Robert Levin

Piano

"Levin lives Mozart throughout his entire body, and for every second of the score...he plays the music as if he's writing it himself - for the first time"

Hilary Finch, The Times

"The Second Piano Concerto was also given a magnificent performance. Levin’s playing was a model of classicism for this early Beethoven work"

Jonathan Richmond, Boston Globe

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Pianist and Conductor Robert Levin has performed throughout the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia. His solo engagements include the orchestras of Atlanta, Berlin, Birmingham, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, Utah and Vienna on the Steinway with such conductors as Semyon Bychkov, James Conlon, Bernard Haitink, Sir Neville Marriner, Seiji Ozawa, Sir Simon Rattle and Esa-Pekka Salonen. On period pianos he has appeared with the Academy of Ancient Music, English Baroque Soloists, Handel & Haydn Society, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, with Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Christopher Hogwood, Sir Charles Mackerras, Nicholas McGegan, and Sir Roger Norrington.

Renowned for his improvised embellishments and cadenzas in Classical period repertoire, Robert Levin has made recordings for DG Archiv, CRI, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, ECM, New York Philomusica, Nonesuch, Philips and SONY Classical. These include a Mozart concerto cycle for Decca; a Beethoven concerto cycle for DG Archiv (including the world premiere recording of Beethoven’s arrangement of the Fourth Concerto for piano and string quintet); and the complete Bach harpsichord concertos with Helmuth Rilling, as well as the six English Suites (on piano) and both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier (on five keyboard instruments) as part of Hänssler’s 172-CD Edition Bachakademie. ECM will be releasing his traversal of the Mozart piano sonatas on Mozart’s piano. He is a regular partner of cellist Steven Isserlis, with whom he recorded the complete piano and cello music of Beethoven, and pianist Ya-Fei Chuang, with whom he appears in recital and with orchestra. Earlier this year he toured Europe and the United States with violinist Hilary Hahn.

A passionate advocate of new music, Robert Levin has commissioned and premiered a large number of works. He has recorded the complete piano music of Dutilleux for ECM and joined pianist Ursula Oppens in a CD of Bernard Rands’ piano music for Bridge. A renowned chamber musician, his completions of Mozart fragments are published by Bärenreiter, Breitkopf & Härtel, Carus, Peters, and Wiener Urtext Edition, and recorded and performed throughout the world.

This biography is for information only and should not be reproduced.

‘Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – The Piano Sonatas on Mozart’s Fortepiano’ ECM Records

released on 16/09/2022

(…) And boy does it show, with Levin’s fluent, improvisational yet scrupulously historically informed approach evident in every bar of these highly engaging, often surprising accounts.

(…) Such as No 8 in A Minor K310: in Levin’s hands so exciting, visceral even. No 12 in F K332, colourful and dramatic and adorned with those improvised embellishments that Levin lavishes with such care and taste throughout, such that they are never superfluous and always expressive of structure as much as feeling.(…) I was moved to ecstasy.

Will Yeoman, The Limelight Magazine ****​*

You might think the instrument’s modest size and sound would restrict expression, yet the reverse seems true: Levin zooms in fearlessly, placing the music’s emotion and narrative progression centre stage.

The crucial factor is the profound understanding, sophistication and sense of joy with which he delves into the personality of the composer, not just that of his piano. (...) Each note is inhabited with vitality, each phrase urgent with meaningful expression.

Levin gives his own expertise in improvisation its head during repeats and restatements – already virtuosic music blossoms out with dazzling splashes of fresh fingerpaint, extending to audacious amplifications of detail in melodic lines and harmonies. Would Mozart have had so much fun with them? I reckon so.

The whole project is a stunner. Without neglecting faithfulness to the letter, Levin prioritises faithfulness to the spirit. This treasurable set may cast crucial light not only on these sonatas, but also on how we consider the very nature of historical performance.

Jessica Duchen, The BBC Music Magazine *****

Levin imbues this repertoire with vibrant life and deep meaning at every turn, not to mention his astonishing embellishments on repeats.

Levin’s completions of three unfinished or fragmentary Mozart sonata movements are so convincingly idiomatic that you’d never be the wiser.

In short, Robert Levin’s Mozart sonata cycle is a testament to his painstaking yet practical scholarship, intelligent musicianship, and total command of the keyboard. (...) Even if you already own one or two or more Mozart sonata cycles, make plenty of room for Levin’s insightful artistry. You won’t regret it.

Jed Distler, Classics Today

The brilliant Robert Levin (...) embarks on one of the most musical, spontaneous sets of sonatas that can be imagined.

