As one of the leading Scandinavian pianists, the award-winning pianist and
composer Niklas Sivelöv has taken his career to new international heights with an extensive
catalogue of recordings for such labels as BIS, Caprice, Dacapo, Naxos, Toccata Classics
and AMC Classical, some of which have been awarded the Diapason d’or, CHOK and the
Penguin Rosette. His concert career spans four continents, including venues such as the
Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Barbican, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Tivoli Copenhagen
and the Atheneum in Bucharest.
He has won critical acclaim and enchanted audiences for his artistic temperament,
impeccable technique and spellbinding stage presence.
His wide-ranging concert repertoire covers Bach to Skryabin, Scandinavian composers
and beyond, and includes approximately 50 piano concerti including six of his own. As a
composer of note, his catalogue of works includes six Symphonies, 24 Preludes for piano
and several chamber music pieces.
Niklas Sivelöv is also a notable improviser, with several successful recordings and
collaborations: the CD Improvisational 1 was a sensational success at The Independent Music
Awards, where he was the first Scandinavian to win the prize for the best classical album
and was given the People’s Choice Award.
The leading orchestras with which Niklas Sivelöv has performed include the Stockholm
Philharmonic, Zürich Tonhalle, Suisse Romande (Geneva) and Prague Radio Symphony
under the baton of many distinguished conductors, among them Alan Gilbert, Esa-Pekka
Salonen, Kristjan Järvi, Sakari Oramo, Mario Venzago Jukka-Pekka Saraste , Grzegorz
Nowak, Janos Fürst and Leif Segerstam The instrumentalists with whom he has
performed include the Swedish clarinettist Martin Fröst, cellist Leonid Gorokhov, flautist
Patrick Gallois and violinist Zakhar Bron.
Niklas Sivelöv grew up in Skellefteå in northern Sweden, where he began playing the
organ as a six-year-old; his first compositions followed soon after. He played by ear until
he was 14, when he began traditional piano instruction and learned to read music. He
studied with, among others, Gabriel Amiras and Maria Curcio Diamond, students of the
famed Heinrich Neuhaus and Artur Schnabel.
He lives in Malmö and is professor at the Royal Danish Music Academy in Copenhagen.
His book on the art of piano-playing, distilled from a lifetime of performance and study,
wasa be published in 2018. He was recently knighted by the Queen of Denmark as Knight
of the Order of Dannebrog.
Madison Piano Series, 18 September 2022
For his September 18 concert, Swedish virtuoso Niklas Sivelöv strode out in long tails and gray ascot looking not a little like a clean-shaven Beethoven. As he sat at the vintage Mason & Hamlin 1906 model AA piano, I appreciated that nod to sartorial tradition.
His concert of Bach, Beethoven, Schoenberg, Scriabin and his own compositions wove a musical thread that linked 400 years of musical styles. Each piece he played with physical passion, highlighting forceful movements by tapping his toes and heels, wincing, lunging, and raising his arms aloft.
The man is not lost in the past. He reads his music on an iPad controlled by a floor pedal, and incorporates Scriabin and Schoenberg into his own compositions.
The concert program included Beethoven’s 6 Bagatelles, Op. 126, a demanding piece despite its name, with its dense harmonies and knotty rhythms, cross-hand playing, and several sustained trills that sprang airborne into flight.
Compared to that harmonic and rhythmic density, J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826 sounded translucent and sparse. But not cold, as Sivelov phrased some passages with Romantic hesitations. The left hand sometimes played counterpoint to the right, as in the two-part Inventions, then joined the right in close parallel passages.
The Partita set the mood for Arnold Schoenberg’s challenging dodecaphonic Suite for Piano, op.25, with its six movements reflecting a Baroque suite. Its dissonant clusters and staccato rhythms suggested at times a scatter of birds, racing chipmunks, sometimes human speech. The resulting tensions were resolved by way of lyrical passages, dynamic contrasts, and motivic development.
Sivelöv’s selection of Scriabin included preludes, etudes, and a mazurka. Following the Schoenberg, Scriabin sounded Romantically rich. The gentle swirls and clouds hinted at Debussy and Ravel; some phrasing and harmonies nodded to Chopin. Scriabin’s synthesis of Russian music with French Impressionism fed into his larger project of combining all art forms into an ultimate synthesis that would lead the listener/observer into states of mystic rapture.
Sivelöv concluded with a selection from his composition, 24 Preludes (2010–14). One noted the influence of jazz pianists like Cecil Taylor and Keith Jarrett, along with tokens from Schoenberg (clusters and sprinkles) and Beethoven (extended trills, dramatic pauses) and (!) Jerry Lee Lewis (swipes across the entire keyboard and heavy forearm clusters).
