In conversation: leif ove andsnes and delphine tissot (PART I)

26 November 2020

On the 4th of November, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra should have given the first concert of our Mozart Momentum 1785/1786 tour together with our Artistic Partner Leif Ove Andsnes.

As for most artists in the world, all our concerts were cancelled because of the pandemic. Yet, we had an extraordinary chance to gather all together in Berlin, rehearse and record three of Mozart's piano concerti in the Berlin Philharmonie. Instead of writing a tour diary, as I was first asked to do, I decided to interview Leif Ove and exchange about music, Mozart and our partnership.

Live music is sadely on pause for the time being, and until our sound can live again, here is a discussion between two musicians.

Delphine Tissot (DT) You and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra go back quite a while now, to 2003 and that means we have a very special relationship. For me I would even call it a companionship rather than a relationship. That was especially true during the Beethoven Journey (2012–15).
This project was very special for the orchestra. It gave us the inspiration to change how we work. At the time the idea of an Artistic Partner was really modern and visionary. It was something extremely specific to the MCO. But it worked so well with you because of your personality, how you are as a musician. 

Leif Ove Andsnes (LOA) It has to be a partnership. Artistic Partner. Not “leader” or “director”.

DT Exactly. That is why I like the idea of partnership. It means taking a path and sharing it.

LOA Yes I also like the word partner, artistic partner, because that is really what it is. A partnership, a companionship, is so much more than having a directorship.

With this orchestra, there is such an integrity. I am always amazed by what comes out. I have my own ideas and I go for them, but I am always surprised at how many ideas come out of the orchestra, which I did not know could be there, and that we can develop further. Even now, just for these few days we had together, it was so special. I remember that feeling so many times with the Beethoven Journey, with those pieces that we performed over and over again.

DT This summer I was driving and the radio was playing our recording of Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto, the second movement, which I have a tremendous connection to. For me, it evokes the strongest memories. So as I was listening to the radio I could see myself on stage in Boston. I could see us in Paris. At the BBC Proms. I could really see those moments again. 

LOA I had a similar experience this summer. The BBC Proms were broadcasting recordings from previous years, and because of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary, they chose our last concert from 2015, the first and the fifth of Beethoven’s piano concertos, the very last performance of the Beethoven Journey. They had interviewed me and Matthew (Truscott – MCO Concertmaster) and I was in my summer house when I listened again. I had such a throwback to so many emotions. There was such a feeling of this being the climax because by this point, there was no doubt that everybody knew exactly what everyone else was doing. When you are so prepared and you know every piece so well, then you all know the intention and you have a goal together. Surprisingly, that creates freedom. We all felt so free in the music.

At the beginning, I knew what we had planned and I thought, how will I be able to play these pieces so often in this period? That project proved to me that you can never grow tired of the greatest music.

DT You mentioned Matthew, who joined the orchestra during the Beethoven Journey. He is an amazing asset to the orchestra, a great personality and the two of you complement each other so well. You do your interpretation as a pianist and conductor. But then there is always a touch of Matthew in there, too.

LOA Absolutely. It was fascinating to feel everything fall into place with him and the orchestra during that last year of the Beethoven Journey. He is a very interesting musician, and I have always loved his investigative mind, that he questions so many things. You find a solution and it works, but Matthew will always ask “Is it really right? Is this the right thing?” He is always asking about intention and sound and if what we are doing is really convincing. He will always challenge what you do but in a way that is extremely inspiring. 

Just now in the breaks, we were listening to the takes and he always has a point of view. There are many occasions where I think something sounds fine, and suddenly Matthew is not happy. “That’s not warm enough” or “We’re not giving enough.” And he is always right. In the andante, for example, I thought what we were playing was intimate enough. But he thought something was missing in the emotion. And once he said that, I realized that he was right.

Leif Ove Andsnes with MCO Concert Master Matthew Truscott

DT Earlier you mentioned integrity and Matthew is the definition of integrity. He conveys that to the rest of the orchestra in such a special way.

LOA Exactly. You all want to create something special each time and though there are so many different personalities, there is this feeling of a common goal. None of you are here just to work. It is a lifestyle you have chosen. You could all play in another orchestra, but you don’t. You are here now for this because you expect something exceptional, something that can give us a feeling of truth. This can go in all different directions, with different artists and partners, but something special has to happen. That feeling is incredible.

DT This is still a mystery to me: how do the 29 nationalities of the MCO collaborate like this? But actually, you are right. We are looking for exactly the same thing. 

LOA With all of you, there is this feeling that there is something much more important than “us.” Something to aspire to. A goal that we can never reach. Always questioning how to go further. It is wonderful and so much fun.

Photos: Geoffroy Schied

click here for Part II