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Pittsburgh Symphony hosts Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes for special series

| Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011

Rank does have its privileges. When Manfred Honeck became music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, one his first thoughts was about the guest artists with whom he'd like to perform.

Naturally Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman came to mind. So, too, did Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. Less well-known in Pittsburgh, Andsnes is a giant on the international concert stage. He has a large discography on EMI Classics, with many earlier recordings available on Virgin Classics.

Andsnes, Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony will give concerts Friday and Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown, which will feature Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1.

The second half of the concert will be Honeck's traditional Thanksgiving weekend selection of Viennese delights centered on the music of Johann Strauss Jr. and brother Josef Strauss.

"I'm really glad to be coming back to the Pittsburgh Symphony," says Andsnes, 41. "I have good memories of performing the Schumann concerto with Mariss Jansons at Heinz Hall (in 2003). Then we went to Carnegie Hall," in New York City. Andsnes also recorded the Schumann and Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto with Jansons and the Berlin Philharmonic for EMI.

"I'm looking forward to playing with Honeck again," he says. "It's been years, but I really enjoyed it. He can be wonderful in Viennese classics."

One indication of the pianist's stature is the special concert series he's invited to perform for leading orchestras and concert halls. He's just completed a residency with the Berlin Philharmonic and had his own Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall. He'll be music director of the artistically inventive Ojai Festival in Ojai, Calif., in 2012.

Andsnes recently changed record labels, becoming a Sony Classical artist. His first project will be the complete Beethoven Piano Concerti and Choral Fantasia with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. He made two superlative EMI CDs with that ensemble, also led from the keyboard, of piano concerti by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Not surprisingly, Andsnes is full of ideas about the Beethoven pieces. His music making is characterized by lively intelligence wedded to the music's emotional life.

He thinks Beethoven's First Concerto will fit very well with the rest of Honeck's Thanksgiving weekend programming because "it's very festive and full of humor." In fact, Andsnes says the finale of this Beethoven concerto is one of the examples he'd pick to exemplify humor in music. "It really makes one laugh, always."

He disagrees with the idea that, because Beethoven developed so much and went so far as a composer, he found his voice and personality later in life.

"In both the Second Concerto, which was written first, and the First, you are already in a new world, Beethoven's world," he says emphatically. "The First is a very potent and wonderful concerto, full of personality."

He says you immediately sense Beethoven's new breadth in the sheer sound of his music, including loud passages that grab you by the neck and say "This is important."

"Last week, I did this concerto and number three without conductor with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra," he says. "A lot of time with the orchestra, I thought, how extremely different from Mozart this is. It requires the power of the fortissimo and the sound of that has to be masculine. You rarely get that feeling in Mozart that Beethoven wanted to provide with big chords. I think, particularly in the second movement, how Beethoven loves big spread chords, a kind of writing that you never find in Mozart."

Additional Information:

'Honeck & a Waltz Tradition'

Presented by: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, with Manfred Honeck, conductor, and Leif Ove Andsnes, piano

When: 8 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $20 to $93

Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown

Details: 412-392-4900 or website

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