Levin has a superb grasp of not only sources but also the power of gesture.

Levin’s timing of Mozart’s gestures is perfect, as is his realization of orchestratiomal equivalencies.

Documentation is spotless, an education in itself, while presentation is of the very highest echelon.

Levin presents us with an immense achievement, one that without doubt will illuminate, educate and, best of all, nourish the soul, all caught in perfectly judged sound.

Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine *****

He’s not shy about exploiting the potential to its fullest, and pushing the instrument to the limits of its expressive and tonal possibilities.

Levin’s rich ornamentation has attracted considerable attention. I find it entirely convincing, giving these performances an oratorical, in-the-moment electricity, as the speaker explores his subject with extemporaneous insight, elaboration and emphasis.

He has said his goal was to leave no clue as to where his pen took up and Mozart’s left off, and he has succeeded. The results are seamless, and satisfying.

Philip Kennicott, Gramophone

Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3

Scottish Chamber Orchestra (November 2017)

The result was edge-of-your-seat stuff, sometimes raising a smile, often raising eyebrows, but carried through with utter conviction and brilliant, sometimes rather hard-edged clarity. 

David Kettle, The Scotsman ****​

Robert Levin, who has just celebrated his 70th birthday, brought his renowned erudition to the solo part, as well as the flair of his own improvised cadenzas, always staying clearly within the embrace of Beethoven’s own themes.

Keith Bruce, The Herald ****​

Alte Oper Recital

Mozart Saal, Frankfurt

Erfolgreich Musik machen und erfolgreich über sie reden können wenige. Ein solcher Universalkünstler, bekannt auch als Vollender berühmter Fragmente wie etwa Mozarts Requiem, ist der Pianist Robert Levin.

Gerhard Schroth, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Hilary Hahn Recitals

European and US Tour (March 2017)

A Mozart sonata, K. 481, followed. Again it was Levin whose dynamism collared our ears… it was clear that our musicians were enjoying a conversation.

…Levin’s solo turn followed in Hans Peter Türk’s Träume, another welcome UK premiere. Its angular opening line suggested an academic fugue was coming. Yet bell sounds and free-flowing fingers soon whisked us into a reflective world much more suited to the music’s purpose as a memorial for the composer’s late wife.

The final proof of Hahn’s rebirth came in Schubert’s Rondo, D. 895. For thrust and snap she and Levin were now equal, prancing together, jubilant in attack. The applause rang out; the encores arrived, topped off by Lili Boulanger’s Cortège and Nocturne, easing us beautifully into the night. This was a very enjoyable second half.

Geoff Brown, The Times ****

Levin was a full partner, with Hahn a lyrical presence (the slow movement [of the Kreutzer Sonata] seemed downright magical).

Olin Chism, Fort Worth Star Telegram

Their joint recital Saturday night at Jordan Hall as part of the Celebrity Series brought the best of both worlds… Levin brought dexterous technique and fine touch to both works. In the third movement of the Bach sonata, which featured Levin by himself, his phrases swirled elegantly in a singing, almost fruity tone…

Many of the Mozart’s violin sonatas are juvenilia, but K. 481 is a mature work rich in flowering melody. In Saturday’s performance, the first movement had moments of drama, with Hahn and Levin traversing both the delicate and dark themes with finesse. Levin was the focus of the second movement as he conjured soft phrases with clean, pure tone.

Long and rapturous applause brought Hahn and Levin back to the stage for three encores. These short works revealed yet again that Hahn and Levin are a duo of rare and sensitive musicality.

Aaron Keebaugh, Boston Classical Review

Mozart’s Sonata in E-Flat Major was outstanding. A Mozart scholar and expert improviser in the Classical style, Levin played with a tender sort of assertiveness. Clear, connected phrases flowed like a transparent sheet of water blooming from a fountain… Three encores followed… After each, Hahn and Levin bowed to each other, and then to the audience, standing together as equals.

Zoë Madonna, The Boston Globe

Hilary Hahn Recitals

US Tour (October 2016)

The Bach and the Mozart are true duets, in which the piano and violin have equal roles, and Levin made an arresting partner. Both players sounded so spontaneous that it seemed miraculous they were so perfectly coordinated. The Bach was as fluid and swift as rushing water, and the Mozart sounded as contemporary as the Abril.

Anne Midgette, The Washington Post

Levin was a consummate accompanist, never overwhelming Hahn’s solo lines or forcing her to make herself heard. She sounded, as a result, completely at ease throughout the evening.

