Stories » Piano innovator Igor Levit seeks new pathways / The Boston Globe

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Piano innovator Igor Levit seeks new pathways / The Boston Globe

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Igor Levit seemed to come out of nowhere. Largely unknown at the time of his 2013 debut recording of the last five Beethoven sonatas, the pianist has racked up a nearly unbroken string of accolades for his playing, which is daring, expressive, and inwardly focused in a way that belies his relative youth. (He was born in 1987.) "He is the future," the Los Angeles Times intoned last year.

Given Levit's abrupt early success, it's all the more intriguing that his career has proceeded not in a straight line but by reinvention, detours and course changes rather than straight-line advances. Having started his studies at age 3, Levit went through a period at 16 or 17 when "I simply didn't like the piano at all," he said recently by phone from Berlin, where he moved a few months ago. (Levit was born in Russia, but moved with his family to Germany when he was 8.) "I liked the music, but the instrument, as it is, I disliked a lot." He changed tack and began playing Renaissance vocal music, an immersion that led him, eventually, to Bach, whose music he plays with vital rhythmic force.

Another time, he became dissatisfied with the Romantic-era fare he'd been playing. In search of something new, he discovered the American-born composer Frederic Rzewski, of whom he's become a close friend and of whose works he is a passionate advocate. "I permanently try out new things," he said. "These questions I raise all the time. And out of these questions I make certain decisions, regarding repertoire, regarding myself in general."

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