Paula Zahn in conversation with world-renowned and celebrated pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. Followed by a visit to The Frick Collection for a look at three paintings by the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer.

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♪♪

Coming up on 'NYC-Arts,' a conversation with world-renowned, celebrated pianist Leif Ove Andsnes.

It's so full of passion of a young man wanting to conquer the world.

And at the same time, it has this innocent beauty.

Melodies that come from the sort of folk-song tradition, they speak very directly to our hearts, and it's very intimate.

♪♪

And a visit to the Frick Collection for a look at three paintings by the Dutch master Vermeer.

We also have another fabulous painting by Vermeer, and it's 'Officer and Laughing Girl.'

And it was purchased by Frick in 1911.

And just to give you the sense of how Vermeer's star has begun to rise at this point, Frick paid $225,000 just ten years later.

So, he's obviously not only very interested in Vermeer but also recognizes the quality of this particular work.

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'first' refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Good evening, and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Paula Zahn, at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

On tonight's program, a conversation with the celebrated Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes.

has called him a pianist of magisterial elegance, power, and insight.

And named him one of the most gifted musicians of his generation.

Known for his commanding technique and searching interpretations, he has won acclaim worldwide, performing recitals and concertos with the world's foremost orchestras.

An avid chamber musician, he is also the founding director of the Rosendal Chamber Music Festival in his native Norway.

In 2004, he became the youngest musician at the time, and first Scandinavian, to curate Carnegie Hall's Perspective Series.

And in the 2017-2018 season, he was artist in residence with the New York Philharmonic.

Andsnes is the winner of six Gramophone Awards for his recordings of chamber music by Schumann, concertos by Haydn and Rachmaninoff, and works by Grieg and Nielsen.

His ambitious 'Beethoven Journey' spanned 4 years and more than 203 performances in 27 countries.

This season, he's embarking on a new multiyear project with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

I had the chance to catch up with Leif Ove in the middle of his very busy season, which included a recent appearance at Carnegie Hall.

♪♪ Welcome to New York.

I understand this happens to be one of, New York City happens to be one of your favorite cities.

I feel so grateful for so many opportunities here.

I played 30 years ago, my first recital in Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie.

I played then my first recital in the big hall in Carnegie in the Stern Auditorium 20 years ago.

And since then so many wonderful things happened to me here.

The intensity of playing in that hall and the beauty of sound, the magic that you can have 2,800 people listening just to one piano and feeling that there can be intimacy in such a large space.

That's magical.

And then there is the life, the diversity, everything the city has to offer.

I just love it.

I think New York audiences do have very high standards, and I'm curious if there is a difference as you travel around the world.

You feel a certain concentration, silence in the audience sometimes.

And they respond in different ways.

In Japan you have a very, very quiet audience during the concert.

You wonder if there is somebody there.

Of course if I play in Vienna, and so many of the great composers actually lived there, they feel an ownership to this music, which is very special.

But ultimately I feel the music is so universal, and that is the wonderful thing.

I can play my Grieg Concerto in Venezuela or in China or in northern Norway or in New York, and people will react to it, because it's, there is something in us that's being touched deeply.

I had the privilege of hearing you rehearse the Grieg Concerto, which was an extraordinary experience.

Is it a piece that you feel very deeply?

I do.

I also, at some stage, felt that this was being too closely connected to me, because Grieg is Norwegian, I am Norwegian, and it was my breakthrough piece so many places early in my career.

♪♪ Being a young Norwegian pianist, having this great piece written by the young Grieg -- he was 25 when he wrote it.

It's so full of passion of a young man wanting to conquer the world.

And at the same time it has this innocent beauty, this childlike beauty, this sort of melody that comes from the sort of folk-song tradition.

And they speak very directly to our hearts, and it's very intimate.

So, intimate and extrovert at the same time -- it's a very potent concert piece.

I love playing it again now.

♪♪ ♪♪

You have traveled many, many thousands of miles, musically and physically since your early days as a budding pianist in Norway.

Tell me a little bit about the early roots of your love of music.

Both of your parents were music teachers, right?

They were music teachers.

I'm from a small community, from an island called Karmoy, on the western part of Norway.

