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New Classical Tracks feature with Igor Levit

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New Classical Tracks is a Syndicated Feature airing Nationally on Classical 24 & Statewide on Minnesota Public Radio. Listen to Julie Amacher's Feature with Igor Levit.

READ THE TRANSCRIPT - Igor Levit is a 28-year-old Russian/German pianist. If you look up just about any article on this young artist you'll see he's often referred to as "the future of piano." Perhaps that's because his goal is to explore human nature from every angle through music, and he demonstrates that through his most recent release. It's a three-CD recording featuring three of the most demanding keyboard cycles: Bach's Goldberg variations; Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, and Rzewski's "The People United Will Never be Defeated."

Recording any one of these variations would be quite a feat, so I asked Igor why he decided to record all of these variations into one marathon package. "I think they speak to each other, they create an incredible atmosphere, they are incredibly human, the human idea is really strong in these pieces," he explains. "And I wouldn't want to record Goldberg only or Diabelli only or 'People' only. I really thought that these compositions belong together. They are unique among any variation cycles, I think, ever written for piano. So when I had the chance to record all three of them over a year - it took me a year to record them, but it took me 12 years to work on them … of course, there was no doubt to do it."

Most recently, Levit teamed up with artist Marina Abramovic for a bare-bones performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. Igor told me this humbling experience has forever changed his approach to this set of variations. "What happens is - that once people go get into the Park Avenue, they have to leave their mobile phones, their watches, laptops, iPads, whatever, in a locker," he says. "They get noise-canceling headphones. They walk into the space and then there's nothing. It's just silence. So for 30 minutes, people are just there in total silence. And after these 30 minutes, once I arrive in the middle of the space, then once I start playing, there's nothing else than the music."

Of the three works on this recording, Igor Levit has probably lived with Beethoven's Diabelli variations the longest. It was first introduced to him by his piano teacher when he was just 15 years old. "He said, 'I think the Diabelli Variations are going to be your piece. Look at it.' So he gave me the pages and they were in the wrong order. So basically I started reading from the middle of the piece and it was quite exciting.

"What I think is very important about it is the experience of expressions. Beethoven writes this most incredible piece, 33 variations. And what you experience, very often, is that … it's like if you cook with ingredients which do not fit together at all. Sometimes, within one variation there are emotions which do not fit together at all. In the end, though, you realize, 'Hey. That's the one and only possible way.' And you make this incredible journey from the theme … to the end. Once someone from the audience came and said, 'There's this one variation - it sounds like a musical Tourette's Syndrome.' And I always answer, 'What is so bizarre about that?' That is what human nature is about. All of us, we experience that. So what you experience here in this piece, again, among many, many other experiences, is the pure most intense picture of the human nature. Everything is in it."

While he was working on both the Diabelli and the Goldberg variations, Igor Levitt decided to also master another very challenging set by American composer Frederic Rzewski. Igor was just 16 when he discovered "The People United Will never be Defeated," and he was absolutely amazed. He ordered the music and was absolutely horrified he couldn't play a note at the time. "But since then I've been working slowly on 'The People United'," he admits. "I realized that this piece, 'The People United,' really is one of the most significant compositions, musical works, ever written by one of the significant composers of our time. And I think this piece is right up there with Goldberg and Diabelli. And I know for some people that sounds provoking, but I stand there and say absolutely this is the case."

Music that explores the human condition by Bach, Beethoven and Rzewski all compiled into one complete collection by Igor Levit, a young artist who is molding the future of classical music.

This week on New Classical Tracks, you can enter for a chance to win a copy of Igor Levit's Bach: Goldberg Variations, Beethoven: Diabelli Variations, Rzewski's 'The People United will Never be Defeated' three-CD set. Winners will be drawn at random. Be sure to enter by midnight CST on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2015.