Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes honors past, enjoys freedom of present

Leif Ove Andsnes is convinced that the great musicians of the recent past had neither the freedom nor the digital techniques to bring the classical repertoire to today’s utmost standards.

“We could always dream about a more human world and put what we listen to in our old pirate recordings on CD, but I don’t think that would work. We are used to perfection, and in the digital techniques we have today, I don’t think a sloppy performance would survive very well. I don’t think we can go back,” says the celebrated Norwegian pianist, 45, who appears Wednesday at Davies Symphony Hall in a solo recital of works by Sibelius, Beethoven, Debussy and Chopin.

Andsnes (his full name is pronounced “LAYff oo-VAY AHNS-nes”), who made an impressive debut as a teen in the late 1980s and was inducted to the Gramophone Hall of Fame in 2013, adds, “We have extraordinary talents today that are also very different personalities. The generation of [Alfred] Brendel, [Maurizio] Pollini and [Vladimir] Ashkenazy reacted to the previous generation, which showed off with their encore music. And so for them, it was always about the big Beethoven and Brahms cycles, rarely touching the outside repertoire. Today, we have a new freedom as a reaction to that.”.

In 2012, Andsnes displayed his sense of freedom at the Ojai Music Festival, where he was artistic director. The California experience still resonates with him: “With such a festival, there is such an openness, such possibility with respect to programming. I was really taken by the atmosphere and the sheer listening of the audience in this intimate outdoor space,” he says, on the phone from Bergen, Norway, where he studied as a youth.

While he fashions himself a supporter of fringe works, Andsnes remains devoted to the core, which for him is crowned by Beethoven. He has spent the past four years performing the cycle of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos in 108 cities, and he’ll play Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 18 in his San Francisco Performances/San Francisco Symphony concert next week.

He says, “I think Beethoven knew so well how these different intervals vibrate in us. The magic that he can just take the simplest of elements in the music and turn it into something very profound, something very universal that still speaks to us today. That, I find the most unbelievable thing,”.

IF YOU GO
Leif Ove Andsnes
Presented by San Francisco Performances, San Francisco Symphony
Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18
Tickets: $35 to $99
Contact: (415) 392-2545, www.sfperformances.org, www.sfsymphony.org

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