These Sisters Have Transformed the Piano Duo
"Oh, look!" said the pianist Katia Labèque, pushing aside some neatly ironed clothes hanging on a rack.
Behind the clothes, which were behind the boiler in the utility room of her home and studio here in French Basque Country, was a poster advertising concerts last year at the Philharmonie in Paris. It showed Katia and her sister, Marielle - both with dark hair flowing, glamorously dressed - and listed three programs: five centuries of Basque music; a Stravinsky and Debussy double bill; an evening with three art-rock auteurs, Thom Yorke, Bryce Dessner and David Chalmin.
"We're ridiculous," said Katia. "This is the only poster we have, and it's hidden."
The poster suggests the wildly varied musical interests of the Labèque sisters, who for over 50 years have been playing - and enlarging - the two-piano repertory. They have interpreted traditional classical and Romantic works, to brilliant effect, but have also ventured into jazz, Baroque, modernist and experimental genres - commissioning scores, inventing projects and testing their limits. Their latest recording, out this week, is a newly arranged two-piano adaptation of Philip Glass's opera "Les Enfants Terribles."
"What always struck me with both of them is that, although they are very different human beings, they both have this endless curiosity about everything, not just music," said Simon Rattle, the music director of the London Symphony Orchestra and a frequent Labèques collaborator.
Katia, 70, and Marielle, 68, have been inventing themselves since they were teenagers. First taught by their mother, an Italian piano teacher and pupil of the renowned pianist Marguerite Long, the sisters moved at 11 and 13 from their hometown, Hendaye (not far from here), to attend the prestigious Paris Conservatory.
"They taught you the tricks, but not the love of music that we learned from our parents," Marielle said. "Maybe that helped us develop our sense of independence, the desire to move in the world on our own terms." (The sisters, interviewed mostly in French, also speak fluent English, Italian and Spanish.)
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They decided against the solo careers that their fiercely competitive training had shaped them for. "From the moment we left - and it was 1968, the year of revolution of the students - we said, ‘Let's do something maybe not so conventional,'" Katia said.
They decided to play together.
After studying at the Paris Conservatory, the Labèques made the unconventional choice to play as a duo.Credit...Keystone/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images
"They took a time-honored form, the double piano, which had become slightly less fashionable, and breathed entirely new life into it," said Deborah Borda, the president and chief executive of the New York Philharmonic.
Despite their almost uncanny unity onstage - "it's a mystery beyond sisterhood," Mr. Rattle said - the Labèques have very different personalities. In the interview, Katia exuded energy and enthusiasm, while Marielle remained calm and reflective. But they agreed that they never really had a career plan. After deciding to perform together, they joined the Conservatory's chamber music graduate class to develop their dual repertory, and worked as ensemble musicians with Félix Blaska's dance company.
One day, while they were working on Olivier Messiaen's "Visions de l'Amen," Messiaen, who taught composition at the Conservatory, knocked on the door. After listening for a bit, he asked if one of the sisters would record the work with his wife. Even then, they showed surprising strength of purpose.
"We said, ‘No, we are just starting out and we can't begin by dividing,'" Katia recalled. But eventually Messiaen asked them to record the work together, which led to encounters with the composers Gyorgy Ligeti, Pierre Boulez and Luciano Berio, whom they boldly approached, asking him to compose a work for them. Berio suggested they give the French premiere of his double piano concerto, which they subsequently played all over the world.
Their international breakthrough came with a 1980 recording of "Rhapsody in Blue," which was a best seller but led to some harsh criticism from parts of the classical music establishment.
"The concert halls were closed to Gershwin," Katia said. "People would say, ‘He is not a serious composer.' The same thing was true 30 years later, when we started to play Philip Glass."
The sisters, brilliant in traditional repertory, played Mendelssohn with Bernard Labadie and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2013.
The sisters, brilliant in traditional repertory, played Mendelssohn with Bernard Labadie and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2013.Credit...Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times, via Getty Images
They were also sometimes ribbed for their designer outfits and glossy image. But Chad Smith, the chief executive of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, said he loved that the Labèques "have a complete vision. Lighting creates a beautiful environment; clothes, too. They come with a theatrical approach and have shown the false narrative that it's less serious if you engage in the visual."
Over the years, they have pursued Baroque music, on Silbermann-model period-style pianofortes made for them and with the ensemble Il Giardino Armonico; ragtime; traditional Basque music; and jazz. Katia once lived with the jazz musician John McLaughlin and played in his band, and counts Miles Davis - who wrote two songs for her - and Billie Holiday as influences. The sisters have plunged deep into experimental terrain in "Minimalist Dream House," an ongoing series of concerts and recordings with Mr. Chalmin, who is Katia's partner, and Mr. Dessner.
