Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes Enters Midlife with Curiosity Intact

Email a Friend

Leif Ove Andsnes is now on the north side of age 40 and is 25 years into a busy concert career but he’s not setting out to buy a Porsche or stage a midlife crisis yet.

The Norwegian pianist known for his unassuming manner and thoughtful musicianship projects an image of personal balance and earnest curiosity. “The more one gets into the music the more one realizes there is more and more to learn,” he said in an interview with WQXR’s Jeff Spurgeon. "Everyday I’m trying to find out what makes music great."

That sensibility is on display this month as Andsnes is touring the US with a recital program that spans several pillars of the piano literature. It includes Haydn’s darkly turbulent C-Minor Sonata, several Chopin waltzes, ballades and nocturnes, Debussy’s Images, Book I and Bartók’s folk-based Suite, Op. 14. After his recital last week at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles the LA Times wrote that “his playing displays no vanity” and it “combined aspects of the introvert and extrovert, the Romantic and Classicist, while remaining fully at the service of each composer’s musical style.”

His recital at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night at 8 pm will be broadcast live on WQXR.

While some pianists give over 100 concerts annually and flirt with burnout and stress injuries, Andsnes limits his touring to just about 60 performances. These include work as a solo recitalist, accompanist and chamber-music participant. He is frequently called upon for his programming ideas too, and in June he’ll serve as the music director at the Ojai Festival near Los Angeles, a rotating post that has a history of adventurous thinkers.

Another factor in Andsnes’s schedule these days is fatherhood: he and his partner, Ragnhild Lothe, a horn player in the Bergen Philharmonic, had their first child together, a daughter named Sigrid.

Still, more big plans are in the works. This year, Andsnes will record the first installment of a new Beethoven piano concerto cycle with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, his first recording for Sony Classical (he left his longtime home at EMI last year after some 40 albums and eight Grammy Award nominations). When asked about his own favorite pianists, Andnses rattles off a list of list of legends: Artur Schnabel, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Sviatoslav Richter, Dinu Lipatti, Leon Fleisher and Vladimir Horowitz.

The latter choice may raise eyebrows among pianophiles who know Horowitz as an extroverted stage animal known for his flamboyant technique. “I also enjoy listening to Horowitz recordings even if it’s a personality very far from how I feel about music,” said Andsnes. “But he could orchestrate the piano. You can learn from so many people and I often find it’s strange with young pianists how they don’t listen to recordings of the past. Please listen to them before you play them yourself. I personally feel part of this great tradition.”