Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes Mixes Classical Music, Contemporary Art

Leif Ove Andsnes performs with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.(Photo: anna_t)
Leif Ove Andsnes performs with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.(Photo: anna_t)

A couple of years ago, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Leif Ove Andsnes, a world-class Norwegian concert pianist, became the first classical pianist to record live at an Apple Store event. While the number of Classical downloads are not, and never will be, as high as that of other musical genres, any record label (orchestra, chamber group, or solo artist, for that matter) owes it to themselves to use this technology to their advantage.

But while collisions between classical music and technology are an important aspect of nurturing and growing this art form, there are many meaningful collisions of forms and disciplines that artists like Leif Ove Andsnes are staging.

Take, for instance, his 2009 exhibit, Pictures Reframed, in which Andsnes and South African artist Robin Rhode teamed up not to foster new music, but to marry classical music with visual forms. Andsnes explains:

Classical music is a little in despair … It feels sidelined, it doesn’t feel contemporary enough. There is a need to find different ways of presenting it. What does one do to create more interest, to make classical music seem more contemporary, apart from just commissioning new pieces?

The exhibit’s centerpiece is a video that shows a piano being slowly drowned in water, a “killing” (as they describe it) of the classical music era.

Andsnes chose Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for visual accompaniment and play (manipulation).

“That was my interest,” says Rhode, “that this entire composition was based on sketches. I looked at all the works that inspired Mussorgsky’s music. They’re very open to interpretation. There is an incompleteness to it as well.”

The two joined up a few years back, when Andsnes was shown Rhode’s work, which he described as having “such musicality to it and such a poetic feeling.”

It was Rhode’s idea to murder a piano, which besides being eye-catching in its perversity — a challenge to convention — was designed to encourage people to “start to listen with their eyes.”

While the music remains the main reason to seek out performances by Andsnes, his (and other artists’) notion of pushing the boundaries of their art, taking the single dimension of sound and making it three-dimensional adds an intriguing dimension to his performances.

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