"They have an extremely broad vision of what they can do in a concert hall, and they treat everyone with the same respect," said Mr. Dessner, best known as a member of the indie-rock band the National.
The coronavirus pandemic paused a number of their projects. A concerto by Nico Muhly, which should have premiered at the New York Philharmonic in early June, is now scheduled for the Paris Philharmonie on Nov. 12; a program with Mr. Dessner and the soprano Barbara Hannigan will probably be pushed to 2022.
But one thing they could work on in quarantine was "Les Enfants Terribles," arranged by Mr. Glass's longtime collaborator, Michael Riesman. During the initial lockdown the Labèques worked separately to prepare the score - Marielle lives with her husband, the conductor Semyon Bychkov, about nine miles from the house Katia and Mr. Chalmin share - but sent recordings back and forth and spoke frequently with Mr. Riesman about changes.
"We wanted more of the story and the dramatic parts," Katia said. "It was so odd that it's a story of confinement." After the lockdown restrictions were relaxed in May, they were able to practice together, and recorded the work in the state-of-the-art studio at Katia's house.
"I love the way they play Philip Glass," said Mr. Riesman. "They have the right style, the right approach. They don't overly dramatize or emote."
Mr. Muhly said, "They are actually much more involved in everything than most people of their stature. They email you about material; they are totally involved. The rhythms of the day are organized around an unspeakably rigorous work ethic, but there is something really elegant about the way they live their lives which flows into music and food and their extended family of artists."
The sisters' trick, according to Katia, is their constant desire to change and learn. "We never want to rely on what we've done," she said. "We have always tried to be relentlessly in the present." PHOTO: Lawrence K. Ho
Masked pedestrians enjoy Central Park earlier this year. The New York destination now has a site-specific soundtrack courtesy of composer Ellen Reid's Soundwalk app.
Even this spring, when New York City was at the center of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S, the city's public parks never closed. Instead, they became a place where people went for a socially distanced refuge, often escaping into music with their headphones. Ellen Reid has taken that experience one step further: The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer has written new music for a GPS-enabled app called Soundwalk, specifically designed to accompany walks around Central Park.
Reid had the idea for the app several years ago, but it wasn't until the pandemic hit that she went into her studio and got to work. When I met her at the park to test-drive the app myself, the artist said she was "thinking about creating beauty for people to be inspired by and a place to find joy and a way to connect with our phones, actually in a way that connects us to something larger than ourselves."
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American composer William Susman has created a distinctively expressive voice in contemporary classical music, with a catalog that includes orchestral, chamber, and vocal music, as well as numerous film scores. In addition to his work as a composer, he spearheads the contemporary ensemble OCTET and Belarca Records. AllMusic calls him an exemplar of "the next developments in the sphere of minimalism," and textura describes him as "not averse to letting his affection for Afro-Cuban, jazz, and other forms seep into his creative output." His music has earned praise from The New York Times for being "vivid, turbulent, and rich-textured," from Gramophone as "texturally shimmering and harmonically ravishing," and from textura for being "entrancing . . . harmonious and vibrant."
Scoring the documentary Fate of the Lhapa was an inspiring experience. Susman worked with a marvelous director, Sarah Sifers, who trusted his musicianship and gave him the freedom to compose a score that attempts to capture the place, culture, spirit and passion of the Tibetan Shamans and their broader historical context.
Scatter my Ashes reached No. 1 on Amazon's Classical Hot New Releases, No. 8 on Billboard's Classical and was featured in iTunes Classical New and Noteworthy.
Harmonious World podcast producer; Hilary Robertson interviewed composer William Susman focusing on Scatter My Ashes.
Bowling Green resident and Professor Emeritus at Bowling Green State University Dr. Wallace DePue has garnered another national award, receiving a third place recognition from the American Prize organization for his comic opera "Something Special."
DePue said that what makes "Something Special" one of a kind is that it is the only "barbershopera" in music literature. Moreover, says DePue, "The 50-minute piece is unique in that it is accapella, in the barbershop style. There is no orchestra, just the voices of the four singers."
The American Prize organization is dedicated to the idea that a great deal of excellent music is being made all across the country, in schools, churches, colleges and University. According to their website, these efforts too often go unrecognized. Laureates of the American Prize at all levels of achievement derive local, regional and national recognition to help generate jobs, build audiences and sustain careers.
"Something Special" was first presented in mid-1970s to a packed house at the Masonic Theater. The recording has often been aired on WBGU-TV. It also can be found on Youtube.
