“You never know what’s waiting around the corner,” says Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes about Beethoven, as he tries to describe his personal outlook on his so-called ‘Beethoven Journey’ to the intimate audience gathering at WQRX’s Greene Space Studio.
Beethoven builds up a large structure based on very simple motives that, while very organic, holds many melodic surprises. Andsnes has discovered a sort of obsession with resonance in Beethoven’s work, which is evident in his use of extremely long trills and long pedal markings, which on the modern piano ring even longer than they did on instruments in Beethoven’s time. Andsnes wonders if perhaps these preferences were caused by Beethoven’s eventual loss of hearing.
In the interview with Jeff Spurgeon, following his performance at Green Space on last Saturday afternoon, Andsnes mentioned the handwritten score of Beethoven’s famous Sonata no. 21, op. 53 (Waldstein) – a piece Andsnes is about to perform along with Sonata no. 22, op. 54. In this score of one of Beethoven’s longest sonatas, Andsnes first recognizes Beethoven’s high-energy writing, which is expressed in the speed of the composition as well as the extensive, vehement building of contrast in this oeuvre. As one of the master’s longest works, Andsnes explains that it also contains lengthy passages featuring transformations of repeating fragments that occur throughout the text, a part of a journey filled with haunting motives and building expectations; expectations that are ultimately fulfilled in the inseparably connected finale of the Waldstein.
Just three days before his webcasted performance at The Greene Space, Andsnes opened the New York Philharmonic’s season with György Kurtag, Op. 27, No. 1 (called quasi una fantasia / for Piano and Groups of Instruments) and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Answering Jeff Spurgeon’s somewhat rhetorical questions rather animatedly, Andsnes recalls how his particular interest in Beethoven actually had started: ”I was in Sao Paulo, performing and staying in a hotel, whereupon entering the elevator the first and second Beethoven concerto were played repeatedly on end. At first I thought, oh no – but it inspired a new take on Beethoven, who has not really been the real center of my repertoire. I thought to myself: ‘it is time to grow up… and do some Beethoven!’”
Of course Andsnes had studied some Beethoven in the past. At age seven he played the Moonlight Sonata, which he found felt pianistically foreign, but he did recognize in it an important dramatic element in the piece. He says, “Beethoven’s music does not have the obvious sensual elements like Chopin or Grieg… but there is such an incredible sincerity.”
Andsnes sometimes likes to compensate for Beethoven’s excessive reliance on the resonating properties of the piano, and does not play some of the pedal markings quite as long as the score calls for, which he believes adapts the music better to today’s piano. He feels “the music is large enough for different approaches.” I personally loved his liberal approach, and found it very effective.
Andsnes plans to feature Beethoven,’s oeuvre as part of an upcoming project that he is working on for Sony, which will contain all Beethoven concertos recordings alongside the Gustav Mahler Orchestra. Andsnes will also be directing a massive series of international performances stretching through the 2014/15 season in conjunction with the Norwegian Stiftelsen Kristian Gerhard Jebsen.