Film review: The Beethoven journey of Leif Ove Andsnes

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Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

Leif Ove Andsnes, one of the world’s greatest pianists, came up with a very original idea. He decided to immerse himself in the music of Beethoven for four years and travel around the world with one of the world’s most renowned orchestras, playing and recording Beethoven’s Concertos.

Andsnes considers Beethoven the most human and, at the same time, the most spiritual of all composers. He wanted to play his five concertos on different pianos in different settings around the world in order to find his own personal interpretation of the great composer. He chose the traveling Mahler Chamber Orchestra to accompany him. The MCO has 45 core members who come from 20 different countries, and it spends approximately 200 days a year traveling.

He decided to perform Beethoven’s piano concertos in the following four-year cycle:
• 2012: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3
• 2013: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 4
• 2014: Piano Concerto 5 & Choral Fantasy
• 2015: All five Piano Concertos

In the final season, the five concertos would be performed at major residences in Europe, Asia, and North America. Andsnes expressed his hope that many people would join them “for a voyage of musical discovery that promised to be both illuminating and exhilarating.”

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His dream was realized and it was indeed a magical voyage. In the four years, he traveled to 108 cities in 27 countries for more than 230 performances. An incredible accomplishment!

Fortunately, music lovers all over the world can experience this extraordinary journey. Sony Classical has released recordings of the performances captured live in Prague. This city was chosen as Beethoven allegedly performed his First Concerto here in 1798.

British director and filmmaker Phil Grabsky created a documentary of this journey entitled “Concerto—A Beethoven Journey” (Seventh Art Productions). He filmed Andsnes both performing the five Beethoven Concertos and also sharing his thoughts about what these great works reveal about Beethoven’s life.

What is particularly striking in the documentary is the sight of Andsnes as he sits in the midst of the musicians and conducts from his keyboard. He relishes this intimate contact with the orchestra and he remarks that here he feels “constantly in the drama.”

We also get a peek at the domestic Andsnes in this documentary when we see him pushing his twin babies in their stroller. He relates that they were born very prematurely and that he had to cancel some of his concerts to be at home with his family. “Family comes first!” he says with a big grin on his face.

The recordings and the documentary have received great acclaim around the world by both critics and audiences. The Sony recordings are offered as audio CDs and MP3 versions of Concertos 1-5, Concertos 1 and 3, Concertos 2 and 4, and Concerto 5/Choral Fantasy. The Seventh Art Productions documentary consists of two DVDs. They are available from iTunes and amazon.com.

This article originally appeared in the July 1, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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