And I was lucky to have parents who had connection to music, and there was a piano in our home.

And they were actually teaching some, a few children, in our home, and that's why I asked when I was four years old, I asked my parents, 'Can I also play?

I like this.'

When did it become clear to you that you did have a talent to travel the world and become a professional pianist?

I think around the age of 13, 14, I suddenly realized that there was no way back, that this was my life.

This was really my language.

But I do remember, you know, sitting down at the piano, being seven, eight, nine, trying to sight-read certain pieces, maybe a nocturne of Chopin, a short piece by Grieg, some Mozart, and feeling a sense of wonder and a sense of, a sensation that this, this was my space.

This is my vocabulary.

This is my language.

This is how I can communicate with the world.

And that was very strong, from early on.

You have spent the better half of the last decade and a half doing deep dives into different composers.

Let's talk about Chopin for a moment.

What drew you to the ballades and nocturnes?

When I heard the Chopin ballades, the four ballades, when I was 11, I think -- had a small cassettes, you know -- I listened to it day and night, and I thought I had never heard such beautiful music.

And I still think it goes so deep into my heart.

It's the peak of romantic piano music, the diversity of emotion in this music.

And it's ever changing.

There are so many transitions.

You know, you have a beautiful tune, and then you have a moment of, of such sorrow.

And then you have passages that are very entertaining.

I don't understand how he was creating his compositions because it seems like so improvised.

And it's, at the same time, it's so coherent as composition.

And these are four very intense masterpieces, and I thought I needed to have a bit of breathing space.

So, I put some nocturnes in between them.

They are also intense pieces, but they are a little bit calmer.

So, that's my portrait of Chopin.

♪♪ ♪♪

You also delved into the music of Sibelius, who most of us wouldn't necessarily consider as a composer for a pianist.

It's true.

He's really not known for his piano music.

He is the orchestra composer.

I mean, for me he's the greatest Nordic composer, and his symphonies and his orchestra music has followed me from when I was very young, and it goes very deep.

And I saw that there were all these piano pieces that nobody played.

And I thought, 'Isn't it worth looking at?'

And I read through everything.

It's more uneven.

The piano wasn't his instrument.

You feel when you play it.

It doesn't sound natural, like it does with the orchestra for him.

But then there are these jewels now and then that I, you know, discovered, as a composition, so special.

They can seem very simple on the surface, and then something surprising happens after a few seconds.

And you wonder where is this going, and there's a mystery around Sibelius' music, which I adore.

♪♪ And they are so beautiful, and nobody knows them.

You also tackled a very ambitious project.

It unfolded over a four-year period.

And that was performing all of Beethoven's concertos.

In 2012 I started this project, and I played his piano concertos again and again over three or four years, also sonatas, chamber music.

I was basically only playing Beethoven.

And when you work on one language for so long, I guess you maybe get better at it, and you start to understand and experience the different layers of it.

And I came out of the project feeling that this music was just so structured and so full of storytelling and contrasts but with, you know, almost a spine.

And you feel that Beethoven knows what he wants.

He always has a goal in mind, and he takes you by the neck and says, 'Listen to me.

I have something important to tell you.'

But at the end, I came out of it feeling that his music is about freedom.

And in the last performances we did, I worked a lot with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, a wonderful group in this project.

And the last year in the performances, I felt a sense of spontaneity and freedom, which I had rarely felt on stage.

♪♪ ♪♪

And often with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, aren't you conducting from the piano?

I hesitate to call it conducting, but I'm leading.

I'm not a conductor, but yes, somebody has to conduct and lead if you don't have a conductor.

And what is that experience like for you?

It's challenging, but I do love it.

I'm then not having a lid on the piano, and I'm sitting inside the orchestra with the back to the audience, but with such great contact with the musicians.

I'm wondering if the experience of conducting from the piano has changed the way you work with a conductor when you are a soloist.

I have maybe become more conscious of the whole storytelling.

Now, when you're a soloist, with the conductor there, it can be a bit sort of 'Now it's my time, and now it's your turn.'

And the wonderful thing is when I'm leading the chamber orchestra, I'm in the narrative, I'm in the storytelling all the time.

