Pianist Igor Levit: “The time of staying-in-my-comfort-zone is over.”

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jserraglio
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Pianist Igor Levit: “The time of staying-in-my-comfort-zone is over.”

Post by jserraglio » Mon Apr 24, 2017 1:43 pm

Igor Levit, a Pianist for Polarizing Times
By ZACHARY WOOLFE
FEB. 12, 2017
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/12/arts ... ic-reviews

As we filed out after the pianist Igor Levit’s hypnotic Carnegie Hall debut recital on Friday evening, a friend made a little musical joke. “There wasn’t a note of mezzo-forte in there,” he said, meaning that Mr. Levit hadn’t much bothered with the space between very loud and very soft.

This wasn’t literally true, of course. In a dense and dizzying, intense and consoling two hours of music, Mr. Levit played loud, soft and everything in between. But I knew what my friend was talking about: Somehow, without Mr. Levit’s ever seeming to exaggerate, the world he conjured was one of stark contrast. Reality here was a field of extremes. He is a polarized pianist for polarized times.

Polarized, and polarizing. While classical artists, by and large, remain publicly reticent about their politics — this isn’t Hollywood — Mr. Levit’s Twitter account is heatedly, gleefully anti-Trump. The tweet “pinned” atop his account is the statement he read at the start of his concert in Brussels on Nov. 9, the day after the presidential election, in which he declared, “The time of staying-in-my-comfort-zone is over.”— Igor Levit (@igorpianist) Nov. 9, 2016

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Artistically, Mr. Levit has never been one to retreat to his comfort zone, consistently game for unconventional approaches to the repertory. Witness his 2015 collaboration with Marina Abramovic at the Park Avenue Armory, in which he and the audience waited in silence for more than half an hour before he began Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations. Recording, for Sony, Frederic Rzewski’s 1975 set of variations on “The People United Will Never Be Defeated,” alongside the “Goldbergs” and Beethoven’s “Diabelli” Variations, was an unusually high-profile (and persuasive) case for a modern work’s acceptance into the canon.

Mr. Levit championed Mr. Rzewski again on Friday, playing the American premiere of four parts of “Dreams,” a suite of pieces based on a Kurosawa film. Flinty and impassioned, the movements include the wintry “Bells”; the trembling, forlorn “Ruins”; and the catlike changeability of “Fireflies,” shifting in a moment from keyboard-slamming rage to delicate grace.

The final number, “Wake Up,” takes its title from a children’s song by Woody Guthrie, and the melody is played, sweet and pure, before being taken through darkly dreamlike transformations. At the end, a wisp of Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” filters through — a glimpse, Mr. Rzewski doubtless intends, of what might be possible if we did wake up, and stayed woke.

“Dreams” followed, without pause, an opening set of three of Shostakovich’s prelude-fugue pairings. Mr. Levit’s interpretation was permeated by wariness, a sense of repression that occasionally exploded — as in the fugue in E minor, the almost sputtering effusion of a man finally finding his voice.

The “Diabelli” Variations, which followed intermission, were unsettlingly vivid, with an intensity that extended into the tender passages, but also a warmth and roundness of tone, even in frenzy. When Mr. Levit subtly bent the tempo of the eighth variation, he turned an idyll into a nightmare. The transition from the penultimate fugue to the final minuet, a series of floating chords, really did seem to be pointing beyond this world: whether toward heaven or apocalypse, Mr. Levit kept painfully ambiguous.

While I’m sure there are some who frown at the relentlessness of his political statements, who think that musicians should devote their Twitter accounts to publicist-written plugs for their albums, I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with this polemic: Mr. Levit, born in 1987, is one of the essential artists of his generation.

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