The phenomenal Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes has been an artistic partner of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra since 2012, when they launched a joint four-year project called the Beethoven Journey, as a part of which they played nearly 70 live concerts all around the world, then they recorded an extraordinarily successful complete set of Beethoven’s piano concertos for the Sony Classical label. The Prague Spring Festival played an extraordinarily important role in this collaboration because it was at festival concerts in the Rudolfinum’s Dvořák Hall that several of the recordings were made. In 2019 their follow-up was yet another four-year project titled Mozart Momentum 1785/1786 focusing on music of the elder Viennese classicist, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The years 1785 and 1786 are not chosen at random. Those are the years when a number of Mozart’s most important works were created, including several piano concertos that are entirely unique and original in many respects.
In these concertos Mozart, himself a superb pianist, shook up the very foundations of the popular genre. In his piano concertos, the orchestra rises from the position of mere accompaniment to the status of an equal partner with the solo instrument, entering into dialogue with it. In his day this was something quite innovative, and it changed forever the nature of the piano concerto as such.
The Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major KV 488 is undoubtedly one of Mozart’s most famous compositions. When he wrote it in early 1786, Mozart – working on The Marriage of Figaro among other things – was in demand primarily as a composer of vocal music. Nonetheless, he often enjoyed presenting himself as a composer-pianist as well, constantly trying to surprise the discriminating Viennese public with something new. In his A major concerto, he replaced the bright sound of oboes with darker clarinets, which stand out brilliantly along with the transverse flutes, especially in the intimate dialogue with the piano in the slow second movement (Andante), which the composer wrote in the unusual key of F sharp minor.
Also in an unusual key is the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor KV 491, which Mozart composed just three weeks after finishing the A major concerto. Only two of his concertos are in a minor key. While the Concerto in D minor that he had written a year earlier is a truly dramatic work, here the composer took a lighter, more personal approach, almost like chamber music, especially in the lovely Larghetto, in which an important role is again entrusted to the woodwinds with a lightness that invokes in places the melodies of the composer’s wind serenades.
Besides this pair of piano concertos, the evening’s programme also presents the Symphony No. 38 in D major “Prague” KV 504 and Ch’io mi scordi di te? KV 505, a concert aria with piano obbligato, with Christiane Karg singing the solo part. It is worth mentioning that Mozart performed the work himself with the Czech soprano Josefina Dušková (Josepha Duschek).
Leif Ove Andsnes in a graduate of the conservatoire in Bergen, where he studied under the guidance of the famed Czech teacher Jiří Hlinka. He made his Prague Spring Festival debut in 1993 at the Municipal House in Smetana Hall, and a recording of the concert was streamed as part of the alternative programming for the 75th annual festival in 2020. During the 2020/2021 season, besides his work with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Andsnes will be giving recitals in Asia and the USA, the highpoint of which will be an appearance at New York’s Carnegie Hall, where he will present a programme of music by Schumann, Janáček, and Bartók. In addition, under the baton of the Austrian conductor Franz Welser-Möst he will join with the Cleveland Orchestra in performing his beloved Piano Concerto in A minor by Edvard Grieg, then in Washington alongside the National Symphony and Gianandrea Noseda he will conclude the concert season with Brahms’s First Piano Concerto.
The Mahler Chamber Orchestra was founded in 1997 with the vision of creating a modern, independent, international ensemble offering new perspectives on classical music. With its 45 members from 20 countries, it gives concerts regularly all around the world. Its repertoire ranges from Viennese Classicism and early Romanticism to the music of contemporary composers, which the orchestra presents in world premieres. Besides Leif Ove Andsnes, its artistic partners have included the Japanese pianist Mitsuko Uchida and the Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto.