Bayerische Rundfunk reports from the Rosendal Festival and interviews Leif Ove Andsnes

The Norwegian Fjords are wildly romantic. Surrounded by sea and mountains, it is here in Rosendal that pianist Leif Ove Andsnes has founded a new chamber music festival. Central to the first programme is Franz Schubert – a composer which fits Andsnes’ temperament for many reasons.

BR-KLASSIK: You have played concerts here in Rosendal every summer for many years. Was it a long cherished dream of yours to create the Rosendal Chamber Music Festival?

Leif Ove Andsnes: Actually, it was rather unrealistic. What made it possible was the new hall. For many years I played in the manor house, in the small castle – but the rooms are very small, seating maybe 80 people. That’s why I played two concerts in one evening, to make room for more people. I also knew that there was a beautiful church here in the village. But I thought that there were simply not enough places to start a festival. Then I heard that they wanted to build a new hall on the grounds, and it was at that point that we started talking about how great it would be to have a festival here.

BR-Klassik: And then you brought the music of Franz Schubert here.

Leif Ove Andsnes: I was wondering what you could do in the opening year. I did not want a big festival. There are seven concert programmes, but I wanted to focus on a subject. I like immersing myself in one thing and I have always been fascinated by the last year of Schubert’s last year and the tragedy of his death, much too young. All our thoughts … Did he know that he would die? How aware was he? There are so many myths about his music because it leads us to another place. There is no comparable music.

BR-KLASSIK: Schubert’s music fits perfectly in this romantic landscape of fjords – with mountains, waterfalls and the cool sea.

Leif Ove Andsnes: I’ve heard that Schubert never saw the sea. That’s so weird for me because I come from an island on the west coast of Norway. To see the fjords, that would have been very unusual for him. But I’m sure he would have loved the scenery. I mean, who doesn’t? It’s so beautiful here: the park, the manor, then this crazy mountain behind it, ten times too big. And it matches the music: the great beauty and wild character.

BR-KLASSIK: The motto is “1828”, so Schubert’s death year. It is about his last works.

Leif Ove Andsnes: Schubert’s last works give the feeling that he has withdrawn from the world. And that makes us think that his music is about death. Therefore, to be in a different place and to seek a different form of existence. But I believe that this is a rather romantic myth, our own projection on his life.  I mean, he was 31 years old! And he composed so much in the last year of his life. And finally, he wanted to take counterpoint lessons. He wanted to get better in fugal writing – that’s not what you do when you are about to die. So maybe we have a completely false picture of his final year. We think of the works as his “late works”, but again: He was so young!

BR-KLASSIK: Nevertheless, Schubert’s work changed towards the end of his life

Leif Ove Andsnes: Of course. One cannot deny that musically he developed drastically in his last years – everything is much more extreme. In part he writes so wild and dramatically – and long! The pieces are so long! And the music, the musical material that he creates is just extraordinary. There is no comparable music. That’s why I decided on Schubert. And I think it’s very fulfilling to hear so much of his music in a festival.

BR-KLASSIK: Before each concert you say a few words about the program – in your native language, in Norwegian. And also in the programme there was no English translation. Is this festival mainly for locals?

Leif Ove Andsnes: It was a conscious decision. Because I think it is very important for any festival, attracting mainly regional audiences. It is important that people get the feeling that it is their festival. That they are enthusiastic for the festival. That it is also a national event – I think we achieved that. And then you can see if you can expand it to something more international. This year there are just a few foreign visitors, but there is already a lot of interest for the coming years by groups from abroad. So we will have to consider whether we should do the programme notes in English as well. But I first wanted to anchor the festival here. And then we’ll see where it goes.

BR-KLASSIK: In addition to major international stars like Sharon Kam, Sol Gabetta and Vilde Frang you have invited young Norwegian artists here.

Leif Ove Andsnes: The standard of string playing particularly in Norway is very high – for some time now, but especially in the last year, it is going through the roof, which is largely thanks to the very good Music Academy in Oslo where there are many young talented musicians. Vilde Frang is the crowning example. Since she was nine or ten years old, she virtually lived in the Academy –  it is a small institution, and the students can live in one of the houses  – and today she is a world star. And now many others are following in her footsteps. You can hear some of these young musicians and realise that they are internationally established stars in every way. And it’s so much fun to invite them  to Rosendal and bring people together. Also, I have of course found that I now no longer belong to the younger generation – I mean, I could be the father of some of these musicians. And I want to see what happens with this young generation, I want to play with them – especially at this level!

BR-KLASSIK: The Rosendal Festival will continue to exist and take place every year in August. Are there any plans for the coming year?

Leif Ove Andsnes: I have many plans for the next year, also guest artists, but I had to concentrate on getting through the first festival, because there were so many things to process. Regarding the concert venues, up until now I only played in the small room in the manor house, never in the Church, and of course not in the large hall which is very new indeed. So I first had to experience these concerts and think about what we can plan for the next year: What worked well? What didn’t? All this is now much clearer after the first festival. I think about it all the time!

Bayerische Rundfunk will broadcast a Rosendal Festival concert featuring Sharon Kam, Vilde Frang, Sol Gabetta, Leif Ove Andsnes and Bertrand Chamayou in a programme of Schubert, Ravel and Berg on Tuesday 6 September