“I would like in the most honest and direct way, to share, and I would like the listeners to share with me,” said 29-year-old pianist Igor Levit regarding his upcoming Santa Barbara performance on March 9. Born in Russia and raised in Germany, the Berlin-based pianist has captivated audiences across the globe with his nimble, sensitive finger work, garnering critical acclaim for his 2013 debut album, Beethoven: The Late Piano Sonatas, and Gramophone Artist of the Month in October 2014 for his sophomore recording of Bach’s six-suite Partitas. I spoke with the virtuoso after his recent Carnegie Hall debut, and his amiable and honest nature made me feel as if I was chatting with a longtime friend.
How is 2017 treating you? Well, I must say, quite exciting. It all started with quite a long trip to the U.S., which was very beautiful, and always something I’ve loved to do. I feel very close to the states. I’m in the middle of my Beethoven Sonata Cycle in London, as you know, which I just got back from.
What was it like to play at Carnegie Hall? It was quite unforgettable — not just because of the place but because of the combination of venue, program, and very close people. Friends, trusted human beings — all of it combined made it quite extraordinary.
Your debut recording consisted of Beethoven’s late piano sonatas. Why Beethoven? Beethoven, since I can [remember], was the center of my musician life. He is the composer I feel closest to. Since forever, when I was thinking about any debut record, it was clear for me that it was going to be Beethoven. It became clear that this is what I had to start with, and luckily I found partners with Sony Music, who gave me the chance to actually do that, which is quite wonderful. I never questioned it. Without my partners, and without the support of friends, this would have never worked out.
Outside of the classical music realm, what are you listening to, music-wise? Well, that is a tricky question to ask. I can’t possibly give you one answer to that. Too much. From free jazz to hip-hop to freestyle hip-hop to classical to anything — whatever I feel is relevant for me, I listen to. So there isn’t really a kind of border. There are no limits. There is everything. With a couple exceptions, I’m not a big German schlager music [fan].
Aside from working as a practicing musician and orchestrating all that goes with it, how do you spend your free time? Traveling. Seeing people, seeing friends, listening to people. Making experiences — just reading and traveling is something I really love to do, in order to meet people, to listen to people, learn, to experience.
Can you picture a profession for yourself other than working as a musician? Well, it’s hard to answer. I probably would have gone into some political foundation. But it’s now very late, so it’s hard to answer. Who knows?
Do you ever play piano purely for pleasure? You bet I do. I mean, I just sit at home in the middle of the night — I have fantastic nightmares, you know. You bet I do. Absolutely.
411 UCSB’s Arts & Lectures presents Igor Levit Thursday, March 9, 7 p.m. at Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall (1070 Fairway Rd.). Call (805) 893-3535 or see artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.