08 June 2012

Mahler Chamber Orchestra: Leif Ove Andsnes

Bergen International Festival
Grieghallen, Bergen
May 25 2012

Two little blokes they were; one about ten, his brother - with round glasses - about eight. Both had number two crewcuts; both looked sharpish. At interval they'd taken advantage of losing their parents in the crowd and of the sample chocolates and the promo-coffee with a kick like a moose. The nuclear grade coffee evidently did the trick. They sat alert in the middle of the front row almost immediately behind the pianist - who had his back to the audience - and absorbed the entire concerto: Beethoven's third.

The kids probably had no idea of the standard of the music they were listening to but the sell-out crowd did. At the end they roared approval. Two and a half thousand people leaped to their feet and not just because Andsnes was the home-boy made good - very good.

Leif Ove Andsnes had once been an usher with the Bergen Interational Festival. He had come back as the lead act with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra from Berlin to play Beethoven's first piano concerto wth its beautiful slow movement and, after coffee time, the third.

The playing was simply superb. Beautiful Beethoven. Perfect piano concerto-making.

Early on there were a number of indicators that this was to be. The first - and most obvious - was that the piano faced the orchestra - or, if you will - the pianist had his back to the audience. The second was that the pianist, when conducting, made no extravagant arm movements, no tortured hand gestures, no doubling-up in an agony of music making, no stamping of the foot to emphasise the down beat to bring in the brass: all gestures used by "maestro" Jensen conducting the NDR Radiophilharmonie  in the same hall a few days later. The third, at the end, was that his orchestra loved him. They smiled at him - and each other - and applauded him because he had evidenty rolled in and said, "You blokes (men-blokes and more than 50% women-blokes) know what you are doing, I know what I am doing, let's go out there and do it". And they did. He treated his young players with respect and they responded with relaxed, precise, skilled music making.

The concert was not about Andsnes. It was not even about Mahler Chamber Orchestra - although it could have been about either. This performance was about Beethoven.

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