In 2014, "Something Special" also won the "Gold Medal" (first prize) in a worldwide competition sponsored by the Boston Metro Opera. There were 625 works, from six continents, submitted.
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A list of the greatest jazz albums released so far this year, as chosen by the BBC Music Magazine critics includes; John Scofield - Swallow Tales, featuring; John Scofield (electric guitar), Steve Swallow (bass guitar), Bill Stewart (drums) ECM 2679
The electric guitarist John Scofield comes full circle with this fine trio release, revisiting original pieces from veteran bass player Steve Swallow's repertoire – accompanied by the composer himself. Scofield first met Swallow when he was a 20-year-old student at Berklee College, and the bassist's beguiling, compact tunes were a training staple there. The pair have collaborated often over the 40 years since. Bill Stewart has long been Scofield's go-to drummer.
The trio's close rapport means they can nail a deeply satisfying session like this in just an afternoon. The pretty, song-like ‘She Was Young' sets the scene, Scofield and Swallow's lines melting into one another, the guitarist eventually diverging with suggestions of rhythm and blues; Stewart's touch is lighter than air, yet he creates an atmosphere that crackles with energy.
The classic ‘Falling Grace' begins all warm toned and lyrical, Swallow walking the bass up and down behind Scofield before artfully breaking time in his solo to lift the temperature. The musical synergy is thrilling. As Scofield succinctly puts it in the CD liner: ‘When we play it's like one big guitar, the bass part and my part together'.
SEE THE BBC Music Magazine PAGE
A list of the greatest jazz albums released so far this year, as chosen by the BBC Music Magazine critics includes; 'Shabaka and the Ancestors: We Are Sent Here by History' featuring Shabaka Hutchings (tenor sax), Mthunzi Mvubu (alto sax), Siyabonga Mthembu (voice), Ariel Zamonsky (bass), Gontse Makhene (percussion), Tumi Mogorosi (drums), Nduduzo Makhathini (piano), Thandi Ntuli (piano), Mandla Mlangeni (trumpet)
Reflecting his both informed and enquiring viewpoint, Shabaka Hutchings fronts several notable groups. This formidable unit, in which he works with a group of South African musicians, is now on its second album that also marks its Impulse! debut. Tagged occasionally offhandedly as anything from ‘Afrobeat' to ‘spiritual' and even ‘old-school' by listeners and pundits while described by its convener as an extension of the African griot tradition of storytelling and the preservation of history, the album blends poetry and chants with driving, drum-driven instrumental statements reminiscent of Steve Coleman, whose early influences Hutchings no doubt shares.
The narrative theme of this set of pieces is literally post- apocalyptic: the End of Days has already happened, so what happens next? It's at this point that we begin to address the extraordinary music itself, which is uncontainable in its energy, gravity and the sense of indefatigable potential that it can't help but generate; perhaps the album's ultimate message lies there, in which case ‘timely' doesn't quite cut it. Irresistible.
SEE THE BBC Music Magazine PAGE
Celebrating the transformational power of music, "Sa Re Sa Sa" shines with vocals by chant duo Shunia and beloved Moroccan artist Hassan Hakmoun. Sweep away the blues and experience the joy as Shunia sings and is joined by musicians and dancers in breathtakingly beautiful outdoor locations!
The "Sa Re Sa Sa" mantra is considered the "gateway" to all the others… It is a foundational mantra to learn. This energizing video of "Sa Re Sa Sa" celebrates the transformative power of God here on earth, opening flow and bringing peace.
Shunia will release their new album on 1.15.21.
What is Shunia? Through their music, Lisa Reagan and Suzanne Jackson merge the art forms of chant and opera into an exciting new sound. "When we discovered the hidden dimension and power of singing chant music, we wanted to share this profound experience." ." The ultimate purpose of Shunia is to merge music and mantra in order to bring healing and connection. This practice has the ability to shift energy and create new levels of consciousness.
Shunia's music has the power to transform, to connect you to the energy within and around you. It can put you in touch with something as simple as your five senses or as mysterious as the infinite.
SEE THE New Age Music Guide PAGE
WaterTower Music is pleased to announce today's release of the 62-track Lovecraft Country (Soundtrack from the HBO® Original Series), featuring music from the first season of Lovecraft Country, which airs on HBO/ HBO Max, and is Based on Matt Ruff 's novel of the same name.
Inspired by the ground-breaking mission of NASA's Juno space probe and its ongoing exploration of Jupiter, Juno to Jupiter is a multi-dimensional musical journey through electronic, progressive, ambient, techno, orchestral, and vocal music.
