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Vikingur Olafsson chats about 'Mozart & Contemporaries' with All Classical Portland

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"I feel like, when I play Mozart, that I get to know myself as a musician. I get to know sides that I didn't before. He seems to reflect your innermost core in music."  - Víkingur Ólafsson

After the global successes of Philip Glass · Piano Works, Johann Sebastian Bach, Debussy · Rameau and Debussy · Rameau Reflections (227.5 million career streams to date and over 320K albums sold), multi-award-winning pianist Víkingur Ólafsson now turns his attention to the music of MOZART. Ólafsson presents some of his favourite Mozart keyboard works in the company of pieces by a selection of the composer's leading contemporaries. Juxtaposing works by Mozart, Haydn and C.P.E. Bach with rarely-recorded Galuppi and Cimarosa, Mozart & Contemporaries dispels the image of Mozart as the angelic and prodigious idiot savant, instead presenting a mature composer through music primarily dating from the 1780s: a resourceful, hard-working adult who had come to know adversity. All is artfully brought together by Ólafsson's signature thought-provoking programming. 

Ólafsson comments: "I find this decade of Mozart's life and art endlessly fascinating. Mozart was not just a composer, and I feel that when he was writing for himself as a virtuoso pianist he indulged more than ever in the sublime playfulness that lay at the core of his originality and inventiveness. This is the period when Mozart was not just perfecting the Classical tradition but subtly subverting it … the shadows are darker, the nuances and ambiguities more profound."

"Víkingur Ólafsson is revitalising classical music" The Economist

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788); Joseph Haydn (1732–1809); Baldassare Galuppi (1706–1785); and Domenico Cimarosa (1749–1801): "Perhaps all four provide a chance to calibrate the contemporary ear towards the prevailing ideas, styles and tastes of the times", comments Ólafsson. "It is my hope that this particular context, a mix of the celebrated and the obscure, can slightly alter our psychological attunement, removing some of the baggage we all bring with us to Mozart's music. This is in any case what I set out to do for myself: to approach even the best-known works of Mozart with the same freedom and childlike enthusiasm I felt upon discovering the rare and staggeringly lyrical works from the likes of Galuppi and Cimarosa."

Mozart & Contemporaries provides a fascinating snapshot of a decade when changes were brewing, composers were experimenting, and Mozart was writing such visionary pieces as the Sonata in C minor K457. The album – the pianist's fourth for Deutsche Grammophon – also includes Ólafsson's own transcriptions: haunting arrangements of two sonatas by Cimarosa, plus a masterful solo piano transcription of the great Adagio in E flat major from Mozart's String Quintet K516. To conclude the album, Mozart's Adagio in B minor K540 quietly transitions into Franz Liszt's transcription of the motet Ave verum corpus, composed in Mozart's final year. The vocal lines' ascension to the piano's higher registers is viewed by Ólafsson as representing a final sense of death and transfiguration. 

All Classical Portland's Josh Espinoza writes…In his newest recording for Deutsche Grammophon (released September, 2021), Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson explores Mozart’s music in the context of composers who came before him and who helped Mozart shape his distinctive and immediately recognizable style. Ólafsson speaks with program director John Pitman about how he made connections between Mozart and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, as well as important composers of Mozart’s time who aren’t so well known today, such as Baldassare Galuppi, whom Ólafsson regards as a very important and forward-thinking composer of the 18th century.

CLICK HERE to hear Vikingur's conversation with ACP's Program Director - John Pitman