Sally Pinkas and Evan Hirsch join forces for a lively piano concert

by Veronica Winham | 10/29/19 2:15am

This evening, dynamic piano duo Sally Pinkas and Evan Hirsch will perform a set of fun and lively dance music in the Spaulding Auditorium. Pinkas is a music professor and pianist-in-residence at Dartmouth, and Hirsch, her husband, teaches piano and chamber music at Brandeis University. 

According to Pinkas and Hirsch, the couple met in music class at graduate school but were following their own individual music careers with no intention of ever performing together. Years into their marriage, this changed when they played their first show as a duo at the Hopkins Center for the 1994 Valentine’s Day concert. The pair said they enjoyed their experience, and their audience equally loved it, so much so that the two have played shows together ever since while still pursuing their own individual careers and teaching at separate universities. 

“We do our more interesting travel together as a duo,” Pinkas said. “The last big thing was in Indonesia last year, and we’re going to Brazil together to play in December. This is fabulous because I feel very privileged, both to play and to [share this] with my husband and my best friend.”

In Pinkas and Hirsch’s upcoming show, viewers can look forward to energetic dance music such as Darius Milhaud’s “Scaramouche,” Samuel Barber’s “Souvenirs,” William Bolcom’s “Recuerdos” and Joseph Horovitz’s “Concerto for Dancers.” Additionally, the duo will play a suite of three little dances, including Hirsch’s own “Sally’s Waltz,” whose lightness and energy create a much different tone and environment than that of Pinkas’ and Hirsch’s usual shows. 

“Normal concerts are reasonably serious and sometimes involve serious and grave music, and there isn’t one bit of that on this program,” Hirsch said. “We have a lot of pieces that we really love that involve dance. There is not a piece on the program that’s insubstantial; they’re all lively, cheerful and inventive.”

The pair has played many of these pieces before, but what sets this show apart is the movement of the performance: The duo will go back and forth between playing two pianos and playing four hands on one piano.

“When we are sitting across from each other, the only thing we see is each other’s faces from the nose up, so we really have to know each other in order to play together,” Pinkas said. “The coordination is the hardest thing on the two pianos.”

Four hands on one piano also involves a higher level of communication and timing with one’s partner. Pinkas said she is excited to explore a variety of movement on stage because the piano allows for a wider range of techniques than other instruments might.

“When you play piano, in a way you are playing everything,” Pinkas said. “Because unlike a violin or a viola or an oboe, who play one line, the pianist plays everything, because we can play all the harmonies.”

Pinkas, a native of Israel, has a Ph.D. in composition from Brandeis University and holds degrees from both Indiana University and the New England Conservatory.

“I have a curious mind and I always like to change repertoire and learn repertoire, and [Dartmouth] was the perfect place for me,” Pinkas said. “As pianist-in-residence at the Hop, which is a wonderful thing to be, I can continually present different programs, different music … That has sustained me as a pianist.”

Amy Zhang ’20 has been a student of Pinkas for all four of her years at Dartmouth. Zhang said that she and Pinkas will travel to London together in the spring for the music department’s foreign study abroad program. 

“I personally haven’t worked with anyone that’s as in touch with theory as [Pinkas] is,” Zhang said. “She is constantly thinking about the structure of the piece and the way that the composer has written things and why they’ve written things a certain way.”

Zhang has also worked with Hirsch, who occasionally teaches at Dartmouth when Pinkas is on sabbatical. He has a bachelor of fine arts from State University of New York Purchase and a master of music from the New England Conservatory.

“Both [Dartmouth and Brandeis] are remarkable places to work for,” Hirsch said. “Sally and I both deal with departments and institutions that are happy that we go on tour and that we leave the responsibility of the students to ourselves. It’s wise and it’s respectful.”

The duo said they have made the most of this independence to travel around the world to perform, usually going to venues in Southeast Asia which are already familiar with western music through music school and performance center connections. However, Hirsch said that they have also performed in places in Africa with no previous exposure to Western music.

Despite the variety of countries that the pair has frequented, they always love returning to the Hop to perform, as students are usually better able to appreciate and follow the more technically difficult pieces, according to Hirsch.

“You can challenge the audience because they usually have broad musical knowledge,” Hirsch said. “In community concerts we’ll be cautious to not saturate our shows with pieces that are difficult to follow, but in a college, you can do that.”

Pinkas said that it is important for students to see their teachers perform and get nervous. Those are among the many reasons why she said she is excited for both her upcoming concert at the Hop and the department of music’s study abroad program.

Zhang said she is also looking forward to the culminating, hands-on experience of the foreign study program, especially with Pinkas as the professor leading the trip. Zhang is excited to continue her tutelage under Pinkas in London because despite the amount of time that Pinkas spends practicing and the amount of talent she has, her playing still sounds “effortless,” Zhang said.

“I think it’s a unique opportunity to Dartmouth and one that I’m grateful for, to be able to study under someone as good as she is,” Zhang added.

Pinkas and Hirsch will be performing their piano duet tonight in Spaulding Auditorium. Tickets are available on the Hop website.