Pinkas and Hirsch to perform in Valentine’s Day piano concert

by Mac Emery | 2/15/16 6:01pm

The illustrious mingles with the obscure tonight in Spaulding Auditorium for a piano recital of ambitious breadth and taste featuring married duo Sally Pinkas and Evan Hirsch.

Beginning at 7 p.m., music professor and pianist-in-residence Pinkas will partner with her husband and fellow acclaimed pianist Evan Hirsch for a Valentine’s Day piano duet. The recital boasts an impressively diverse program, with a total of five pieces sampling various genres and eras. The two selections anchoring the recital, Mozart’s luminous “Sonata in D Major K. 448 (375a), for two pianos” (1781) and Rachmaninoff’s moody “Fantaisie (Tableaux) Op. 5 for two pianos” (1893), tower as monuments in the piano duet genre, while the other choices draw from deeper in the classical lexicon. One of the pieces, by contrast, has never before reached public ears, and just a year ago existed only as a neglected manuscript.

Pinkas and Hirsch had a clean slate in curating the recital’s repertoire and knew they wanted in part to revisit the familiar classics.

Hirsch noted that the two hadn’t played the Mozart and Rachmaninoff in probably 20 years. “The Rachmaninoff we played a few times. The Mozart we played at the Hopkins Center with it years ago, and we just weren’t very happy with it. We were a little daunted, so we put it aside. We came back to both of them with a much different attitude,” Hirsch said.

But with experience and time, they both agree that working through the technicalities of the piece has led to a stronger rendition.

“You want to come back to them every few years because they mature inside you, and it’s always very interesting to see where they go,” Pinkas said.

Grounded by the beloved pillars of Mozart and Rachmaninoff, the program balances this notoriety with three lesser-known pieces, totaling two world debuts and one American debut.

The first piece of the night, “Divertimento in Ancient Style” (1943) by Romanian composer Sergiu Natra, is an adaptation of his complete orchestral score. The selection stemmed from Pinkas’ personal connection to the composer; she was once his pupil.

“Among the scores that I was given, I saw this piece that he himself transcribed from orchestra to four hands,” Pinkas said. “That’s also written when he was about 20. So I said yeah let’s do that.”

Pinkas said that since it’s a “new baroque piece,” Natra’s work fit in nicely before the Mozart.

After Mozart’s intervening sonata, the second debut of the night is “Sonata for Two Pianos in One Movement” (1915) by German-emigrant turned American academic and composer Erwin Bodky. Before Hirsch recovered and transcribed the composer’s original, forgotten manuscripts, this piece was effectively lost to the world.

“This is a piece, in a way, nobody ever saw,” Pinkas said. “Evan actually did a labor of love in transcribing it. I don’t know if anybody has ever heard it. It’s from 1915 when [Bodky] was 20.”

Yet the archeological challenge of reviving unheard music opens a special potential for the performers. Pinkas said that testing a piece for the first time made this performance different from its predecessors.

“There’s something about presenting a piece for the very, very, very first time,” Pinkas said. “There is no collective consciousness of it. Nobody knows anything about it including ourselves.”

The third debut, following an intermission, is Joseph Horovitz’s “Concerto for Dancers” (1958), a piece derived from the composer’s earlier ballet music.

“We also have a lovely friend [Horovitz], an octogenarian in London, he’s a very celebrated composer in the U.K.,” Pinkas said. “The Horovitz is very playful, like early 20th century, very tonal.”

The final piece, Rachmaninoff’s somber rendition of four Russian poems, concludes the recital on a thunderous note.

“The Rachmaninoff is monumentally huge and ends louder than anything in existence,” Hirsch said. “So that has to go at the end. It’s just that kind of piece.”

The performance is made unique by the fact that Pinkas and Hirsch are not merely colleagues but a married couple. The idea of performing together began as a novelty years ago, when the couple attempted their first public performance together at the College. The concert was so well received it launched a spate of international duet tours, as well as the fairly regular tradition of performances together at the College around Valentine’s Day.

Music professor Matthew Marsit said that he appreciated the way that Pinkas and Hirsch found opportunities to “travel together and share their music.”

“Their relationship, that is a family first, they have been able to build also into this gorgeous professional relationship,” Marsit said. “They find opportunities to bring their music to parts of the world that we might not think of as common. And that also is admirable.”

The concert will be performed tonight at 7 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium.