Northern Bright Lights
[This interview, conducted by Jessica Listig, the 21C Media Goup’s director of new music, first appeared as an emailed publicity release from our friend Glenn Petry. Ed.]
Northern Bright Lights: Leif Ove Andsnes discusses the Risor Festival of Chamber music, June 25 through June 30, 2002
How did you begin your association with the Risor Festival?
I played with the festival in 1991 and ’92, and in 1993 Lars Anders Tomter, the artistic director, asked me to join. The administration liked my programming ideas and since he’s a string player (a violist) and I’m a pianist, we come from different programming angles, and we work well together.
Who are some of the more prominent performers who have appeared at the festival in recent years?
Just a few we have had are Gidon Kremer, Maxim Vengerov, Joshua Bell, Christian Tetzlaff, Barbara Hendricks, Ian Bostridge (who will come back next year), Stephen Isserlis and Heinrich Schiff. Matthias Goerne will also come next year.
Tell us a little about the programming for this summer.
We are planning to do a two-year focus on Schubert, beginning this summer, as well as Schoenberg. The idea is the first and second Viennese school. The idea of the festival is that people stay, if possible, as long as they can — preferably the whole time. We always have combined programs. There is not just one artist playing one program. I’m playing about nine different pieces over the period of a week. An important part of the festival has always been the string orchestra, which we handpick the people for. There’s a lot of Schubert, a lot of Schoenberg and a lot of Wyttenbach. I’m doing a four-hand performance with Arcadi Volodos. This is the first time I’m playing with him and I’m very interested to have a chance to do that. He’s also performing half of a solo recital: music of Schubert and Liszt with some of his own transcriptions.
We are doing some odd things, like these short dramas by Schumann (“Die Fluchtlinge”) and Schubert, “Leb wohl, du schoene Erde” with Julia Stemberger, who is a very famous Austrian actress. She’s performing in Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and a few other odd pieces we found for her. We also commissioned a work for her from our composer-in-residence, Jürg Wyttenbach. A typical kind of program is the program on June 20th, which opens with the Risor Festival Strings performing some Schubert “Dances” for orchestra, then a piece by our composer-in-residence, then some Schubert Ländler for solo piano that I will play, a string quartet by Kurtág performed by the Artemis Quartet, and then the Schubert Piano Trio, D. 898. The program is mixed in terms of performers and also in terms of how familiar the music is to the listeners.
How are the programs determined?
Some artists are bringing prepared programs, like Wolfgang Holzmair and Till Fellner, who are bringing Schubert “Ballades” that are big lieder. They will be performed as half a program in one concert and half a program in another. However, most of the artists meet each other to rehearse their programs when in Risor. Very often we get programming ideas from the artists. We talk with them about what ideas they have, what they might want to do. About half of the participants in the festival are returning and half are new. Some of the people we know and have played with before, and some we have just heard about or heard their recordings.
What about the repertoire you are performing at Risor?
Well, I’m performing the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 9 for the first time, and after that I’m going to be playing it quite a lot. I really wanted to learn it and I’m going to be recording it, along with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat major, in September of 2003. I’m also playing with Arcadi Volodos and a few solo pieces as well.
Can we look forward to hearing some contemporary Norwegian music?
We are also doing three pieces by Nils Henrik Asheim, a Norwegian composer, including a commission. We usually do one or two commissions a year. After 1993, which was a big Grieg year, we made a decision to concentrate not on contemporary composers but on a generation of Norwegian composers who have “fallen between the cracks.” Between 1994 and 2000, every year we concentrated on one or two composers: Geirr Tveitt, then David Monrad Johansen, Johan Kvandal, Edvard Fliflet Brain, Finn Mortensen, Klaus Egge, Ludvig Irgens-Jensen and Fartein Valen. What we did is learn a lot of their chamber music, then at the end we would figure out what we thought was worthwhile playing again, and every year we always discovered a few pieces that way. We did that until 2000 — of course with some different contemporary composers in between. However, in 2001 we started inviting living composers — like this year, the Swiss composer, conductor and pianist Jürg Wyttenbach. We like to have composers who can also participate as performers.
When are the sunrises and sunsets in June in Risor?
Usually by midnight to1:00 a.m. it will be dark, and the sun will come up at about 3:30 a.m. There are about three or four hours of darkness. The concerts are at all different times of the day. Some are at 12:30 p.m., and we have a midnight concert of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in the little church in Risor. Some days there are concerts all day. It’s really busy for the musicians. You can’t imagine! The musicians come a few days early to start to rehearse, but we really have to rehearse between concerts, and we have musicians at Risor who are ready to do that.
How do you get to Risor, and do many people make the trip there from outside of Norway?
To get there, you have to fly to Copenhagen and then take a short flight to Christiansand; then it’s a one-hour drive. It’s actually easier to get there from Copenhagen than from Oslo. Attendance at the festival has really gone up since 1993. When the festival first started, it was really for the local public, and they have really supported it. Now we have more and more people traveling to Risor from somewhere else. It’s about 50% local and 50% people coming from other places.
Further information about performers and performances at the Risor Festival this summer can be found at the following URL: www.kammermusikkfest.no.