Piano Synergy Duo. Husband-and-wife team Ruslan Sviridov and Irina Khovanskaya created the Piano Synergy Duo in 1996. Using their unique musical potential, the duo designs concert programs in which they perform together as well as individually. The results have been a constantly heavy demand and continuing success. For the past 14 years, the duo has toured extensively throughout Russia, Europe, and the Unites States. Irina Khovanskaya was born to a musician's family in Russia's Moscow Region in 1972. She began piano lessons at age 4 and gave her first recital about two years later in Kiev. Ten years of formal musical training followed at the Moscow Central Special Music College, during which time she also concertized extensively as a recitalist and with orchestras. Several of these events took place at the Moscow Conservatory's Small Hall, but she also played as far afield as the Russian Space Center (Moscow Region) and on USSR TV. Receiving a Bachelor's Degree in 1990, Khovanskaya's studies and performing career continued as she entered the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory, where her teacher was Victor Merzhanov. Now her performances become international. Besides appearances with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and in many Russian cities, she performed in Zurich, Munich, Brussels, and Warsaw. Contests in Russia, Germany, and Belgium were capped by Khovanskaya's winning First Prize in the Texas Steinway Society Piano Competition in Dallas, Texas in 1999. With her Conservatory Diploma (1996) and post-graduate work behind her, Dr. Khovanskaya now resides in San Antonio, Texas. In addition to performance engagements, she teaches piano at the University of the Incarnate Word and adjudicates in piano competitions. Ruslan Sviridov was born in 1973 in Tambov, Russia. He began to study music at age 7 and gave his first public performance at the age of 8. His years of study at the Tambov Music School and later at the Rachmaninov Music College in Tambov were marked by many competition triumphs and literally hundreds of concerts and recitals throughout Russia's Central Region. First prizes came from the Tchaikovsky Regional Piano Contest (1989), the Bartok Regional Contest (1989), and the Kabalevsky Regional Competition for Young Pianists (1990), to name only a few. Sviridov went on to enter the Moscow State Conservatory, studying with Victor Merzhanov. Concerts and competitions continued, now at a higher level. He played with symphony orchestras in several Russian cities, including Moscow, Ulyanovsk, and Tambov, and at the Glinka Music Festival in Smolensk. During 1994-96, he took Grand Prize or First Prize (or both) or a Special Jury Prize at competitions in Italy at Tortona, Alassio, San Bartolomeo al Mare, and Caltanissetta, Sicily. His first U.S. triumph was a Special Jury Prize in Kingsville, Texas (1995). In addition to an international list of recitals, Sviridov's career is distinguished by a substantial body of television tapes and live appearances, starting in Russia and extending through Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, and the United States (NBC). During his studies in Moscow, culminating in a Doctoral Degree (1998), he taught piano and music theory. Leaving Russia in 1998, Dr. Sviridov again picked up his teaching activity in San Antonio, Texas, also his base for concertizing and contest adjudication. ____________________________________________________________________________________ Milhaud, Le Boeuf sur le toit, op. 58 As early as 1916, a group of six French composers came together. This loose association, which included Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc, became known in 1920 as Les Six, an influential neo-Classical force in music. They were iconoclastic, preferring short, epigrammatic forms to the sprawling syntax of the Romantics. Milhaud (1892-1974) was one of the boldest experimenters of Les Six, using bi- and polytonality (music in more than one key simultaneously) in many of his works. Among the earliest of these was Le Boeuf sur le toit (The Ox on the Roof) composed in 1919 for a small, theater-size orchestra. The year before, Milhaud had returned to France after a two-year stint as Attaché to the French Cultural Minister in Brazil. The exciting Brazilian music still rang in his ears, as he wrote in his biography Notes without Music: Still haunted by my memories of Brazil, I assembled a few popular melodies, tangos, maxixes, sambas, and even a Portuguese fado, and transcribed them with a rondo-like theme between them. I called this fantasia Le Boeuf sur le toit, the title of a Brazilian popular song. Milhaud's friend Jean Cocteau immediately conceived a modern ballet scenario for the music, which takes place in a "speak-easy" bar in America, then experiencing Prohibition. The conception was surreal, including slow-motion movements to Milhaud's energetic music and huge full-head masks for the bizarre