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Leif Ove Andsnes: Ojai 2012 Edition

May 16, 2012

Leif Ove Andsnes Photo: Felix Broede
Just around the corner is the 2012 installment of the Ojai Music Festival that kicks off north of Los Angeles on June 7. This year’s festival is particularly exciting given that the rotating Music Director post falls to one of the classical music world’s great artists, Leif Ove Andsnes. He’s been a familiar face with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for years, but this visit to Ojai is different in that he’s helped assemble a program of works and collaborating artists that reflect his unique vision and highlight his own interests in 20th Century and more contemporary music. And while he’s no stranger to the ins and outs of festival programming, California and the outdoor stage of Ojai’s Libby Bowl are a unique setting with their own particular challenges. Andsnes has packed the four-day festival with numerous highlights from artist including Reinbert de Leeuw, the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, clarinetist Martin Fröst, mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn, and most intriguingly fellow pianist Marc-André Hamelin.

Hamelin will perform alongside Andsnes in a two piano version of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps on Sunday the 10th as well as John Luther Adams’ Dark Waves. Adams' music will be given prime real estate all weekend including two pieces on the festival’s opening night, Red Arc/Blue Veil and perhaps the highlight of the whole weekend, a free, festival-opening performance of Inuksuit - a huge “spatial” work to be performed by 46 different percussionists and piccolo spread out throughout Libby Park all under the direction of Steven Schick. The piece was a sensation when it was heard at New York’s Park Avenue Armory last year, and Ojai’s outdoor answer to that performance couldn’t be more Californian. (The work was deigned to be played outdoors and can be performed by a group of up to 100.)

Music from Norwegian composers Anders Hillborg and Bent Sørensen will feature in Saturday’s program including the U.S. Premiere of Sørensen’s Piano Concerto No.2 featuring Andsnes as soloist. There’s quite a bit of vocal music in the weekend as well with Stotijn scheduled to sing Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, as well as pieces from Berg, Bolcom, and Shostakovich. Even songs from Schumann and Schubert find there way into Friday’s performance in a reworked version for singing actress Barbara Sukowa arranged by Reinbert de Leeuw titled Im wunderschönen Monat Mai. The composers that clarinetist Martin Fröst will represent are equally as interesting, including works from Berg, Kurtág, Bartók, Copland and Mozart. Of course, Andsnes will be intimately involved in most of these collaborations, although still leaving time for a brief visit with Beethoven’s piano sonatas on Saturday afternoon. It promises to be another great year for music in Ojai, and luckily prior to all of this exciting music, Mr. Andsnes was kind enough to reflect on the OWA 10 Questions prior to a great start to his and our summer.
  1. What music would you most like to perform, but haven’t had the opportunity to yet?
    More Beethoven sonatas, Chopin works, and French music.
  2. What music, if any, would you never want to perform even if you had the opportunity to?
    Lots and lots of music, but I won’t mention names of living composers, as I don’t want to offend hard working composers. Of the older ones, at the moment it doesn't feel like I will ever play any music by Messiaen and Scriabin. Not because I don’t like the music, but because their characters are very foreign to me, and I can only admire their music from a distance.
Members of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra will join the 2012 Ojai Music Festival
  1. Has your experience as co-artistic director for the Risør Chamber Music Festival influenced your plans for the Ojai Music Festival which you’ll serve as music director for this year?
    Absolutely. I feel that I have lots of experience in programming a festival, after doing it for 17 years in Risør.
  2. You’ve recorded a huge variety of music with much fanfare at this point in your career. Is there a performance saved for posterity you’re particularly proud of?
    This is difficult, because musicians are always terrible in judging their own recordings. But in my own very subjective feeling, I am quite proud of the Rachmaninov Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3., and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
  1. You’ve been particularly well known for extended collaborations with other artists including Ian Bostridge, Christian Tetzlaff, and more recently Matthias Goerne whom you’ll tour with this spring. How important are these extended, multi-faceted collaborations to your development as a solo artist?
    For me chamber music has always been important, and an integrated part of my activities, ever since I started studying at the Bergen Conservatory of Music when I was 16, and began playing both with a violist and a mezzo soprano. What could be more normal and fun than two or three people getting together, playing together, discovering a piece together? Then I have, of course, also learned a lot from different great personalities that I have been working with during the years.
  2. What is your current obsession?
  3. One of your collaborators, who’ll be appearing in several programs in this year’s Ojai Festival, is pianist Marc-André Hamelin. Since the public tends to think of pianists as lone wolves compared to other instrumentalists, what’s unique about working so closely over time with another pianist?
    Well, working with another pianist can actually be very frustrating, because a pianist’s touch, colouring and rhytmic precision is a very personal thing, and one easily gets annoyed at a colleague who has a different feeling of timing, for instance. With this as a background, I have to say that working with Marc-André Hamelin on Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps has been miraculous. His incredibly precise touch and his exact feeling of colour and tempo is unique, and I have found the concerts we have made with this iconic piece very inspiring.
  1. You’re a regular visitor to California. What do you love most about the Golden State?
    I was in Ojai in beginning February, and having come from a wet and snowy Norwegian coastal climate, picking tangerines from the trees in Ojai was a very welcome change, I have to say. The diversity of plants in the district around Ojai, I find very fascinating—I have never seen so many different trees. I love the wine and the food, healthy and tasty at the same time (not always the case in Europe!). And I love a certain openness to the unexplored, the new, the avant-garde, which the contemporary music scene and tradition in Los Angeles is an example of.
  2. One of the unique aspects of the Ojai festival is that all of the concerts take place outdoors. Are there particular challenges for you as a performer playing outside?
    Sure. The biggest challenge is that it will feel like the sound on stage is extremely dry, and doesn’t carry. I understand, though, that there is a very good amplifying system, so we musicians will just have to trust that the audience hears something much richer in sound than what we do on stage. Then there are the flies... I am interested to see how many of those will "like" our program in Ojai, so much that they will visit us on stage. And likewise the birds, though I am curious to see if they also can contribute fruitfully to the concerts, to make the programs even more weird and wonderful.
  3. What’s next for Leif Ove Andsnes?
    After Ojai, I am playing at the Risør Chamber Music Festival in Norway, where I was one of the artistic directors until two years ago. Then I'm recording Mozart's "Kegelstadt-trio" with Martin Fröst and Antoine Tamestit, and then I will have a good holiday, which I am longing for, especially since I didn’t get a summer holiday last year. It will start with two weeks in the north of Norway, on the miraculous island of Kjerringøy, where my parents-in-law have a summer house. Last time I was there, we saw whales, eagles, reindeer, and felt like one with the silence and nature. I couldn't be more happy.


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