Nothing in the history of music compares to the rapid rise and triumph of the piano. In the 40 years between the first public performances on the instrument in Vienna in the 1760s, and the composition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata in 1801, the piano went from a novelty to the central role it occupies in modern music.
While Beethoven opened the way for the composers who followed, it would be another 40 years until the art of chamber music for piano reached its creative apex in the work of Robert Schumann and his disciple Johannes Brahms. The great quartets and quintets these two composers wrote for the piano and strings remain among the most frequently played and widely admired works in the classical repertoire.
This weekend, the Santa Barbara Symphony will host a remarkable piano duo, Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg, for the world premiere of a substantially new composition derived from the work of Schumann and Brahms. This Israel-based couple performs piano music written for two players in a variety of formats. Sometimes they each have their own keyboard. Other times, like this weekend, April 23 and 24, when they will appear as guest artists with the Santa Barbara Symphony, the duo share one.
The composer of the new work, which is an arrangement of Robert Schumann’s Quartet Op. 47 in E flat major of 1842 for Piano (Four Hands) and String Orchestra, is Richard Duenser. The Austrian composer has become something of a specialist in this form — he has completed three other such works, the most recent of which was recorded by the Silver-Garburg Duo with the Vienna Philharmonic. Duenser has dedicated this composition to the Silver-Garburg Duo, and to the Santa Barbara Symphony’s own Nir Kabaretti.
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For the composer, the relationship between Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg has been an inspiration. The Israeli couple have been partners in life and music for more than 20 years, and have carved out a unique niche as the leading academic exponents of the piano duo format. Based in Berlin, they teach duo piano at the University of Graz and travel extensively to other schools of music spreading their knowledge and enthusiasm for the form. Thanks to Richard Duenser, the repertoire for piano (four hands) and string orchestra is growing steadily.
The composer began his work on this particular arrangement with an additional source. Approximately 10 years after Schumann completed his quartet, Brahms made a transcription of it for piano (four hands). Duenser writes that “the original version for piano quartet almost pushes the instruments to their limits due to the musical content; the compositional richness and almost symphonic density actually ‘burst’ the chamber orchestration.” It’s this level of musical sophistication that attracts someone with Duenser’s background to the work of opening up a piece written for a quartet to the full palette of musical expression available with four hands and a string orchestra.
Following the new work, the orchestra will perform the Symphony No. 3 in A minor “Scottish” of Felix Mendelssohn, another pillar of the Romantic repertoire. It’s a tribute to the reputation of the Santa Barbara Symphony that this world premiere concert is part of their season. Performances are on Saturday, April 23, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 24, at 3 p.m. at The Granada Theatre (1214 State St.).
For tickets and information, visit thesymphony.org. An additional appearance by the Silver-Garburg Duo will take place at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art on Thursday, April 21, at 5:30 p.m. as part of the museum’s Parallel Stories series. Nir Kabaretti will introduce the duo and they will play music associated with the Through Vincent’s Eyes exhibition.