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A career comes together

Leif Ove Andsnes, 35, has been hailed as the standard-bearer of his generation at the piano.

November 29, 2005|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Like many denizens of the classical music world, Leif Ove Andsnes started out as a prodigy. The oldest of four children of a pair of music teachers, he was born on Karmoy, an island of 30,000 inhabitants off the western coast of Norway, and started playing his chosen instrument at the age of 4.

All the same, Andsnes says, "I sort of became a pianist before I had the idea of doing so. I was 16, 17, playing concerts, making debuts with orchestras. I thought, 'Oh, I'm now a musician.' "

The problem, he says, was reconciling his destiny with his adolescence. "It was like having two personalities: one, a student at home, going to school every day; the other, having to live up to expectations of being a pianist on an international scene. I had to learn everything, from languages and how to behave and order in a restaurant to dealing with pressure from organizers, orchestras and conductors. It took years to become one person."

These days, few would doubt that that effort was successful. At 27, Andsnes received the prestigious $300,000 Gilmore prize, which honors an international pianist of any age. Now 35, he has been called by critic Charles Michener "perhaps the standard-bearer of his generation." And tonight at Walt Disney Concert Hall, he will begin a 10-concert residency with the Los Angeles Philharmonic scheduled to run through May.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 30, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Composer's era -- An interview with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in Tuesday's Calendar section described Edvard Grieg as an 18th century composer. Grieg was active primarily in the latter half of the 19th century.

This evening's concert, with the orchestra's Chamber Music Society, will focus on chamber works by Mozart, a composer Andsnes has also recorded, but he has a striking range of musical interests. They extend from the first Viennese school -- Haydn and Beethoven as well as Mozart -- up to Rachmaninoff, Mussorgsky, Lutoslawski, Gyorgy Kurtag and Marc-Andre Dalbavie. The last two will also be part of his residency, as will an example of his Schubert collaborations with British tenor Ian Bostridge.

"I find myself being interested in lots of different things," Andsnes said last week, speaking by phone from Copenhagen, where he maintains one of his two homes (the other is in the Norwegian coastal city of Bergen, about 85 miles north of Karmoy). "But I never think of myself as someone who has a big repertory. There are many different composers and styles, many directions I want to go when I'm young. Maybe later on, I will specialize."

One work that he hopes to revive respect for while in Los Angeles is Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor, which he will perform in three concerts, beginning Thursday, with the entire Philharmonic led by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Not so long ago, the 18th century Norwegian's concerto was as familiar to classical audiences as just about anything in the piano repertoire, but then it seemed to vanish as a concert staple.

"Lots of people looked down on the Grieg concerto because it doesn't fit our intellectual concepts of symphonic development, at least in the Germanic sense of material being developed in a Beethovenian way," said the pianist, who recorded it in 1991 and again in 2002. "It can seem like episodes of inspired material and very difficult passages that maybe don't belong together.

"Actually, it's an awkward piece," he added. "Grieg was a very young man when he wrote it, only 25. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do. But it's his only successful bigger piece, actually.

"I feel there is so much going for it, so many surprising harmonies, so much beauty. It must never become sentimental in expression. It has to be something very direct or it can be syrupy."

Many contemporary listeners might prefer to hear some of Andsnes' repertoire, such as works by Mozart, played on a period fortepiano rather than a modern concert grand. His choice of the latter is quite deliberate, however.

"I feel I've developed my musicianship and technique through playing the modern piano, and that's really my medium," he said.

"I like to listen to fortepiano recordings, [but] I think they're a problem in concert halls today, which are too big for that instrument. They don't make much sound. On recordings, it's a different matter. The speaking quality of those instruments is something which I always like. They have an inspired rhetorical quality."

As for what's next for the restlessly curious Andsnes, French music is a new fascination.

"Recently, I've been involved with Dalbavie," he said of the composer who was born in 1961. "In August, I performed the world premiere of his piano concerto at the Proms in London. And I'm doing the American premiere in Cleveland in January, and also in Chicago."

In fact, the work was written for him.

"It's an incredibly interesting sound world," he said. "Dalbavie loves one idea slowly transforming itself to another. I had to rethink everything. I was so used to playing Germanic music, which has a goal and direction and a drama, whereas Dalbavie seems to go in circles, one idea slowly turning itself into another."

Los Angeles won't hear the concerto, but it will hear Dalbavie's "Tactus" and "Axioms" on a Philharmonic Green Umbrella program Dec. 6.

Other events to be part of the residency include Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 14 (Dec. 8-11) and, in May, a lieder-sonata program with tenor Bostridge.

"Residencies are nice to do," Andsnes said. "You get to work more closely with an institution, get to stay in one place for a little longer than two days, and get to connect with an audience in different ways in different settings. There's some kind of fascination in that."


Chamber Music Society

Where: Walt Disney Concert Hall,

111 S. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: 8 tonight

Price: $16 to $43

Contact: (323) 850-2000 or


What: Los Angeles Philharmonic

Where: Walt Disney Concert Hall,

111 S. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday

Price: $15 to $129

Contact: (323) 850-2000 or

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