When the German pianist, Igor Levit was selected as the featured soloist of the Nobel Prize ceremony last month, it marked yet another grace note in a career that’s quickly grown filled with awards and honors. In line for a Grammy later this month, Levit is 33 and already among the brightest stars in the classical music cosmos. But lately, as the pandemic mutes and muffles so much music, Levit’s performances have been mostly streaming over Twitter from his Berlin living room. As Igor Levit plays in a new way to a new audience, he’s reached a conclusion: music is not an extravagance, but a life necessity.
Igor Levit is, to mix musical genres, a rock star. Here he is inside London’s Royal Albert Hall, for the opening at The Proms in 2017, one of the oldest and most anticipated festivals on the concert calendar. A typically glowing review described the performance as “fiery,” “magical,” and “elegant.” Take a look at how Levit curls over his instrument. At odds with every piano teacher’s demand for perfect posture, it’s almost as if Levit is physically becoming part of the music he is conjuring.
Jon Wertheim: We sometimes think of musicians as– they don’t mind the isolation. They can be disengaged. I get the feeling, you need that connection with an audience.
Igor Levit: I couldn’t live without that. since my very childhood what I care about are people–
Jon Wertheim: Always.
Igor Levit: Always.
Even in a vast and venerable concert hall, this German musician has a way of creating an intimacy with his audience.
Then in March, the pandemic hit. His tour dates cancelled, that intimacy evaporated.
Jon Wertheim: In many ways, the lockdown turned your world on its head.
Igor Levit: It’s a disaster–
Jon Wertheim: -technicians and the lighting-
Igor Levit: A disaster. Agents, managers.
Jon Wertheim: What happens?
Igor Levit: They lose everything from one day to the other. The loss is– by 100%. it’s a total disaster.
It could have been a disaster for Levit, a hipster, suddenly grounded at home in an edgy pocket of Berlin.
Igor Levit: I can’t just make music for myself. It’s just not– not the– not the way I operate. I can’t, emotionally. So I had this idea to bring one of the most classic ways of music making, which is the house concert, to bring it, to try to bring it into the 21st century. So how do I do it? So I invite the people into my living room in the only way possible, which is through social media.
First, he tweeted out an invitation to his followers.
Next, he rushed out to buy a cheap camera stand, hastily rigged his iPhone, self-administered a tutorial in live-streaming and then, it was showtime.
The first house concert drew a virtual crowd of 350,000.
Jon Wertheim: Sounds kinda liberating.
Igor Levit: It’s completely transformed me, who I am, how I see the world,
Jon Wertheim: that would seem to dramatically change the boundaries between a performer and the audience.
Igor Levit: It– yeah, it was just…