Hirsch-Pinkas duo return to their home

by Kristina Mani | 2/11/13 11:00pm

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Sally Pinkas, along with her husband Evan Hirsch, will grace the Spaulding Auditorium stage playing her first performance of the year as the Hopkins Center's pianist-in-residence.
by Dennis Ng / The Dartmouth

The critically acclaimed Hirsch-Pinkas piano duo has performed for audiences around the globe, and will return tonight to the auditorium where the classical pair was born. Music professor Sally Pinkas, along with her husband Evan Hirsch, will grace the Spaulding Auditorium stage playing her first performance of the year as the Hopkins Center's pianist-in-residence.

Pinkas and Hirsch frequently travel internationally, playing across the United States as well as in Europe, China, Nigeria and Russia.

"Each trip has a story and the beauty of it is that I get to travel with my husband who is my best friend, and with whom I love to play," Pinkas said.

Last fall the pair spent a week in Thailand and in Vietnam, participating in outreach events for the U.S. Consulate and visiting the Ho Chi Minh Conservatory of Music.

Pinkas said she fell in love with the piano at the age of five while living in Tel Aviv. She received her PhD in composition and theory at Brandeis University and obtained her performance degrees from Indiana University and the New England Conservatory of Music, where she met her husband.

Pinkas has recorded over two dozen different albums in the U.S., including 16 solo records. She has balanced being both a performer and academic, a combination she values for its positive reinforcing effects, she said.

"The conjunction of teaching and playing has been very illuminating for me and my students," Pinkas said. "When you teach an applied art, if you don't do it yourself, then you lose the ability to teach it and when you teach it. It helps you to articulate things when you are practicing yourself, that by virtue of articulating, you make a little more palpable."

Pinkas became a music professor at the College at the age of 26 and the Hop's pianist-in-residence by her second year of teaching. Working part-time at Dartmouth has been a good fit for her, she said.

"I was always enamored with university environments. I have a curious nature and it would have been hard-pressed to fit the mode of a concert pianist who always plays the same repertoire or travels with the same program," Pinkas said, "Being here meant that I could be in contact with bright students and also could experiment with my repertoire."

She said she thrives on playing new music, one of requirement as a pianist with the Hop.

Center programming director Margaret Lawrence said that Pinkas' eagerness to interact with students has made her an excellent pianist for the community.

"She wants students to understand more about the music she is performing," Lawrence said. "She is excited about her repertoire and has the ability to make others excited about it too."

As pianist-in-residence, Pinkas plays two concerts in Spaulding each year one solo and one chamber concert.

"She is extremely creative about how she approaches those performances, often collaborating with other musicians," Lawrence said.

Philosophy professor and East Wheelock programming director Susan Brison said she loves Pinkas' performances at the Hop because the audience not only hears her music in an intimate setting, but is able to listen to Pinkas "speak so knowledgably and eloquently about the music she performs."

"Her piano playing is just exquisite," Brison said. "She can be very powerful but also has a sensitive, delicate touch. She brings out new things in the pieces that she plays."

Tonight, the Hirsch-Pinkas duo will present a varied program, including pieces for four hands, to create a more orchestral effects. They will perform Faure's "Dolly Suite," along with a sonata by Francis Poulenc, Franz Schubert's "Rondo in A Major," Harold Shapero's four-hand sonata and "Recuerdos" by William Bolcom.

Pinkas built the program based on pieces she could find that would complement each other, she said.

"She has an extraordinary sensitivity in her approach to the instrument," Lawrence said. "While some performers try to impress, she is about letting the inner voices of the music come out. It is almost as if the pianist herself disappears and you hear the actual ideas of the composer."

The concert brings Pinkas and Hirsch back to the their origins. The duo was formed at the Hop when Pinkas first played with Hirsch on Valentine's Day in 1992. Now, it is tradition for the couple to play a concert every few years around the holiday.

Pinkas recalls how Spaulding has evolved into her home base in the years since her first performance, when she was filled with nervous anticipation.

"I think I know how to play to the hall," she said. "The size of it does not scare me anymore. If anything, it enhances me. Especially because the duo was formed there, it will always feel like home."

Pinkas said she is hopeful to see community members at the concert who have come to know the duo in Hanover, as well as new faces who are interested in classical music.

"I just want to do justice to the music," Pinkas said. "Everytime you play something, it grows. A piece is not the same in the practice room and on stage and that's why we keep performing. These pieces come to life only when there is somebody listening."