The Russian-born pianist Igor Levit has been named as the recipient of the prestigious 2018 Gilmore Artist Award. The Award, one of the richest in classical music, is presented once every four years and comes with a prize of $300,000 – a $50,000 cash grant to be used at the artist’s discretion and $250,000 to support the winner’s chosen projects over a four-year period.

“It is a great honour to receive the Gilmore Award, and I am deeply grateful. The news almost leaves me speechless, but I feel privileged, blessed, and excited,” Levit said on receiving the news. “For me, the purpose of music making and being an artist is to share – to share the past, present, and future of music with my audience as best I can. This award will help me to continue on this path and broaden the possibilities of that sharing.”

Unlike most awards, the candidates for the Gilmore Artist are nominated confidentially without their knowledge by a diverse cross section of international music professionals. The finalists are then secretly followed around the world and evaluated in concert over a two to three-year period by the Gilmore Director and a small, anonymous committee. The seven previous winners are Rafał Blechacz (2014), Kirill Gerstein (2010), Ingrid Fliter (2006), Piotr Anderszewski (2002), Leif Ove Andsnes (1998), Ralf Gothóni (1994), and David Owen Norris (1991).

“Igor Levit is not only a superb pianist but also a deeply thoughtful and insightful artist, and he made a deep impression on all of us who followed his performances over the last three years,” said Daniel R. Gustin, Director of the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival. “He exemplifies the pianist that The Gilmore was formed to support. Igor will be the final Gilmore Artist chosen during my tenure as Director, and I am honored to have led an organization that has made a significant impact on so many great pianists’ lives.”

Already established as a major international artist thanks to a multi-album deal with Sony, Levit, who is still only 30, has also attracted attention for his preparedness to speak out on social and political issues. A declared global citizen and a keen critic of Brexit, at a 2017 BBC Prom Levit wore an EU pin easily picked out by the TV cameras while playing Liszt’s transcription of Ode to Joy, which is the official anthem of the European Union. It was the European refugee crisis, he says, that led him to become a vocal defender of the more libertarian aspects of Germany’s immigration policy, while his highly active twitter feed shows him to be an avowed opponent of the 45th President of the United States. “Trump is a fascist, a racist, a bigot, a moron, an embarrassment to the world and a real enemy of everybody who believes in humanity and dignity. Shame on everyone who supports this shameless crook,” he tweeted this Christmas Eve.

Born in Nizhny Novgorod in Russia, Levit’s family relocated to Germany when he was eight. Pianistic success came early when in 2005 he was the youngest player at the Arthur Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv where he won several prizes including the Prize for Best Performer of Chamber Music, the Audience Favourite Prize and the Prize for Best Performer of Contemporary Music. He went on to complete his piano studies at Hanover Academy of Music, Theatre and Media graduating in 2009 with the highest academic and performance scores in that institute’s history.

His 2013 debut for Sony made quite a splash with Levit recording an ambitious three CD set of the late Beethoven piano sonatas. He followed that up with an equally well received set of the Bach keyboard Partitas and most recently he released another triple disc featuring three sets of variations: the Bach Goldbergs, the Beethoven’s Diabellis and the fiendishly exhausting Marxist-inspired The People United Shall Never Be Defeated by Frederic Rzewski. “When it comes to tools of revolution, hour-long sets of piano variations are impotent; but Levit keeps the music insistently on the brink of a structural precipice, the fist-clenching tonal pomp of the agitprop theme shattering into disorientated tonal fragments trying to find home, cut into by one mighty passage of improvisation and a palette of miscellaneous foot-stamps, whistling and shouts,” wrote Philip Clark in his review for Limelight, praising the Goldbergs as a “highly articulate, soul-searching performance” and describing the Beethoven as “packed with event, mixing viscerally thrilling shadings with a cast-iron feel for structural integrity.”

Levit, whose website is igorlevit.com and whose Twitter handle is @igorpianist, currently lives in Berlin where he plays a Steinway D Grand Piano, which he has affectionately named ‘Monk’ after Thelonious. In recital, he is currently maintaining a focus on the complete Beethoven piano sonatas alongside works by Bach, Shostakovich, Schumann, Wagner, and Liszt. He will give his first public performance as the 2018 Gilmore Artist playing the Brahms left-hand transcription of Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata at The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in New York on January 4 at 7:00 pm. The event will be streamed live on their Facebook page by New York classical music radio station WQXR.


Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine