Observations: Mussorgsky classic gets drowned in sound

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The Independent Culture

Inspired by the Two Moors Festival's mishap on Dartmoor in 2007, with its long-awaited £26,000 Bösendorfer – the highly-skilled, professional piano-movers dropped it off the back of their lorry and left it for dead – BBC Music Magazine recently ran a cheery piece about other stories of cruelty to pianos. Sawn in half, catapulted across a desert, dropped into a Swiss lake... there's no end to the indignities this supremely dignified instrument has been subject to.

On Monday at the Southbank Centre, the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes will unveil his new DVD, Pictures Reframed, in which a Steinway is ritually drowned. Two years previously he'd put this same instrument on a snowy mountain peak to deliver a Grieg ballade for the cameras: perverse or what? Actually, there's method in his madness (and he's quick to point out that the drowned instrument was 100 years old). Seeking a new way to present Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, he invited the South African video artist Robin Rhode to make a film which would accompany his performance, and they agreed that there was only one possible visual response to "The Great Gate of Kiev", which is the final piece in the show. The drowning accordingly took place in a Bergen dock.

There will be just 20 performances of this composite work, but Rhode is now trying to persuade EMI – who hold the copyright to the recording which they have issued as a CD – to let him show his film in galleries with the CD as a soundtrack. Since this music was inspired by visual art, he says, it's appropriate that it should return to its source: "Classical-music people are just too blinkered." Or too keen on the loot?

EMI Classics releases the 'Pictures Reframed' CD and deluxe art book on 30 November; There will be a performance on 4 December, Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 (www.southbankcentre.co.uk)

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