Pictures at an Exhibition – Leif Ove Andsnes & Robin Rhode

Memories of Childhood
Kinderszenen, Op.15
What becomes
Pictures at an Exhibition

Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
Robin Rhode (artist)
David Weiner (lighting designer)

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 4 December, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Leif Ove Andsnes. Photograph: Lorenzo AgiusA striking and innovative collaboration between leading figures from the worlds of classical music and modern art or another failed attempt at dragging tired old composers into the 21st-century? On the evidence of this dialogue (“Pictures Reframed” as it’s called), between pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and artist Robin Rhode, it’s definitely more of the latter.

The piano was placed centre stage. Surrounding it were six screens. The centre one was used for the video projections, the other five, for abstract patterns. The whole evening was designed as a single event; 80 minutes of music and art performed in semi-darkness.

The theme was childhood. The first Mussorgsky piece and the Schumann were self-explanatory. Andsnes perceives Pictures at an Exhibition as possessing a “childlike” spirit. Composer Thomas Larcher has collaborated with Robin Rhode who has created two “Children-Animations” for the second and last movements of his piece. Rhode has moved from a background of hip-hop and street-culture to museums and galleries with multi-disciplinary works often combining human interaction with everyday objects drawn on walls or floors along with digital animation or grainy monochrome video images (much used in Pictures at an Exhibition)

Andsnes opened with a sweetly phrased, visually unaccompanied Memories of Childhood. Rhode responded with “Kid Candle”, a brief film of a boy playing with a candle. Schuman’s Kinderszenen followed, accompanied by minimal abstract visuals. At least it allowed us to concentrate on the best performance of the night. Simplicity was the key here, each of Schumann’s miniatures beautifully ‘framed’, Andsnes using his range of tonal colours to conjure up images of childlike wonderment. Rhode followed with more video manipulation.

There was more collaboration in the Thomas Larcher’s What becomes, a 20-minute piece specially composed for the show. Quasi-modernist and relatively simple in construction, Larcher, like Mussorgsky, paints an exploratory series of portraits of altering mood, shape and colour in which Andsnes plucked the strings of the piano sometimes creating muted, twanging or dissonant sounds. Rhode contributed video of children, bikes and planes.

Pictures at an Exhibition saw the full collaboration between artist and pianist. Each “picture” had its own video, so the ‘The Hut on Fowl’s Legs’ got running chickens, the closing ‘Great Gate of Kiev’ had a grand piano submerged in water. The two Polish Jews ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle’ was illustrated by (what appeared to be) a series of banking logos, which may raise more than a few eyebrows. That aside there was little to enhance or illuminate our understanding of this great work.

A model of restraint all evening Andsnes, inexplicably, pushed too hard here, sacrificing the delicate colours and subtleties of nuance so evident in the earlier pieces for loud and forced gestures which did little to compensate for some of Rhode’s more obscure and sometimes mundane images. Andsnes and Rhode have talked about having much in common, but on this showing it was hard to find evidence of it.

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