Piano keys and video screens: Leif Ove Andsnes tries to link classical music and contemporary art


Care to join me on a foray into the world of classical music? I’ve always wondered why there’s so little room for experiment in that stiff, traditional but wonderful world of classical music. And, lo and behold, during two concerts in Brussels this week, classical artists are bending the rules. First up: acclaimed Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. At a packed Bozar he played a solo recital, yesterday, surrounded by six video screens. The European premiere of his bold Pictures reframed-project.

 Do we not need to create a new type of relationship with the audience? That’s the question that occurred to Leif Ove Andsnes, after all the years he spent crisscrossing the world for recitals and concerts. So he started thinking about a project that would organically link the world of classical music and that of contemporary art. His quest led him to Laurence Dreyfus, a Paris-based exhibition curator who introduced him to South African artist Robin Rhode. Andsnes, apparently, felt an immediate affinity with his work.

For Pictures reframed, Andsnes is sitting on stage, behind his piano, surrounded by six video screens. It is a traditional recital (Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an exhibition, Schumann’s Kinderszenen and one new, great contemporary piece by Thomas Larcher). Do classical pianists normally perform with all the lights on, this time around, it’s rather dark on stage. During some of the pieces Andsnes is playing, videofilms are being shown.

One thing I immediately noticed is that the darkness makes you concentrate on the music more. On the sounds too. Not only was I more aware of every note played, but also of every cough and every mobile going off. It makes you wonder why not many more classical artists prefer just a little bit of darkness.

My first of two big deceptions, then? Only one of the six screens is being used. The other five screens are merely decorative elements. Too bad. My other deception was a rather personal one, I guess: I wasn’t too fond of the images being shown on that one and only video screen. Rhode used a wide variety of styles and images (animation, chicken running around, logo’s of bank companies, a train station, Pollock-like blobs of paint…) but for me it didn’t really click with the music. He has clearly studied the history of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an exhibition and there’s an explanation for each and every one of his videos, but for me, all of this was going into too many different directions.

It nevertheless made me think. Sometimes I was listening to the music, sometimes I was watching the videos. Sometimes the music was accompanying the images, sometimes it was the other way around. Sometimes the balance was really right and Rhode certainly did come up with some beautiful images too (a child with a compass; piano keys making a chalk drawing.

In the end I must say I have to applaud Leif Ove Andsnes for this experiment. For a classical pianist of his stature to take this project around the world? It sure gets people talking (check all the reviews and articles at his website, here). I’m really curious to see if other classical artists will be inspired. Or do we really go back to business as usual, hereafter?




One Response to “Piano keys and video screens: Leif Ove Andsnes tries to link classical music and contemporary art”

  1. Thanks for covering this event. Classical musicians need to start thinking differently to survive. Adding a visual element is a good first step. Purists may say it detracts from the performance, but in my book they can just close their eyes. Another barrier we need to break down is the idea that artists just play and don’t interact with the crowd. I think talking between pieces about the music would really help engage the listeners by giving them something to focus on.

    American Composer Ralph Kendrick

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