Milan Records today announces the release of Luca Guadagnino's WE ARE WHO WE ARE (ORIGINAL SERIES SCORE) featuring music by producer, multi-instrumentalist, composer, songwriter and vocalist DEVONTÉ HYNES.
Chart-topping, international violin soloist Rachel Barton Pine, joined by multi-faceted conductor Teddy Abrams and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, releases Dvořák and Khachaturian Violin Concertos, on AVIE on November 1. The album, featuring Dvořák's Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 53 and Khachaturian's Violin Concerto in D minor, highlights each composer's prominent use of his own traditional ethnic music.
Dvořák and Khachaturian Violin Concertos marks Pine's 39th recording and fifth album on AVIE records (AV 2375). Pine's previous four AVIE albums, Mozart: Complete Violin Concertos with The Academy of St Martin in the Fields, conducted by Sir Neville Marriner; Bel Canto Paganini: 24 Caprices and other works for solo violin; Testament: Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violinby Johann Sebastian Bach, and Elgar & Bruch Violin Concertos with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton all debuted on the classical charts.
Violinist Rachel Barton Pine, Cedille Records' best-selling artist and longtime advocate for music by Black composers, performs a program of blues-influenced classical works for solo violin and violin and piano by Black composers of the 20th and 21st centuries on Blues Dialogues: Music by Black Composers, her newest Cedille Records album. Pianist Matthew Hagle, Pine's longtime recital partner, joins her on their third album together on Cedille and Pine's 21st for the Chicago-based label.
'Blues Dialogues' features several world-premiere recordings: Noel Da Costa's A Set of Dance Tunes for Solo Violin, Dolores White's expanded, four-movement version of her Blues Dialogues for solo violin, and Billy Childs's Incident on Larpenteur Avenue, a single-movement violin sonata exploring the events and impact of the 2016 killing of Philando Castile by a Minnesota police officer.
Billboard chart-topping violinist Rachel Barton Pine debuts Elgar & Bruch Violin Concertos, recorded with Maestro Andrew Litton and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The album marks her 36th recording and fourth album on Avie records (AV 2375). Pine's previous three Avie albums, Mozart: Complete Violin Concertos with The Academy of St Martin in the Fields, conducted by Sir Neville Marriner; Bel Canto Paganini: 24 Caprices and other works for solo violin; andTestament: Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin by Johann Sebastian Bach, all debuted at the top of the Billboard Classical charts (positions 3, 3, and 1, respectively).
Rachel Barton Pine has released - Bel Canto Paganini: 24 Caprices and other Works for Solo Violin. A musical tightrope that samples virtually all of the most challenging techniques possible on the violin, this, Pine's 35th album will mark her third release on Avie records and makes her the first American-born female violinist to record this repertoire. In tribute to Paganini's legendary cultivation of his devilish reputation, the album was released in stores in May, the same month as his death
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RACHEL BARTON PINE RELEASES TESTAMENT:
COMPLETE SONATAS AND PARTITAS FOR SOLO VIOLIN BY JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
ON AVIE RECORDS
Pine Is The Only American Gold Medalist of the J.S. Bach International Violin Competition in Leipzig, Germany
Album Release Coincides with Bach's March 21 Birthday
In celebration of Johann Sebastian Bach's March 21 birthday, Billboard chart-topping violinist Rachel Barton Pine releases her recording Testament: Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin by Johann Sebastian Bach.
The album – her second on Avie Records – is available for sale on April 1.
Johann Sebastian Bach's contributions to classical music are universally acknowledged and celebrated as among the most significant and profound. His contrapuntal writing continues to set the standard by which any musical composition is judged. Among the greatest examples of his mastery of counterpoint, the Six Sonatas and Partitas for unaccompanied violin are a cornerstone of every violinist's study and repertoire.
In connection with Mozart's birthday on January 27, Billboard chart-topping violinist Rachel Barton Pine debuts on AVIE records performing the five Mozart Violin Concertos and the Sinfonia Concertante K364 with Sir Neville Marriner conducting the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. The two-album set will be released January 13 and also features the recording debut of violist Matthew Lipman.
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Billboard chart-topping violinist Rachel Barton Pine performs early Romantic concertos by Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann with Christoph-Mathias Mueller conducting Germany's Göttinger Symphonie Orchestera on the new album Mendelssohn & Schumann Violin Concertos (Cedille Records CDR 90000 144). Following critically praised and commercially successful recordings of the violin concertos of Brahms and Beethoven, the internationally acclaimed musician interprets two more major works of the violin literature.
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