And that's wonderful when you play a piece by Mozart or Beethoven, where there's so much conversation, so much dialogue between the orchestra and me.

Back in 2006, I had the honor of hosting the opening night at Carnegie Hall, and I believe you were in the middle of a project to record several Mozart concertos.

That's right.

And are you still as captivated by Mozart as you were back then?

As a matter of fact, I'm just starting a Mozart project, a big one, together with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, who I did my 'Beethoven Journey' with.

And it's called 'Mozart Momentum, 1785-86.'

Was there something special that happened in that short period of time?

I think so.

He wrote 27 piano concertos.

And in 1785 he writes his number 20.

It's in D-minor.

It's the first one which is in minor key, so it has a darker side to it.

Something very special happened.

Just then he started separating the soloist from the orchestra.

You know, the kind of heroic piano concertos which we love so much from the 19th century, the Grieg, the Tchaikovsky?

You have the feeling that the soloist is being thrown out on the gladiator stage, and, you know, has to show his or her strength.

That sort of starts with Mozart.

There's this seed there.

I mean, Mozart is so much about conversation with the orchestra, dialogue and reacting to each other.

But there in 1785 it's like he thinks, 'Oh, I can create a very interesting story with making the soloist an individual,' different from the orchestra, which might be the society.

And he changed the genre of piano concertos by doing that.

What has been the most rewarding part of this musical journey for you?

It ultimately is about sharing.

When you're so passionate about something, when you love something so much, and you're able to share it sometimes in an intimate group, sometimes with a few other musicians, sometimes for 2,800 people in Carnegie Hall, I mean, that's the greatest gift.

I cannot live my life without that, sharing music with other people.

♪♪ ♪♪ [ Applause ] ♪♪

I'm Margaret Iacono, assistant curator at the Frick Collection, and today we're in the west gallery of the museum, looking at some paintings in our permanent collection.

And you may know that the Frick Collection was the home of Henry Clay Frick and his family.

The building was built in 1913-1914, and Mr. Frick lived here until he died in 1919.

His wife lived here until her death in 1931, and then the building was closed, and expansions were made.

And at that point, we opened to the public at the end of 1935 as the Frick Collection.

In general, the works in our collection are all Western art -- paintings, sculpture, drawings, pieces of decorative art, furniture, and just a wonderful sense of a domestic setting.

And that's something that we strive for at the Frick Collection.

♪♪ There are three Vermeers in the Frick Collection, all purchased by Mr. Frick between 1901 and 1919.

And 'Mistress and Maid' was the last painting that he purchased, and, in fact, the only painting he purchased the year that he died.

We know that after he purchased it, he sent it up to his summer home, Prides Crossing, in Boston, and it was installed in his dining room.

And we also know that, as per archives, that he changed his seat at table so that he could stare at the painting.

Obviously he cared about it very much, and it is quite a beautiful work.

And it's very typical Vermeer.

Once again, you have two interesting ladies, clad very differently.

One clearly the mistress, wearing her wonderful yellow morning coat, pearls in her hair, another wonderful pearl earring that you see in so many works by Vermeer.

And her maid has just entered the room and is holding a note.

And her expression and the mistress's expression don't really give us an exact answer.

When we look at the mistress, we're wondering is she surprised, is she anxious, is she anticipating bad news?

And the big question is what is in that note.

Vermeer uses his wonderful painterly skills to create this beautiful sense of light.

And we see that on the tablecloth here.

We also see blue and yellow, the two colors that come up repeatedly in Vermeer's palette -- the lemon yellow of the woman's morning coat, and the lush blue of the table, painted so that you feel like you can almost reach out and touch the smoothness of the cloth and the different folds.

'Girl Interrupted at her Music' was the first Vermeer that Frick purchased.

He purchased it in 1901.

He was still living in Pittsburgh at the time.

And he paid $26,000 for the work, which was actually quite a considerable price at the time.

Vermeer very often featured women in his paintings but mostly in interior domestic scenes.

But, again, very typical of Vermeer, there's often a vagueness, an ambiguity to the subjects and who they are, and the kind of relationships they're engaged in.