Charles T. Downey, Washington Classical Review

Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (October 2016)

Levin’s solo work in the concerto was marked not only by nimble technique and expressive clarity, but by the deep knowledge of the period that gives his every performance such a sense of linguistic mastery. At the most obvious level, that enables him to improvise his own cadenzas — the showy, unaccompanied flourishes that come right before the conclusion of nearly every movement — just as Beethoven and his contemporaries would have done, and to do so firmly within the bounds of Beethoven’s musical grammar and vocabulary.

Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Gate

Stuttgart Radio Orchestra

BBC Proms (July 2016)

The really thrilling bit came in the cadenzas, the point where the soloist is supposed to show off. Most pianists make use of Beethoven’s written-out cadenzas; Levin made up his own, full of thunderous arpeggios and cliff-hanging high trills. Would Sir Roger and the orchestra know when they were coming to an end? Would Robert Levin himself know? Fortunately it all came out right in the end… this Prom was a lesson in how familiar things can be made exciting and risky, as if they were created yesterday… to witness it was riveting.

Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph *****

Academy of Ancient Music

Barbican Centre (February 2015)

He managed the piano’s light exchanges with the orchestra beautifully, and found the all the depth and emotion of this, the longest of Mozart’s concertos [Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major]. This performance became not about the period instruments themselves, but about what the instruments revealed in the music.

John Allison, The Telegraph ****

Beethoven Cello Sonatas with fortepiano (Isserlis)

Hyperion (CDA67981/2)

Levin supplies his own muscular music-making. The fortepiano’s sound may lack depth but it certainly boasts sharp teeth. There’s hushed delicacy too… Chandos’s sound, as usual, is immaculate. More Beethoven, please.

Geoff Brown, The Times ****

This set contains some of the finest Beethoven performances you are likely to hear... The ensemble with Robert Levin is dynamic, intimate, often electric. There’s a sense of two powerful minds intensely engaged in Beethoven’s dialogue. At best it’s unbeatable... The fortepiano comes into its own in the delightful sets of Magic Flute Variations... There isn’t a better version with fortepiano.

Helen Wallace, BBC Music Magazine *****

Isserlis had the theme but Levin is no mere accompanist, fastidious in his role as a partner yet one who never overwhelms the cello... Theirs is a shared experience of audacity and spirituality. Small changes in recorded levels plus a few sniffs are insignificant. They don’t retract from the riches born of scant regard for the superficiality of toeing conventional lines or selecting safe options, shared with listeners in even the less mighty works, the variations and Horn Sonata. This is Beethoven fleshed out by Levin and Isserlis – and anodyne he ain’t here.

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Nalen Anthony, Gramophone Mazine – Recording of the Month

Levin’s pianoforte is an ideal match, with a sinuous, intimate sound well captured by Hyperion’s microphones. Recommended.

Guy Weatherall, Classical Music Magazine *****

Reicha / Mozart / Schubert

Scottish Chamber Orchestra (May 2013)

Visceral insight and energy lit every inch of Schubert’s Symphony No 2, and with it a flamboyant end to a boisterous concert and the main SCO season

Kenneth Walton, The Scotsman * * * *

Levin is an astounding communicator. Sometimes he says a lot; sometimes very little. But what he does and says is gold dust. Bluntly, what he and the SCO did on Friday night was staggering in its revelatory qualities. He interrupted his blinding performance of Mozart's D major piano concerto, K 451, one of the lesser-known concertos, by announcing that the showcase cadenzas, which he improvised, were not so much a display of how fast the soloist could play, as how fast he could think: an immensely interesting comment, reflecting clearly Levin's philosophy, attitude and, indeed, the amazing rapport between him and the SCO, as evidenced in the heart-stopping performance of the concerto.

Michael Tumelty, The Herald *****

Robert Levin’s Concert Repertoire

J. S BACH

Brandenburg Concerto No. 5
Triple Concerto BWV 1044
Complete concertos for 1-4 keyboards  

BEETHOVEN

Complete piano concertos


Rondo WoO 6
Choral Fantasy, Op. 80
Triple Concerto, Op. 56 

BRAHMS

Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 15 

FRANCK

Variations symphoniques 

HARBISON

Piano Concerto

MENDELSSOHN

Piano Concertos in A minor


No.1, Op. 25
No. 2, Op. 40
Capriccio brilliant; Concertos for 2 pianos  

MOZART

Complete piano concertos and rondos 

POULENC

Concerto for 2 Pianos

SCHUMANN

Complete works for piano and orchestra 

STRAVINSKY

Concerto for Piano and Winds

WYNER

Piano Concerto (Chiavi in mano), dedicated to RL

FULL RECORDINGS AND REPERTOIRE

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