Posted: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 – 1:33 PM
Concertgoers will get the chance to see and hear two world-class pianists in collaboration when Norwegian Leif Ove Andsnes and Canadian Marc-André Hamelin present A Music World Friendship at 8 p.m., tomorrow, Wednesday, April 26 at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts’ Bram Goldsmith Theater.
The partnership/friendship began in 2008 when Andsnes invited Hamelin to take part in the annual Risor Festival, a chamber music series Andsnes co-directed for 20 years in the southern Norwegian fishing village.
“At our first meeting, Marc suggested The Rite Of Spring,” said Andsnes in an interview. “I didn’t know the version for two pianos and I was skeptical; but I looked at it and realized it would be fun for two pianos.”
Igor Stravinsky’s groundbreaking work became the centerpiece of the duo’s all-Stravinsky recording and the second half of a series of concerts the two performed in Europe and will bring to the Wallis. Carnegie Hall will follow and the concert will be broadcast on New York public radio station WQXR.
“It’s an iconic piece,” says Andsnes. “It’s hard to believe somebody wrote it. It seems like it’s always been there as part of the universe.” Hamelin agrees adding “and everything sounds so inevitable.”
Most people know Igor Stravinsky’s groundbreaking Rite of Spring as a colorful concert piece or from the dinosaur portion of Walt Disney’s also groundbreaking Fantasia. In the dramatic concert piece, “it’s easy for listeners to get carried away with the enormously exciting orchestra color,” Andsnes says. With the two-piano version, Andsnes says, audiences hear the rhythm, harmonies and the skeleton of the work. It’s a different perspective.”
“It’s very revealing,” says Hamelin, familiar with the arrangement since he was a child and his father came home with the recording by Michael Tilson Thomas and Ralph Grierson in the early ‘70s. Stravinsky himself recorded the piece with son shortly after her composed it, “and Stravinsky was a very good pianist,” adds Hamelin.
“With two pianos there’s an abundance of sound and color possibilities and that’s very exciting; and becomes orchestral in a way that works very well,” says Andsnes. “The Rite of Spring is one of those pieces that cannot leave you cold. At the end people are excited. The music is so physical, it gets to your gut—it’s so highly stimulating.”
With its angular, dissonant and unpredictable style, the work “is unbelievable to play,” says Andsnes. “There are passages where it’s like a car on two wheels, not touching the ground. You have to go over the limits in a way. It’s not controlled music and very violent.”
The rest of the program “can be demanding, and it’s nothing but masterpieces,” says Hamelin. “It asks quite a bit of listeners,” says Hamelin.
Also on the program, designed by the two for “balance and contrast” will be Stravinsky’s Concerto for Two Pianos; Claude Debussy’s En Blanc et noir, written about the same time as Rite of Spring, Andsnes notes; and to help ease people into the program, Hamelin add, an opening with a Mozart overture, Larghetto and Allegro in E-flat major, completed by several composers, Hamelin says.
“Opportunities to do these kind of projects with other pianists don’t come that often,” says Andsnes. “A lot of pianists are afraid of working closely with others.” Andsnes and Hamelin both attribute their partnership’s success to a mutual respect for each other’s technique, musicianship and musical thinking. “The piano is a precise instrument,” says Andsnes, “and Marc and I seem to be in sync.
The pairing works, Andsnes says, because they’re two very different musicians. “If we were two pianists who sounded exactly the same, it would be boring. This way, it’s an interesting conversation. “There’s a sympathy between us,” he says. “We don’t encounter problems; in choices of tempi and dynamics we find a way like any other collaboration,” says Andsnes. Says Hamelin: “I think in the end we’re open to each other’s ideas, and that’s the building block.”
While they’re among today’s leading pianists, Andsnes and Hamelin don’t let egos get in the way. “We’re not stage animals,” says Hamelin. “We’re not extraverts, and that helps music shine through. We’re here to serve the music and not exhibit selves, but our ability to bring out music. We do everything we can to do that.”
The evening will include a pre-concert conversation at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $79-$99 and are available by calling 310-746-4000, online at thewallis.org/ah or at the box office, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd.