Who is pianist Igor Levit?

An introduction to Russo-German pianist Igor Levit, whose performance of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto from 2017 is being broadcast as part of the 2020 First Night of the Proms

Pianist Igor Levit

Russo-German pianist Igor Levit began to make his name in 2011, when he became a BBC New Generation Artist. By this stage, he had already won four prizes at the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, so was already well known within the piano world.

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Levit made his recording debut on Sony Classical in 2013, with an album of Beethoven’s late piano sonatas. In his review for BBC Music Magazine, Michael Tanner wrote ‘Those who are searching for perfection can stop here. Revelatory experiences like this don’t come often in a lifetime.’

Despite dabbling with Bach and Rzewski in other recordings for Sony, Beethoven has been Levit’s enduring love, consistently returning to the composer’s work throughout his career. In 2019, he recorded a highly-acclaimed cycle of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, which was BBC Music Magazine‘s Instrumental Choice in our December 2019 issue.

When BBC Music Magazine‘s managing editor Rebecca Franks spoke to Levit for our November 2019 issue and asked him which of Beethoven’s sonatas stand out for him, he said: ‘Almost all of them are in one way or another revolutionary. But the Hammerklavier and the Waldstein really stick out as complete second-to-none experiences, both for listeners and players. The Hammerklavier walks on the edge. I don’t know a more demanding and yet more fulfilling piano piece to play.’

Levit is a fervent supporter of the European Union, appearing at the 2017 First Night of the Proms wearing an EU badge and choosing to play Liszt’s transcription of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the EU anthem, as his encore. He introduces himself as ‘Citizen, European, Pianist’.

‘It’s a simple fact that I am a European citizen. I care for my home and for where I come from,’ he told BBC Music Magazine in 2019. ‘That means I allow myself to stand and fight for it, and I allow myself to criticise it.’

He often shares his political views on Twitter to his 93,000 followers in a mix of German and English language, as well as videos of himself playing the piano in lockdown.

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Igor Levit was the cover star of BBC Music Magazine in November 2019.