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Articles & Interviews

These Symphony-commissioned feature articles offer insights into the music you'll hear in the concert hall. We hope you'll find them provocative and entertaining.

Nov 1, 2019

Mozart Momentum: Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes

by Steve Holt

The celebrated Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat major, K.482 with the San Francisco Symphony on November 22–24, with Manfred Honeck conducting. We spoke with Andsnes about his current project, a four-year immersion in Mozart’s music, with performances all over the world, exploring a seminal period in Mozart’s career.

Your project, Mozart Momentum 1785/1786 comes on the heels of a similar focus on Beethoven. What made you decide to spend multiple seasons on a specific composer?
I’m slow! [laughs] Seriously, as a pianist, you’re thrown from Bach to Rachmaninoff to Lutosławski. You have to be a chameleon! Suddenly I felt this need to concentrate on just one composer, and work on one vocabulary for a while. And as a result of the Beethoven Project I feel I got much closer to his music, and was able to perform it with much more freedom and spontaneity.

Why Mozart this time?
I think something revolutionary happened in 1785 and 1786. It was an incredibly creative time for Mozart. He began expanding the possibilities of the piano repertory, setting the soloist more apart from the orchestra, creating a new psychological drama. The concerto I’ll be playing in San Francisco, K.482, is very special, yet maybe the least well known of his concertos from this period. When it begins, the different themes float by, and you can’t always tell what is foreground and background, and who is accompanying whom. I love this multi-layered Mozart. It’s a large-scale concerto, but it also has heart-wrenching moments, as well as ecstasy and joy. It should work well in Davies Symphony Hall. I’ve always felt that onstage there, you can bring people into the intimate moments of the music. I look forward to working with Manfred Honeck, who I have worked with several times in Mozart. He has such a sense of Mozart’s lively character, and he is extremely conscious of all the small details involved in getting the right sound.

You go way back with the San Francisco Symphony.
Yes, my first performance there was in the ’90s, with Herbert Blomstedt conducting Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, although I did meet Michael [Tilson Thomas] then; it was just before he became Music Director. I was struck by the innate musicianship of the orchestra, the way they listened to each other. It was very wonderful to make music with them. I’ve been back several times since then. I’ve been very grateful for all the opportunities to play with Michael, and explore things together. He’s a very special man, in the way he’s always searching for the truth between the notes.

Steve Holt is a Contributing Writer to the San Francisco Symphony program book.