Leif Ove Andsnes still big on Beethoven

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      When the Georgia Straight reaches pianist Leif Ove Andsnes at his home in Bergen, Norway, he’s taking a respite from packing his bags for the North American tour that will bring him to Vancouver this weekend. Life on the road never ends for even the most elevated performers, it seems. But at least one of Andsnes’s voyages has come to a happy conclusion: his Beethoven Journey, which found him recording all five of Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano concertos and performing them with Berlin’s Mahler Chamber Orchestra in cities around the globe.

      “It felt very strange, in a way, to end it, especially to say farewell to the wonderful musicians that I’d played so much with,” he says of the project, which had its finale in London, England, earlier this year. “But I have to say it was also a little bit liberating, to feel that I could play any music I wanted.”

      Beethoven’s not done with him yet, though. On the program for Andsnes’s upcoming Vancouver Recital Society matinee is the German maestro’s Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major, which he describes as his “comfort” after concluding his four-year-long Beethoven intensive.

      “That’s a new piece for me,” he says, “so I knew that I had one sonata to study and look forward to—and to keep me in Beethoven’s company in the months to come.”

      Asked what he learned during his Beethoven immersion, Andsnes contends that it was more about gaining a deeper appreciation of what he—and the world—already knew.

      “I just sensed, more and more, the diversity of the music, the emotions and the magic of that music,” he says. “And there’s so much different music. I mean, this sonata, which is a quite sunny and playful sonata, is so alive, with so many characters, that it’s fun to both work on and play in performance.…We often think of Beethoven as this very stern-looking figure, with his bad health and his handicap, being deaf, on his shoulders, and with the gravity of all that serious music. But there is also so much joyful and uplifting music from him, and this sonata is a very good example.”

      Beethoven’s 18th sonata will end the first part of Andsnes’s recital, to be followed after intermission by a selection of brilliant miniatures from Claude Debussy and Frédéric Chopin. Opening the show, however, will be some music that’s rarely performed in Vancouver: six short nature sketches by the Finnish master of symphonic form, Jean Sibelius.

      “For me, he’s by far the greatest Nordic composer we have, and I’ve loved his orchestral music for many years,” Andsnes notes. “I will, at the same time, be the first person to admit that the piano music is probably the most uneven part of his output. Sibelius would often make quite satirical remarks about his piano pieces, saying that he didn’t really understand the piano and that he wrote these pieces to make money and so on. And maybe that’s partly true! He’s certainly not a pianist-composer; his music doesn’t lend itself naturally to the hand. This doesn’t hide the fact that he was a great composer, and if one selects carefully between all his pieces, there are really some jewels—and I think I’m doing that with the works in this program. I think they’re wonderful.”

      Wonderful enough, he adds, that they’ll be the next works he’ll record—but Sunday’s concert is a chance to say you heard them first.

      Leif Ove Andsnes plays a Vancouver Recital Society matinee at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Sunday (November 22).