Hailed for “his potent mixture of powerful art and political candor,” Berlin-based pianist Igor Levit doesn’t believe in compartmentalizing his life.
“The idea that art is an excuse for not engaging is utterly ridiculous,” he said in a recent interview with the New York Times. And in a subsequent feature with Second Wave of Southeast Michigan, Levit elaborated, “It is absolutely ludicrous to imagine that any citizen, any human being should not speak out, whatever he does [for a career].” To remain silent, one might just as well “wrap up whatever democracy is [left] and flush it down the toilet.”
Earlier this year, Levit, 31, received the Gilmore Artist Award, which is bestowed every four years to an international pianist of any age and nationality after a rigorous and confidential selection process. Established in 1989 by the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation of Kalamazoo, Mich., the honor carries a cash prize of $300,000. Previous winners include Leif Ove Andsnes (1998), Ingrid Fliter (2006) and Kirill Gerstein (2010). Levit, who made his Chicago debut in 2017, as part of the Symphony Center Presents Piano series, returns to the area for a concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under Marin Alsop, on Aug. 18 at the Ravinia Festival. He will perform Ravel’s Piano Concerto in a program also featuring Bernstein’s Slava! (A Political Overture) and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.
“If you speak of music as the universal language, music as something that would bring people together, [then] I believe you if you not only live these values within a concert hall, from a concert stage, but you actually live these ideals,” Levit said. “If you decide to not speak out, fine. This is your decision. … I believe in the right to even be ignorant. That is a right — I find it wrong, even dangerous, but you have a right to do so. But to not relate to [societal] values and ideals, and then say, ‘oh, I am an artist, I have so much to do with Mozart and Beethoven, I don’t have time to do anything else — this is hypocrisy, this is what I absolutely hate, and this is what I was talking about [in the New York Times interview].”
Meanwhile, Levit maintains an active presence on Twitter, where he shares his views freely and identifies himself as “citizen, European, pianist.” (In that order. 🙂 ) On social media, he demonstrates that he clearly follows current events around the world, including in the United States. Witness:
— Igor Levit (@igorpianist) July 13, 2018
He was reacting to the indictment of 12 Russian nationals as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Bonus points for correctly using the term “presser,” a Beltway expression for a news conference.)