Leif Ove Andsnes became the Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s first Artistic Partner during the Beethoven Journey, a four-year project (2012 – 2015) which took the artists across the globe for over 70 live performances and resulted in award-winning recordings of the complete Beethoven piano concertos on Sony Classical. In 2019, they embarked on a second Artistic Partnership which saw the launch of a new four-year project (2019 – 2022), Mozart Momentum 1785/1786, dedicated to the music of Mozart.
With Mozart Momentum 1785/1786, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Leif Ove Andsnes embark on an exploration of two especially remarkable years in the history of classical music. In 1785 and 1786, Mozart wrote a series of masterpieces reinventing the nature of the piano concerto. In this period, he began to re-examine the roles of the soloist and orchestra, thus developing aspects of communication and dialogue between the two entities in a way that had not been done before.
Mozart Momentum 1785/1786 also showcases the endless creative genius of Mozart as a composer of solo, chamber and orchestral works. As in the Beethoven Journey, Leif Ove Andsnes leads and directs the Mahler Chamber Orchestra from the piano and performs chamber music with musicians from the orchestra.
Mozart Momentum 1785/1786 includes an integral education and outreach component entitled Unboxing Mozart, an interactive live event reinventing the traditional concert experience. By inviting audience members to actively participate in the artistic process with the help of sound boxes, Unboxing Mozart creates a convergence of classical music, collaborative performance and urban gaming. Participants become part of the action through role play, take on solo responsibilities or act as part of a group to create constructive dialogues within a community.
As they did with their Beethoven Journey, Leif Ove Andsnes and the MCO continue to perform Momentum 1785/1786 in numerous concert halls and festivals. In 2021 they performed together at Gulbenkian, Lisbon; Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg; Sala Teatro, Lugano; Philharmonie, Berlin; Musikverein, Vienna; and Bozar, Brussels. The Mozart Momentum collaboration continues this summer with residencies around the globe including London and New York. Mozart Momentum 1785/1786 was recorded with Sony Classical and the second album was released in the spring of 2022. This summer they start the final stage of the project, visiting festivals in Norway, the UK and Italy before the final concert in, poetically enough, the birthplace of the composer, Salzburg.
Why do you think Mozart wrote these amazing concertos in such quick succession in 1785 and 1786?
There must have been a need for concerts where he could show himself through piano concertos, and Vienna was the place for it. He wrote six concertos in 1784 alone, and then three concertos in 1785 and three in 1786. The development is enormous. When you realize how quickly Mozart developed it is truly extraordinary: within a year his concertos sound completely different. It makes you ask: why did this happen? What was going on?
This is very interesting, and that’s what this project is all about. It’s about the momentum of Mozart’s creativity at this time, which must have been inspired by the need for this kind of concert and these kinds of pieces where he could show his abilities as a composer, performer and improviser.
What else was going on in Mozart’s life during these years?
Well, Mozart was writing opera at the same time. Le Nozze di Figaro premiered in May 1786, and it can be said that the concertos of this time become more and more operatic. The psychology of the concerto completely changes with the D minor concerto (No. 20). It’s completely different!
It’s the first time, I think, in the history of the piano concerto that when the soloist enters for the first time it’s with completely different music than what had been played by the orchestra at the beginning of the concerto. In the D minor, you have this restless dramatic music in the orchestra – very Don Giovanni in its kind of drama, very explosive. And then the soloist enters with a lonely voice, completely separate from the orchestra. That invention alone made the psychology and the narrative of the piano concerto very different.
Until then, you had the orchestra play something to open the concerto, and then the soloist would enter elaborating on the same material. But with the D minor, the soloist follows with completely different music. It is clear that Mozart wants a contrast between the orchestra and the soloist.
I talked about this often when we were doing our Beethoven Journey project. Beethoven becomes more and more radical with what he does, so when you get to the Fourth Concerto he decides to let the piano start the concerto, which was absolutely new and crazy at the time.
Could you share with us some insights into some of the other works that will be also performed and recorded for Mozart Momentum 1785/1786?
In true festival style, our project also explores chamber music and solo pieces, all meant to show the diversity of what was going on in Mozart’s creative life at this time.
The Fantasy in c minor for solo piano is very improvisatory, with one section coming after each other in unexpected and surprising ways.
His piano quartets are two of his most famous chamber pieces. Of these, the G minor is symphonic in the first movement, with this Beethovenian unison motif beginning the movement. The drama is not as explosive as Beethoven's, but it’s a complicated kind of drama and not easy to pinpoint emotionally. With Beethoven you feel most of the time clearly what he wants; Mozart can be much more enigmatic. When you start calling something tragic, it’s also something else, and this makes Mozart’s music wonderfully elusive.
The other is the E-flat major quartet, which is very spacious. It’s generous, warm and long-lasting a half hour, in fact – and sometimes concerto-like, such as in the last movement, where the pianist often plays separately from the strings.
To sum it up, our project is meant to show the different sides of Mozart. In bringing all these works together, we are exploring Mozart as a composer, performer, and improviser, and revelling in a level of creativity that few artists in history have ever achieved and none will surpass.
With his commanding technique and searching interpretations, Leif Ove Andsnes has won worldwide acclaim, performing in the world’s leading concert halls and with its foremost orchestras. An avid chamber musician, he is also the founding director of Norway’s Rosendal Chamber Music Festival.
With a discography which explores a diverse range of repertoire recorded over the last twenty-five years, Andsnes’ recent releases have included the 3 CD Beethoven Journey with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, an album of Sibelius’ little-known piano gems and a Stravinsky duo CD with Marc André Hamelin. His latest recording is dedicated to Chopin’s 4 epic Ballades which Andsnes intersperses with 3 of the composer’s Nocturnes. The album was made a BBC Music Magazine Editor’s Choice by and named “one of the great piano discs of this year or even this decade!” by France’s Resmusica.com.
Andsnes has received Norway’s distinguished honour, Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav as well as the prestigious Peer Gynt Prize. He is also the recipient of the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist Award and the Gilmore Artist Award. He was inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame in 2013 and made an honorary doctorate of both New York’s Juilliard School of Music and the Bergen Conservatoire in 2016.
Leif Ove Andsnes was born in Karmøy, Norway in 1970, and studied at the Bergen Music Conservatory under the renowned Czech professor Jirí Hlinka. He has also received invaluable advice from the Belgian piano teacher Jacques de Tiège who, like Hlinka, has greatly influenced his style and philosophy of playing. He is currently an Artistic Adviser for the Prof. Jirí Hlinka Piano Academy in Bergen where he gives annual masterclasses.
Andsnes lives in Bergen and in June 2010 achieved one of his proudest accomplishments to date, becoming a father for the first time. His family expanded in May 2013 with the welcome arrival of twins.