When we first look, we assume it's a girl playing music with her music teacher, but we think the scene is not quite that simple.

Vermeer makes it quite mysterious in the sense that are some things that are not well-explained.

For example, the way the music teacher leans over her is somewhat suggestive, as is the fact that they're looking at a piece of paper together, and it's not very clear.

We can't tell what's on it.

So, it could be sheet music, it could be a love letter, and I think that, quite truthfully, that's one of the great appeals of Vermeer.

We love mysteries.

We also have another fabulous painting by Vermeer, and it's 'Officer and Laughing Girl.'

And it was purchased by Frick in 1911.

And just to give you the sense of how Vermeer's star has begun to rise at this point, Frick paid $225,000 just ten years later.

So, he's obviously not only very interested in Vermeer but also recognizes the quality of this particular work.

And once again we have this ambiguous relationship.

It does seem to be a romantic relationship.

We have this soldier.

He is wearing red, this color of power and passion.

He's wearing a beaver hat.

Beavers were actually extinct in Europe at this time, so perhaps the beaver pelts would have come from the Americas, from Canada, from Siberia.

And we actually know he's not a soldier.

He is actually an officer.

And we know that because he's wearing this black bandolier across his uniform.

What's interesting about this particular painting is it's one of those works that have been cited as a possible work where Vermeer may have used the camera obscura.

The camera obscura is an optical device, really I guess a forerunner of the modern-day camera, and it's been used since Renaissance time.

So, we do know that artists have made use of the camera obscura prior to Vermeer.

And that's been suggested because of the positioning of the figures.

The largeness of the figure of the soldier and the smallness in contrast of the woman, which works quite well to take us into space and suggest depth.

So, whether he used it or not, it wouldn't change I think our appreciation for Vermeer and his brilliancy.

And in so many paintings by Vermeer we see a similar setup.

We see a window generally to the left, and this wonderful flood of light coming through.

And Vermeer is just one of the most special artists when it comes to the treatment of light.

There's something almost magical about the pristine quality of this light, how it floods into the scene and really activates everything in the composition.

I have been asked before when people are looking at 'Mistress and Maid,' where is the light?

Where is the window?'

And actually even in this painting we do see the windows.

We just have to look more closely.

If we look at the glassworks on the table, we can actually see a reflection of window panes from outside the space.

So, once again, Vermeer is showing us the light.

But since there are so few works attributed to Vermeer, only about 36 that we know of today, the fact that Frick was able to get 3 is really something.

I'm Margaret Iacono, assistant curator at the Frick Collection, and I invite you to come to the Frick and look at the many treasures we have in our collection.

Many of these can only be seen at the Frick Collection, and I really feel that if you come here, you will have a sense not only of Mr. Frick's collecting and wonderful aesthetic interests, but of the time period, the wonderful Gilded Age, that special moment in New York City.

♪♪ ♪♪

Thanks for joining us this evening.

I'm Paula Zahn at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

Have a good night.

To enjoy more of your favorite segments on 'NYC-Arts,' visit our website at NYC-Arts.org.

♪♪ Good evening, and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Paula Zahn.

I'm Philippe de Montebello at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

♪♪

Leonard, what a privilege to be able to sit down and talk with you.

I love being here with you, too, Paula.

Where are we?

We're at a moment to take nothing for granted.

Well, it's a pleasure to be with Marci Reaven, the curator of this exhibition full of hope.

We are in the midst of some of the greatest sculptures by the iconic names.

Classical and modern dance are extremely different, and I have so much more to learn before I can really articulate the differences.

And when I listened to Yip Harburg's lyrics in that, I suddenly thought, 'That's what I want to do with my life.'

My pictures reside in very intimate, very private moments.

My primary way of playing the piano is by improvising.

You are in some respects on sacred ground.

A woman came to see me perform and said, 'How would you like to play Billie Holiday?'

I think one of the essential things that we learned is that Matisse used pens to compose his work.

You always are surprised when you're in opera and you're doing a piece that's 100 years ago and you think, 'Oh, my gosh, this could be now.'

The cardboard guitar is the very first of that moment of realization.

And suddenly you come and present something, and you get applause.

Great, you know?

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'first' refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.