assortment of characters: "a Boxer, a Negro dwarf, a Lady of Fashion, a Redheaded Woman dressed as a man, a Bookmaker, a Gentleman in evening clothes." Milhaud describes the scenario: The Barman . . . offers everyone cocktails. After a few incidents and various dances, a Policeman enters, whereupon the scene is immediately transformed into a milk bar. The clients play a rustic scene and dance a pastorale as they sip glasses of milk. The Barman switches on a big fan, which decapitates the Policeman. The Redheaded Woman executes a dance with the Policeman's head, ending by standing on her hands like the Salome in Rouen Cathedral. One by one, the customers drift away, and the Barman presents an enormous bill to the resuscitated Policeman. With scenery by Raoul Dufy, Le Boeuf sur le toit ran three sold-out performances at the Comédie des Champs-Élysées on a bill that included music by other members of Les Six and Erik Satie. Le Boeuf sur le toit immensely enhanced Milhaud's reputation as a light-hearted composer. The year following it's premiere, Le Boeuf sur le toit played at the Coliseum Theater in London, and the work has continued to be a favorite on concert programs. Player pianos were still around in the 1920s, and in 1926, a French firm engaged Milhaud to make piano rolls of some of his music. Because of the popularity of Le Boeuf sur le toit, the composer created a four-hand version of it, which he and Jean Wiéner recorded. Unfortunately, the increasing attractiveness of radio and phonograph recordings caused the company to go bankrupt before the piano roll could be released. The four-hand arrangement, however, has made a fine contribution to the modern French repertoire. Fauré, Dolly, Op. 56 Ever since Robert Schumann composed Kinderscenen in 1838, composers have been fascinated with portraying a child's world in piano music. Three French composers, in particular, have made great contributions. Maurice Ravel's Mother Goose (for piano duet) was composed for two children of close friends. Claude Debussy wrote his famous piano suite Children's Corner for his daughter, Chou-Chou. Chou-Chou's mother was Emma Bardac, whom the composer later married. Emma also had a younger daughter, Hélène, by her first husband, Sigismond Bardac. Hélène, nicknamed "Dolly," was the inspiration for the Dolly suite for piano duet by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924). Dolly was born June 20, 1892, and for her first birthday, Fauré presented the "Berceuse" (Lullaby) that would become the opening movement of the Dolly suite. Fauré had written this piece in 1864 and revised it slightly for the gift. It went on to become the most celebrated part of the suite and a famous piece on it's own. Ingeniously, the composer builds a whole movement on one simple tune. In addition to the picture of a mother singing or humming to her baby, his movement's charming naiveté suggests a child doing the same for her little doll. "Mi-a-ou," despite the sound of it, is not about a cat. The title of the second movement, presented to Dolly on her second birthday, was something like she sounded trying to say "Monsieur Raoul," her brother's name. A quick-waltz with frequently shifting accents, this piece, with it's jaunty playfulness, is a good sketch of a boy running around the house. On New Year's Day 1895, Dolly received "Le jardin de Dolly" (Dolly's Garden) from Fauré. Recapturing the first movement's rippling accompaniment and it's innocence, the music gives the impression of a child's discovery of nature. She strolls leisurely among the flowers, enchanted by something new at every turn. "Kitty-Valse," again, is not about a cat but rather a dog, the family dog "Ketty." This whirling waltz was a present for Dolly's fourth birthday. Fauré's is not pictorial here, but perhaps he had once seen Dolly hold Ketty's two front paws for a few dance steps. In 1896, Fauré wrote both "Tendresse" (Affection) and "Le pas Espagnol" (Spanish Dance). In "Tendresse," the composer surprises with an advanced style of harmony that lifts us out of a key and gently sets us back in it. The movement's central section is remarkable for the game of follow-the-leader between the two pianists. "Le pas Espagnol" is a friendly parody on España by Fauré's friend, Emmanuel Chabrier. Full of flair and gaiety, the Spanish Dance is one of the composer's few forays into the Iberian culture that fascinated so many of his French colleagues. It's brilliance and assertiveness make it an ideal finale to the suite that saw Dolly from infancy into childhood. Poulenc, Sonata for Piano Four Hands For young Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), becoming part of Les Six was the start of a career that would be checkered by both self-doubt and joyous creativity. One of his first compositions at the time was his Sonata for Piano Four Hands. In 1918, Poulenc was in the army. He composed the sonata on the piano of an elementary school. Encouraged by Stravinsky