservedly to this Sony cycle.”

Andsnes reflects on the final leg of “The Beethoven Journey”:

“’The Beethoven Journey’ has been important for me in so many ways, both personally and in my development as an artist. It has helped me see that my career is not about jumping from place to place playing great works, but rather about having unifying ideas behind the projects that I take on, and seeing those projects in the context of a bigger picture.

“There is no end to the discoveries that can be made about the character of Beethoven and his music. ‘The Beethoven Journey’ has opened my eyes to just how much freedom there is in this music. When I started 25 years ago, Beethoven was a mystery. I knew he wrote in the Viennese classical period; I checked off the box that said he was a revolutionary. But working on these concertos for three years has proven to me that you can’t put Beethoven in any box! His music has total freedom, and you have to recreate everything in these pieces.

“At the beginning of ‘The Beethoven Journey’ I thought about how I would feel after living with these works for so long. Would I be bored? Would I miss other composers and the works I might have played? But I am so relieved – that hasn’t happened at all! I’ve had such a strong reaction from other people. I had hoped this project would reach people, but the reaction from audiences made it so obvious that this music means so much to so many people when given a convincing performance.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the audience – their need for the music and for the sheer emotion of the music. The spontaneity that one can achieve with these pieces is greater than in any other piano concertos I can think of. We think of the piano concerto as an exciting genre with all these splashy colorful pieces written later on. But the content of Beethoven’s pieces is so explosive. Over and over again I have felt the fresh impact of these works. I didn’t know that I would feel like this after three years, and am so grateful to the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Sony Classical, and all of the presenters who have invited me to perform these works, for the faith they have placed in me and in this endlessly inspiring music.”