One Friday night in the spring I spent watching the fine movements of the back of an exquisite pianist: Leif Ove Andsnes. And it was a wonderful concert!
Very mozarty – the programme consisted of Eine kleine Nachtmusik and Piano Concerts nos 17 and 20.
Leaving Eine kleine Nachtmusik aside I will jump straight to the piano concerts conducted by Andsnes from the piano. At first I was a little bit sceptical always having perceived Andsnes as a somewhat introvert artist. An artist who communicates with his co-musicians via the music more than via eye-contact or movements intended for them to react on.
When they intoned the Piano Concert no. 17 I watched Andsnes carefully and frowned a bit upon his stiff and very exact direction. It seemed dry and sharp and perhaps a little bit unimaginative. But as they reached the last movement I was completely taken by the sweetness and delicacy. It was as if the exacting style liberated the orchestra and Andsnes himself.
Having moved away from a conducting fellow listener I was free to enjoy the Piano Concert no. 20 without any kind of disturbance. And this was when my eyes fell on Andsnes’s back. Since he was conducting from the piano he was sitting with his back at the audience flanked and faced by the orchestra.His back was the most expressive back I have ever perceived (if I ever looked at any back that intently…). Despite, or perhaps because of, the black cloth of the jacket you had a very clear idea of where Andsnes wanted to go and how the music should proceed. His movements were so condensed and precise that I think the musicians would perhaps have understood more by looking on his back than on his face and hands. It was as if his back and the shifting folds of his jacket betrayed all his thoughts and feelings most delicately. Plain beautiful and adding to my enjoyment and understanding of the music.
It reminded me very much of the back of the Belvedere Torso or the flickering light in i.e. this drawing by Michelangelo. The same strength and beauty:
Michelangelo Buonarroti, Studies for the Libyan Sibyl, 1508-12. Red chalk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Strangely enough Leif Ove Andsnes’s back and I have met before. Two years ago I attended a magnificent concert in Wigmore Hall, London with Andsnes and Christian Tetzlaff. My seat was on the side of the stage, almost beneath the grand piano looking up at Andsnes’s back and I was only able to see more than Tetzlaff’s feet via his reflection in the underside of the piano cover. But not even then did I realise the expressiveness of that back (perhaps from being too close). Well, I did tonight and it made me laugh with joy all the way home on my bike through the soft spring evening.