Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg, was born one hundred and sixty-seven years ago today.  Many people will be familiar with his works, even if unknowingly.  His incidental music for Peer Gynt has successfully permeated popular culture. 

But I am reminded of a story that gives still more colour to the day.  In 2007 Leif Ove Andsnes decided to mark the centenary of his fellow countryman’s death by having a piano helicoptered to the top of a mountain, where he performed Grieg’s Ballade for piano, with no one but mother nature (and a conveniently placed film crew) to hear.  The footage and commentary are fascinating. 

This is not Andsnes’ only, shall we say, creative attempt to give voice to the music he loves.  A 2002 disc finds him performing some of Grieg’s lyric pieces on the composer’s piano at his very own villa outside of Bergen.  (Mikhail Pletnev did something similar, wanting to pay homage to his compatriot, Rachmaninov.)  More recently, Andsnes “reframed” Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, performing the remarkable work in a multimedia setting, surrounded by video screens that displayed visuals by artist Robin Rhodes.  The details of that fascinating project have also been captured on film.  These are the attempts of a world-class musician to see if classical music is capable of transcending itself, of broadening its horizons.

Some of you will remember the story of violinist Joshua Bell busking incognito – and going virtually unnoticed – in a Washington D.C. subway station.  Stunts, experiments of this kind are small ways of sounding out the place of classical music in our day-to-day lives.  And as Bell’s experience shows, it does seem that classical music has gone underground.

Scenes such as these lead us to consider the place of classical music in popular culture.  Does classical music need the help of Disney, a Fantasia?  What of so-called “crossover” albums?  Whatever the case, musicians as thoughtful as Andsnes help to give it life. 

I don’t think that this is just a case of trees falling in the forest.  For the music – mountain-high, river-low – waits for us to hear and discover.

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