The acclaimed Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes organised a mini-series of three concerts featuring music by his countrymen to coincide with an exhibition of the work of Norwegian artist Nikolai Astrup (1880 – 1928), the first ever outside of Norway. It is a mark of how important this artist is in the cultural landscape of Norway that Andsnes came to the leafy suburbs of south-east London to present these concerts, which amply proved, in the words of Dulwich Picture Gallery’s director Ian Dejardin, “there is more to Norwegian music than Grieg”. In addition to exploring the music, visitors were invited to view the exhibition of Nikolai Astrup’s colourful and expressive paintings, prints and woodcuts.
Music was important to Astrup. He grew up in Jølster in the region of Sogn og Fjordane, a landscape of scattered farms around a scenic lake, surrounded by high mountains. With no towns or large hubs nearby, access to classical music was minimal and the music that was most accessible to Astrup as he was growing up was Norwegian folk music, in particular the type played on the Hardanger fiddle. Dancers and fiddle-players appear frequently in Astrup’s ‘Midsummer Bonfires’ paintings, and references to music and musicians feature in many of his other paintings, along with the landscape of the area of Norway he knew well. Thus the programmes for the three concerts at Dulwich Picture Gallery revolved around the theme of Norwegian folk music and its influence on composers who succeeded Grieg. The music was selected to reflect the themes and beauty of Astrup’s paintings.
Acclaimed Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes has been spending a lot of time with Beethoven: four years in fact, as Andsnes has journeyed physically and metaphorically through the five piano concerti to understand and interpret one of the greatest sets of works for piano ever written. This extraordinary journey ended, perhaps appropriately, at this year’s Proms, the greatest festival of classical music on the planet, where Andsnes performed to a packed Royal Albert Hall.
Along the way, Andsnes has been followed by award-winning film-maker Phil Grabsky and his Seventh Art team, and the result is a remarkably absorbing, insightful and beautifully-crafted portrait of both pianist and music. Following the chronology of the five concerti, we hear directly from this articulate and intelligent musician as he speaks honestly and humbly about the unique characteristics of each concerto, the development of Beethoven’s artistic vision, and his personal connection with this music. His decision to devote four years of his life to one single composer, and specifically the five piano concerti, is clearly one he relishes and he speaks of his special relationship with the music of Beethoven, which developed when he was still a young performer. We see Andsnes working with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (with whom he has also recorded these works), practising at home and interacting with other musicians, including the conductor Gustavo Dudamel, as well as friends, colleagues and family. These interactions are mirrored by glimpses, though Beethoven’s letters, of the relationship between the composer and his world. Detailed footage from the concerts in Prague forms the main structure of the film, offering the viewer wonderful shots of both pianist and orchestral musicians at work, as well as a fascinating insight into the day-to-day life of a busy international performing and recording artist.
Part composer biography, part personal diary, this intelligent and accessible film is a must for anyone who loves this music, or who has enjoyed Andsnes in concert or on disc. The film is released on 7th September and is being screened at selected cinemas across the UK (details of screenings here). View a trailer of the film:
Director Phil Grabsky says “I knew this exclusive journey with Leif Ove would allow me access to great performance – but I had no idea it would be this great. These became the best reviewed concerts of the past few years and I was on stage to record them. Even more importantly the music and Leif Ove’s intelligent and accessible insight creates a staggeringly interesting new biography of arguably the greatest composer of all time. (source: Seventh Art press release).
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