having helped him get other piano music published, he came forward publicly with his four-hand sonata in late 1918. More like a small suite than a traditional sonata, the work met with a mixed response. However, again an elder statesman in French music helped him. Ernest Ansermet wrote a very favorable review in 1919, acknowledging stylistic influences on Poulenc, but applauding his straightforward simplicity. The influences are undeniable: Stravinsky in the first movement, Satie in the second, and Chabrier in the third. Concert performances of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring, 1913) must have been ringing in Poulenc's ears when he composed the sonata's "Prelude." Stamping chords provide an underpinning for the movement's primitive outer sections. Etched on top of these is a brief Sacre-like melody. In the sweeter middle section, the melody and overall style become more French, more civilized. Yet, the unabashed repetitiousness still echoes Stravinsky. Played entirely on the white keys, the middle movement, "Rustique," is also repetitious, but in a different, more mesmerizing way. The movement, especially it's brief middle section, has a light, airy feeling much like Satie's Gymnopédies. The music conveys a naiveté, like the sing-song recitation of a nursery rhyme. The brilliance of the "Final" is a tribute to Chabrier, and it opens with a brief main theme, which is nearly a quotation from that composer. At last, the sonata gives us something like a development, as this theme is reworked through different keys and textures. Surprise is part of Poulenc's wit, which he exercises here with reprises of the first movement, interspersing them with the "Final" theme. Again he brings a surprise at the very end: a quiet but ringing combination of chords from two different keys. Debussy, Petite Suite As a practicing musician, Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was chiefly a pianist. It was through that instrument that he explored novel harmonic progressions, voicings, and orchestral effects. At the same time, Debussy's approach to writing for the piano itself was among the most idiomatic in history. His own playing style was as sensitive as the music he wrote. To quote contemporary biographer Léon Vallas, "He made one forget that the piano has hammers - an effect that he used to request his interpreters to aim at - and he achieved particularly characteristic effects of timbres by the combined use of both pedals." In addition to his famous works for piano solo, Debussy occupied himself from time to time with composition for piano four hands or two pianos. Among the former group, the Petite Suite (composed 1886-89) stands out. Although Debussy orchestrated some other four-hand works, it is significant that he did not choose to transcribe the Petite Suite for orchestra, leaving that possibility to others. This suggests that he considered it's pianistic sonorities to be consummate and in no need of elaboration. To a pianist, the term "suite" must always suggest Baroque music, and to French pianists, the harpsichord suites of François Couperin (1668-1733) are probably the epitome. Although Debussy's Petite Suite is not overtly neo-Baroque, a nod in the direction of Couperin le Grand is apparent. The titled movements, the delicate touch and rhythmic subtlety required of the players - all echo the refinement and intimacy of Couperin's keyboard art. "En Bateau" (Boating) is a barcarolle conveying an impression of the gentle rocking of a boat on a lake or river. From it's dreamy melodies, we are occasionally jarred by the resolute, syncopated rhythms of an oarsman. At about midpoint, Debussy introduces a rippling motive, which becomes part of the accompaniment in the return of the main melody. Interestingly, he re-used this motive in later works, eventually incorporating it into his opera Pelléas et Mélisande. Debussy's "Cortège" contradicts the usual meaning of the word as a slow, dignified procession. This cortège is a brilliant march full of animation and occasional brass-band strutting. A lighter middle section sets this off with a swing toward greater pianism. Possibly the high point of the Petite Suite is the "Menuet." Introduced by a suitable intrada, the delicate yet rhythmically marked minuet unfolds. It is an impressionist's view of 18th-century manners. In the manner of an actual dance, the movement contains several small sections, or "strains." Marked quadruple piano, the ending is a wispy disappearance of the music. The dance impulse continues in the suite's finale, "Ballet." However, this is a dance from Debussy's time, not Couperin's. The energetic style and rhythms of the opening music show it's modernity, and when the central waltz section comes, we can be nowhere but a French ballroom of the late 19th century. Waltz rhythms return near the end, where Debussy turns the initial theme into a quick-waltz for the suite's whirlwind finish. © Dr. Michael Fink.