Andrew Litton, conductor
Home Biography Engagements Reviews Recordings News Insights Gallery Contact


Musicians on the moments that changed them: Andrew Litton meets Oscar Peterson

Living on the edge: For conductor Andrew Litton, discovering Oscar Peterson’s phenomenal playing sent him on a search for musical freedom

I knew nothing about jazz until my 16th birthday party. One of my friends brought over an Oscar Peterson LP called Tracks. When everybody left I put it on, and I just couldn’t believe what I heard. The first cut was Give me the Simple Life. I’d never heard rhythm like that.

There’s one extended development part where unless you’re clicking the backbeats you actually think he’s completely off—but if you do keep clicking the backbeats, you suddenly realize that he doesn’t lose it for one millisecond! It just completely flipped me out. If one can look back at tge epiphanal moments of one’s life, this was certainly one of them. It just began an obsession with Oscar. In 2004 I was able to bring Oscar Peterson to the Minnesota Festival, Sommerfest; this was great. After having seen him perform and after 21 years of going backsrage and being a groupie, I was suddenly able to present him.

What upset me the most when he died was how few people actually understood what made him such a genius. A lot of critics in jazz and pop music kept harping on about the fingers, the technique, and how the technique got in the way of expressiveness—I can’t believe that people can say that.

Where did his genius lie? First of all in his pianism. He could do things on the piano that so few pianists can, in any medium. Vladimir Horowitz comes to mind as somebody who also understood a piano like Peterson. For example, it’s the bane of every pianist’s existence to make a smooth, legato line, because we’re playing a percussion instrument, and one of the tricks is to use the sustaining pedal. I sat in one of his concerts in the mid-’80s by his pedal foot, in the first row—it was the only seat left. And I could not believe the feathering of the pedal that he was doing. The right foot on the sustaining pedal was moving almost as fast as his fingers. It was just an extraordinary thing to watch.

But the bottom line, and people missed this point, is that he was the ultimate hybrid. He was a phenomenal jazz artist, but he played the piano with the kind of ability that most of us classical players spend our lifetimes trying to achieve.

It completely affected my music-making in the sense that I wanted to be able to have the kind of freedoms that he exhibited. I think it gave my playing, and hopefully my conducting, a greater sense of freedom. I certainly felt like I learned a lot from listening to the natural ability of people who don’t plan their every move, but actually just do it.

As a young piano student and wannabe conductor, you spend so much of your time worrying about how perfect you can make something, and you’re not worrying about the big picture, which is “am I saying something with this music?”. Oscar helped me realizs that’s the most important thing.

Andrew Litton conducts the Bergen Philharmonic on a UK tour: Gateshead (March 22/23), Derby (24), and Cadogan Hall, London (25.)

Originally printed in the March 2010 issue of Gramophone.
Copyright © 2010 Gramophone. All rights reserved.


Other insights

September 2014

Colorado Symphony trades busy offseason for big Beethoven opener

May 2014
Podcast: Andrew Litton swaps his conducting baton for the piano for his latest recording, an album dedicated to the great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson.

May 2014

A Tribute to Oscar Peterson

April 2014

Transcribin’ the Blues

January 2014

The Broncos and the Colorado Symphony, both winning teams

April 2013
New Colorado Symphony Orchestra conductor Andrew Litton is a modern maestro

February 2013
Andrew Litton on bringing the Bergen Philharmonic to Edinburgh

January 2013
How the Norse code was cracked; Andrew Litton tells Ivan Hewett about achieving his goal of putting the Bergen Philharmonic on the musical map

January 2013
Karl Bohm is remembered fondly by Andrew Litton

December 2012
Andrew appears on BBC Radio3’s documentary, “Tchaikovsky’s 1812: A Dishonest Overture?” on Dec. 1st

November 2012
Colorado Symphony’s New Artistic Advisor Excited About The Holidays

September 2012
Andrew discusses Russian music, his career with Bergen, and upcoming concert with the NZSO with Radio New Zealand

June 2012
The June Gramophone Podcast asks Andrew about his 100th CD (starts at 23:30)

October 2011
Having some musical fun: virtuoso percussionist Martin Grubinger notes that this is the first time a Chief Conductor appears on stage as a bass marimba player

April 2011
TheArtsDesk Q&A: Conductor Andrew Litton

March 2011
Norwegians Can! Conducting the Bergen Philharmonic.

February 2011
Andrew discusses life with the Bergen Philharmonic with Edward Seckerson, (MP3)

October 2010
Andrew talks with ABC Classic FM’s Margaret Throsby about the joys of classical music, (MP3)

July 2010
Bach, re-imagined

April 2010
Musicians on the moments that changed them: Andrew Litton meets Oscar Peterson

March 2010
WUNC-FM’s Catherine Brand talks with Andrew Litton about the music and friendship of Vaughan Williams and Holst, (MP3)

March 2010
Andrew discusses the “Music that changed me” with BBC Music

March 2010
Andrew tells Opera Magazine “Wish I’d been there when...”

February 2010
Q & A with BBC Music Magazine’s Daniel Jaffé

January 2010
Jeremy Nicholas discusses the real George Gershwin with Andrew, as featured on the cover CD of January’s Gramophone Magazine, 34:03 (MP3)

August 2007
North Star: How does it feel to step into the shoes of a national treasure?

February 2007
Andrew reminisces about his favorite experiences with the DSO
(streaming video)

January 2007
NACOcast: Andrew chats with NAC’s Christopher Millard, 20:00 (MP3)

July 2006
Artistic director Andrew Litton seeks to make the music festival fun

July 2006
Sommerfest director’s credo: Classical music can be fun

March 2006
BBC Radio 4: In Tune with Sean Rafferty, 17:01 (MP3)

February 2006
Passed Up by the NSO, Concerto For Contrabassoon Premieres in Norway

January 2006
Litton considers Gershwin a neighbor

December 2005
New developments on ENO Music Directorship

December 2005
ENO regrets? No, just plans

July 2005
My First Opera: Lucia di Lammermoor

January 2005
Denver latest stop for conductor Litton

October 2004
MPR: Andrew Litton’s guide to the Shostakovich 8th forum discussion, 50:55 (WMA)

May 2004
What’s next for Andrew Litton?

August 1997
BBC Radio 3: In Tune with Anthony Burton, 16:08 (MP3)

August 1997
BBC Radio 4: Kaleidoscope with Paul Gambaccini, 7:53 (MP3)

September 1995
Dallas Symphony Dynamo

August 1994
The Linking of Litton and Gershwin

January 1993
The Young One

February 26, 1988
Conduct So Becoming