Check it out here how Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes became one of the most acclaimed musicians of the contemporary era with several best selling albums and 11 Grammy Award nominations under his name.
The Birthplace of Leif Ove Andsnes
Leif Ove Andsnes was born on the 7th of April 1970 in the Karmøy municipality of the Rogaland county in Norway. The municipality is the 21st most populous of Norway and is known for other famous residents such as writer and literary critic Karin Moe, football player Jostein Grindhaug and orienteering champion Anne Margrethe Hausken.
Leif’s Early Life
Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Leif chose to become a musician since both his parents were music teachers. He started studying piano at an early age, but he was also drawn to playing football and to the school’s band. His life was about to change when, at 15, he was introduced to famed Czech pianist Jiri Hlinka.
Jiri Hlinka was born in Prague, as Czechia was under Nazi rule. After studying at the Prague Academy of Music, he started a career as a pianist in 1960, but after just four years, he had to give it up due to health reasons and became a piano teacher.
Jiri moved to Norway in 1972 where he became famous for his work and was awarded the gold King’s Medal of Merit in 2004. Among his students were Geir Botnen and the Griegprisen winner, Håvard Gimse, an award which is offered to people who communicated the work of Edvard Grieg in a special way.
Jiri himself won the Griegprisen a year before Håvard and, maybe in a classic example of the student surpassing the teacher, Leif also became the recipient of it, five years before Jiri himself.
The Quick Rise to Fame
After becoming a pupil of Jiri Hlinka at the Bergen Conservatory, Leif, at only 16, started to gain recognition for his talent. The next year he received the German Paul Hindemith Prize (in 1987) while in 1988 he was awarded at the Music Critics’ Prize and Bergen International Festival – both of them in Norway. In 1990 he won the aforementioned Griegprisen.
Leif’s First Music Release And Worldwide Success
Following this success, it was clearly the time for the musician to start recording music and release it for any classical music lover to enjoy. His first LP was released in 1987 under the title “Chopin – Smetana – Beethoven: Sonatas etc.” and many other albums would soon follow.
In 1990, Leif made his United States debut alongside the Cleveland Orchestra. During this decade he would go on to perform with many of the major orchestras of the world. He took part in tours in North America and Europe alongside the Boston Symphony and Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the aforementioned Cleveland Orchestra, the Danish Radio Orchestra and, of course, the Oslo Philharmonic.
His success allowed him to co-found his own festival in 1991, the Risør Festival of Chamber Music, which takes place in Norway and honors the music composed between the XVIIIth and XXth centuries. Leif was the festival’s director until 2010.
Leif seems to have a pleasant and simple personal life. He has been in a partnership with Ragnhild Lothe for several years now and together they have three children.
Leif Ove Andsnes’ Style
Leif is acclaimed by music critics for the clear and lyrical way of approaching the music he plays. His repertoire can be considered vast, as it includes works of Norwegian composers (often time he played pieces which were not well known to the public), but also of several highly-regarded international classics such as Johannes Brahms and Sergey Rachmaninoff.
Alongside these concerts, Leif also often played chamber music and has collaborated with several acclaimed musicians such as the British tenor Ian Bostridge and Christian Tetzlaff, the famed German violinist. Leif also declared he is influenced by the works of Romanian composer and pianist, Dinu Lipatti.
The Commercial Success of Leif Ove Andsnes
After his debut LP was released under the small Norwegian label Vest-Norsk Plateselskap, Leif’s success across the globe soon garnered him contracts with big labels such as EMI and the classical divisions of Warner, Sony and Virgin.
His first album to chart on VG-lista (the Norwegian record chart) was “Grieg: Klaverkonsert” in 1991 which peaked at number 14. During the 1990s he placed two more albums in the top 40, which were rare feats since music charts tend to be dominated by other genres.
After two more top 40 albums in the early 2000s, Leif achieved his first top 10 hit album in 2003 with “Mozart Piano Concerto Nos 9 & 18”, outselling contemporary projects released by Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, and Andrea Bocelli. As of today, his biggest debut on the VG-lista is the album “Ballad for Edvard Grieg”, which debuted and peaked at number 6.
Since then, only two of his albums missed the VG-lista top 20 while his highest peaking effort is “The Beethoven Journey – Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3”, which bowed at number 5 on the chart in 2012. Leif’s most recent album to chart, “Sibelius” peaked at number 27 in 2017.
The Critical Success of Leif Ove Andsnes
All of the albums released by Leif have achieved critical success. His debut album under the name of a big label, Virgin, titled “Grieg: Piano Concerto; Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2” received a rating of four and a half stars out of five from AllMusic, which praised his skills.
Four of the albums released by Leif received a perfect score of 5 out of 5 stars from critic websites such as AllMusic, his most recent one being “Robert Schumann: Liederkreis Op. 24; Kerner-Lieder” from 2019, with most of his catalog being similarly well-received since his debut.
Leif and the Grammy Awards
Since the publicity around the American Grammy Awards usually places emphasis on pop, rock or urban acts, you may not know that Leif received 11 nominations in various categories since the 1990s, although, as of yet, he has yet to win any.
Leif’s first Grammy nomination was received in the “Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without orchestra)” category for his 1997 album “Schumann: Piano Sonata No. 1; Fantasy In C”. He received another nomination the following year in the same category for “The Long, Long Winter Night (Works Of Grieg, Tveitt, Johansen, Etc.)”.
At the 43rd Grammy ceremony in 2000, Leif received, the only time as of now, two nominations in the same year: “Best Classical Album” for “Haydn: Piano Cons. Nos. 3, 4 & 11” and again for the “Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without orchestra)” category for the same release.
Leif also scored nominations in various other categories, such as “Best Chamber Music Performance” for “Bartók: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2, Etc.” (2005) and “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” for “Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 4” (in 2012; this was the first year the award was given and it combined the previous categories “Best Instrumental Soloist Performance” with and without orchestra).
“Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring Concerto for Two Pianos” was nominated in 2019 for “Best Chamber Music / Small Ensemble Performance” and “Schumann: Liederkreis Op. 24, Kerner-Lieder Op. 35” received a “Best Classical Solo Vocal Album” nomination in 2022. Obviously, Leif is long overdue for a Grammy win!
The Gramophone Classical Music Awards
A ceremony in which Leif received more love is The Gramophone Classical Music Awards which are held in Great Britain and are considered to be “the Oscars of classical music”. Despite being snubbed so often at the Grammy Awards, Leif did much better when it comes to the critics of “Gramophone” magazine who choose the winners.
Out of the eight nominations he received, Leif won six! After two unsuccessful nominations in the 1990s (one in 1993 and one in 1997), Leif finally won the Gramophone “Concerto Award” in 2000. His next win came just two years later in the “Instrumental Award” for “Grieg Lyric Pieces”.
The most recent nomination received by Leif was in 2012 in the “Best Chamber Recording” category for his “Schumann Complete Piano Trios” project. He also won in various categories in 2004, 2006 and 2008. In 2013, he was inducted into the “Gramophone Hall of Fame”.