Igor Levit Felix Broede/Sony Classical
Igor Levit Felix Broede/Sony Classical

From 18 to 21 May 2023, pianist Igor Levit will curate Piano Fest, Lucerne Festival’s new keyboard festival, joining forces with four other pianists to bridge the gap between classical and jazz and between written and improvised music.

In May 2023, Lucerne will inaugurate the new Piano Fest curated by the pianist Igor Levit. For this four-day-long festival, Levit has invited a number of top-class musicians from a wide range of backgrounds to join him at the KKL Luzern: Alexei Volodin, Anna Vinnitskaya, Fred Hersch, and Johanna Summer. Levit’s overall concept for the seven concerts is based on the principle of interaction — not only with the audience but also among the artists themselves. “I find it important to show how written and improvised music, classical and jazz, discipline and freedom can coexist,” explains Levit, who will himself give a solo recital and additionally perform in a duo with Alexei Volodin and as a special guest in Fred Hersch’s jazz recital. Anna Vinnitskaya, Fred Hersch, and Johanna Summer will in turn each perform a solo program in the evenings. The final event of the festival will present four artists performing in various configurations and also in competition reminiscent of jazz or rap “battles.”

“We are opening a new chapter with Piano Fest,” comments Michael Haefliger, Executive and Artistic Director of Lucerne Festival. “Igor Levit’s exciting concept redefines the role played by the pianists, and they will additionally enter into a dialogue with each other. The audience will be excited to see how classical music and jazz are presented and juxtaposed in a unique way here.”

In the opening concert on Thursday, 18 May, Levit will perform with Alexei Volodin. Levit has known the Russian pianist, who lives in Spain, for 20 years. “He is among the most serious and conscientious performers of a remarkably broad repertoire,” says Levit, “and combines a wonderfully luminous sound with a fascinating, profound shading of voices and temporal flow.”

On Friday, 19 May, Igor Levit will appear in a solo recital featuring works by Johannes Brahms, Fred Hersch, Gustav Mahler, and Sergei Prokofiev. Later in the evening as well as Saturday will be devoted to jazz: the Fred Hersch Trio will be introduced at a late-night event on 19 May, and Hersch himself will give a solo evening of improvisations on 20 May, with Levit appearing as a special guest. “He has impressed and influenced me more than anyone else in recent years,” remarks Levit of Hersch, who will present the first part of his new series Songs Without Words at the Piano Fest. This is a work in three parts that has been commissioned over a three-year period, each part of which will comprise a set of  six movements. “The title, referring to Felix Mendelssohn’s precedent, has been carefully chosen,” Levit explains, adding that Hersch regards these miniatures as “genre pieces that could be sung.”

The young German pianist Johanna Summer, who will give a late-night Saturday performance, plays in a manner Levit finds to be “clear, cool, unadorned, and precise,” combining classical and jazz in her own way. Titled “Resonanzen”, her program will present works by Bach, Beethoven, and Ligeti, among others.

Levit describes the grand finale of the Piano Fest as a “pianistic class reunion” which will take the form of “an entertaining relay race, with all of the participants of the evening appearing in turn onstage. We will take part in miniature competitions, much as Johann Sebastian Bach once faced his rivals at the organ — and much as they remain popular today in jazz or rap ‘battles.’” At the end, all of the pianists will join to play in a variety of changing formations.

“No Fear”, a new film about Igor Levit by the director and Grimme Award winner Regina Schilling that is currently in cinemas in Germany, will be shown at Lucerne’s stattkino parallel to the Piano Fest.

The online presale for the new Piano Fest starts on 31 January 2023 at 12:00 noon (Swiss time).