A lengthy standing ovation inspired an encore, a wistful reading of a Swedish folk song, whose pastel lyricism recalled Debussy by way of pianist Bill Evans.
Kudos to Sivelöv for an untiring virtuosic performance, and for programming such challenging works by Schoenberg, which the audience clearly enjoyed.
How privileged we are to witness such talent.
– Paul Baker
Sivelöv at the Schönberg Centre, Vienna, 17 May 2022
I have never heard Schönberg played with so much elegance, ‘Schwung’ – a favourite word of Sibelius, which he often used in his diaries – and delicate touch. His whole recital was impressive – unobtrusively educational by constructing an arc from Bach to his great compatriot Anders Eliasson, for whom Bach was ‘almost a god’, detecting almost jazzy passages in his early work Disegno, and finally, both surprisingly and convincingly, linking Schönberg to sensual Scriabin – and whetting everybody’s appetite by playing some of his very own preludes.
– Peter Kislinger, ORF
Stenhammar Concertos nos. 1 and 2
Niklas Sivelöv negotiates the torrents of octaves and other rhetorical gestures with aplomb.
– Jeremy Nicholas,Gramophone, 1 February 2012
Borås with the Beethoven Concerto No. 4:
A magical evening
It was a fantastic event when Borås was visited by the piano virtuoso Niklas Sivelöv, who performs worldwide.
The evening’s concerto – Beethoven’s Fourth – began with a solitary piano, careful, searching… The orchestra responded in due time with the same friendly, restrained timbre, but gained in strength.
It was a magnificent introduction provided by the conductor Joachim Gustafsson and the soloist Niklas Sivelöv. The latter is an internationally renowned pianist, as well as being a composer and professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Music.
This concerto is considered one of the central works in the history of piano concertos, admired for its richness of variety and nuance. It has an additional prominent feature that cannot be ignored, namely the ambition to establish an ongoing dialogue between the solo piano and the orchestra. This quality was clearly revealed in all the participants’ handling of the work.
In the calmer parts, the conversation between Sivelöv and the orchestra created some incredibly beautiful music. The soft parts, however, do not last long. Suddenly, restraint is replaced by the furious pace of Sivelöv’s formidable runs across the keyboard.
The remaining two movements are diametric opposites of each other. The second movement is a minor-key landscape that Sivelöv convincingly conveyed. The third movement turns from melancholy into a faster, joyous tempo, with fireworks of piano runs, variations, nuances…
Niklas Sivelöv’s concert gave an unequivocal message not only about his virtuoso talent but also his ability to be sensitive to new interpretations. Not unexpectedly, this generous musician offered the kind of encore that is something of a specialty for him, namely free improvisations on the piano.
– Bo W. Jonsson, Borås Tidning
German premiere of The Unchanging Sea by Michael Gordon MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra / Kristjan Järvi (Gewandhaus, Leipzig, 2018)
The melodies in the piano built up to a turbulent culmination using all the strength of the instrument. The strings gently led the initial piano chords back to familiar ground, helping Sivelöv to return to a safe harbour.
– Paul Schuler, LUHZE, 20 January 2018
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Sakari Oramo in Stockholm, 2016
For the performance of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s Piano Concerto no.1 (1831), Niklas Sivelöv took the stage. The work, written by a newly in love Mendelssohn, is full of energy and joy, and the orchestra and the soloist performed it intensively but clearly and precisely. Sivelöv made a convincing display of utmost virtuosity and lightness combined.
– Jenny B., Kulturdelen.blog, 16 September 2016
Bach – Beethoven – Scriabin – Bartók LeFrak Concert Hall, Queens College, 24 September 2018
Wonders never cease! Here is a Swedish pianist (also composer) who has been completely off my radar; indeed, even Google does not tell you much. And yet, this is one of the best piano recitals I have heard.
Right from the declamatory start of the Bach Partita no.2 one knows this is a pianist of substance. Dramatic, finely spun, yet with nothing forced (an absolute no-no in Bach for me), the opening set the tone for the piece. The dance rhythms are naturally rendered, yet at times spontaneous and almost jazzy. The counterpoints and the balance between the two hands are always perfect. This is Bach playing of the highest order, and I have never heard better, live or on record.
