IGOR LEVIT: BACH, BEETHOVEN, RZEWSKI
Album Available via Sony Classical on October 30, 2015
Igor Levit & Marina Abramović: Bach’s Goldberg Variations
December 7-19, 2015 | Park Avenue Armory, Wade Thompson Drill Hall, New York
Sony Classical announces the release of Pianist Igor Levit’s third album – Bach, Beethoven, Rzewski. Available October 30, the album includes Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, long considered acid tests of the performer’s art, plus Frederic Rzewski’s gigantic cycle on the Chilean revolutionary song ¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!, which has the reputation of being nearly unplayable. Not content with canonized masterpieces, Levit is equally drawn to the physical challenge of Rzewski’s virtuosic tightrope walks.
In seven performances from December 7-19 in New York, Levit and iconic visual/performance artist Marina Abramović will give the world premiere of their collaboration on the Goldberg Variations, which Levit will perform live, at the Park Avenue Armory in the Wade Thompson Drill Hall. Abramović re-imagines the concertgoing experience by employing her Abramović Method to explore the relationship between performer and observer, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind. This concentrated durational work reflects upon music, time, space, emptiness, and luminosity, with the audience becoming a part of the work.
Levit’s vaulting artistic ambitions have been proven by his first two albums: the five late Beethoven sonatas (2013) and the six Bach partitas (2014). The response from the international media was as broad as it was universally ecstatic. In April 2014, Alex Ross of The New Yorker wrote of Levit’s début album for Sony Classical, “After a few minutes, I was transfixed. Here was playing of technical brilliance, tonal allure, intellectual drive, and an elusive quality that the Germans indicate with the word Innigkeit, or inwardness.”
Today, after just a few years on the international scene, this young artist has emerged as one of the leading pianists of our time, combining supreme interpretative earnestness with sparkling technique and extraordinary versatility. He has enlarged his repertoire in many directions at once, at a dizzying pace. It may seem ambitious that Levit, aided by multiple Grammy-winner Andreas Neubronner as producer, has recorded the three most demanding sets of variations in the keyboard repertoire, all within the space of half a year. Yet he has already spent a great deal of time with all three, each of which stands for an important aspect of his work.
Since 2011 Levit has headed the chamber music program at the Heidelberg Spring Festival. It was at his initiative that Frederic Rzewski was invited this year to be the festival’s artist-in-residence. Over the years all three sets of variations on this recording have been featured in Levit’s Heidelberg recitals. He even played the Goldberg Variations there for the very first time in April 2015.
“Actually, variations have always been my favorite musical form,” Levit confides. “The faster the change and the higher the frequency, the more I like it. I view variations like travel books: there are reports of roads leading from point A to point B, but also reports of people who set out as person X and arrive as person Y. I never know in advance how I’ll experience the stops along the way or in what state of mind I’ll arrive at my destination. Yet I’ve always felt very protected and in good hands on these journeys.”
Levit made a deep study of the Diabelli Variations at the age of 17. Karl-Heinz Kämmerling, the legendary professor of piano at Hanover University of Music, who died in 2012, had intuitively recognized that the wealth of sharply contrasting characters in late Beethoven were made to order for his intellectually agile protégé. Kämmerling’s intuition proved correct: the Diabelli Variations became the pièce de résistance of Levit’s early career.
Levit’s study of the People United Variations by composer-pianist Frederic Rzewski (b. 1938) did more than open up a new pianistic universe. For him, this utopian piece became something like a litmus test in notes: “The question it confronts us with is: What side are you on? I’ve been asked that, too. Am I allowed to stay in the ivory tower, or do I have to commit myself? What am I doing at all, and how am I actually living my life?”
Levit’s personal encounter with the American maverick composer, long a resident of Belgium, developed into a friendship that has left its mark on him in many ways: “I consider Rzewski one of the truly important composers of our time, and I play his music wherever I can. What I also appreciate is his laid-back attitude toward the act of performance – his ‘I’m not holding a lecture in philosophy, I’m making music. I strike a key, I play, and then I leave. But I don’t expound any sort of magic.”
Besides Beethoven, the composer Levit has studied most deeply is Bach. His recording of the partitas was praised highly by the international press. While the French Diapason stressed the cantabile qualities and naturalness of his Bach, the London Telegraph singled out his shaping of melodies and balance of timbres. The Goldberg Variations, Bach’s mightiest work for keyboard (along with The Art of Fugue), has only recently entered Levit’s repertoire. He approached the work from various angles, whether studying variation form per se or coming to terms with early music as a whole.
At the early age of 16, Levit sought instruction from Lajos Rovatkay, a Hungarian-born specialist in historical performance practice. Not only did Rovatkay introduce to him the vocal polyphony of Josquin and Palestrina, he also brought him into contact with the pre-Bach keyboard literature and the aesthetic of period instruments. “Today my understanding of Bach’s art is heavily influenced by my knowledge of earlier text-related music. I find so much in Bach that is flowing or yearning, such dilations and caresses, feelings where speech and singing directly converge. Then of course there’s always the architecture: the piece is so great that I tend to feel like a mediator, someone who has to back away because he bears such huge responsibility for an overall experience that is really quite fragile.”
Sony Music Masterworks comprises Masterworks, Sony Classical, OKeh, Portrait, Masterworks Broadway and Flying Buddha imprints. For email updates and information please visit www.sonymusicmasterworks.com.
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US TOUR DATES
Nov. 19 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC – 7:00pm
Duo Recital with violinist Julia Fischer
Nov. 20, 21 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC – 8:00pm
Concert – Beethoven
Conductor: Jiří Bělohlávek
National Symphony Orchestra
Dec. 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19 Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY – 8:00pm
Bach: Goldberg Variations with Artist Marina Abramović