The Beethoven op.111 is equally awesome, opening also in a dramatic declaration. Sivelov’s excellent technique ensures there is no ugly struggle, yet the uncommonly inventive music is deeply probed and hugely satisfying. The program I have to say is highly intelligent, and his playing makes us aware of the dance and jazzy elements common to both pieces. Bravo!
After a brief intermission, Sivelov plays a group of Scriabin, Sonata-Fantasy no.2, Deux Morceaux (opp. 57 and 59), and Feuillet d’album, op.58. which are all rendered with the utmost color; the sometimes abruptly shifting vistas always sound interesting and never drifting, as they can be in lesser hands. The last piece was a stirring account of Bartok’s Sonata. As before, Sivelov’s rhythmic command is unassailable.
The pianist is a bit of an eccentric (perhaps that accounts for his obscurity). His soft shoes do not go with his tux, but one understands why he wears them, as he is prone to tap on the floor. Even more unusually, he vocalizes extensively, but the sounds are not the usual sing-along type (Glenn Gould), nor moaning (Keith Jarrett), rather hoarser and closer to hissing and forceful exhalation. These antics can be distracting, but I’d gladly put up with them when the playing is on such lofty grounds.
This was a free lunch time recital on campus; the small LeFrak Hall is beautiful and cosy, and acoustically excellent. The program is going to be repeated at Town Hall today (also free); I almost feel like going again.
– Doctorjohn, 26 September 2018
An Extrovert’s Brisk Dance Through Bach’s Arpeggios Bargemusic Series, 7 January 2010
Mr. Sivelöv approached Book 1 without an apparent agenda: unlike Richard Egarr, whose harpsichord performance at Weill Recital Hall in 2008 explored relatively recent theories about what ‘well-tempered’ tuning meant to Bach, Mr. Sivelöv played the work on the piano, in the standard modern tuning.
And unlike Daniel Barenboim, who seemed intent on giving each piece a distinct, personalized orchestration when he played the set at Carnegie Hall in 2007, Mr. Sivelöv offered a unified view and varied his timbre and dynamics only subtly.
Mostly, he favored brisk tempos, bright timbres and a clean if sometimes weighty sound. You could question his speediness at times: in the opening C major Prelude, he played the arpeggiated figures so quickly that the lingering overtones made them sound almost like solid chords. Yet here and in several other unusually quick readings, he let the top notes in each arpeggio ring out clearly to create a graceful, floating melody. And particularly in the fugues, he maintained a remarkable transparency of texture.
At times — in the outgoing E major and G major preludes and fugues, for example — he leaned into the music almost like a jazz pianist, tapping his left foot quickly to a rhythm from within Bach’s dense contrapuntal texture. But though extroversion was clearly Mr. Sivelov’s preferred mode, he was sensitive to Bach’s darker moods as well: his calm, supple performance of the D sharp minor Fugue and the organlike sound he brought to the stormy, chromatic Prelude and Fugue in A minor were among the highlights of his performance.
– Alan Kozinn, New York Times, 7 January 2013
Bach and Beethoven
The keyboard of Sthens Church’s fine Steinway piano was this afternoon in the hands of one of the greatest pianists in Denmark – Niklas Sivelöv, professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. His program was awe-inspiring; two of Beethoven’s last sonatas, opp. 109 and 111, and Bach’s Partitas nos. 2 and 3.
One gets the impression that Sivelöv can do anything on a piano. His technique is formidable, the fast tempi are perhaps a notch too fast, but it never affects his secure playing. His touch is firm, so each note stands chiselled, but he can also catch the soft and expressive in a movement. He is a man of contrasts.
The Beethoven sonatas are monumental pieces, they are the capstones of his sonata production, and can be seen as a farewell to a genre in which he has made more of an impact than any other composer. Niklas Sivelöv gave the sonatas life and radiance with his personal interpretation of the music.
Bach’s partitas belong in another world. They are not less demanding than Beethoven, but they require a different approach. Instead of feelings it is the pulse of the music that dominates.
It was a wonderful concert with music by the two great Bs, Bach and Beethoven.
– Ole Josephsen, Helsingør Dagblad, 9 November 2015
THE SWEDE SET THE PIANO ON FIRE!
Stenhammar at the Tivoli Concert Hall
My goodness, what a pianist the Royal Danish Conservatory piano professor is. Forget about dusty professor fingers. This Swede is an artist with a capital A! That Sivelöv this evening in Tivoli also showed us his technical capacity and his romantic-virtuoso sense of style with warmth, strength and, at the same time, soft and fascinating pianistic way of extracting sound from the Steinway piano made the experience of hearing the piano part in Wilhelm Stenhammar’s piano concerto into something that