LA Ours is a unique journey as we met on a dating website to begin with, nothing to do with music!
RS It took about three weeks of emailing to find out whether she was a violinist, a cellist or a flautist. It turned out that she was a pianist.
LA I was certainly not looking for a musician, let alone a pianist to marry! However, we married in 2008 and in 2010 we started ‘Piano a Deux’.
RS The transition from being a soloist to working in a duo takes time. This is where you realise you are no longer sitting in the middle of the piano, that you are always sitting at an awkward angle, and you’re limited to your part of the keyboard, which is either the top or the bottom. Then you find that there’s a lot of clashing of hands, you scratch each other with your finger nails, and you bump into each other a lot. Sometimes composers write the same note for both players. You might also disagree about how phrases should be played or how the music is to be shaped.
LA If you listen to orchestras or ensembles, many play in straight time, that’s playing metronomically. Many ensembles, we find, play like that. We wondered why, until we realised that it makes it much easier. Even with just 2 people, using subtleties of rhythm, or rubato as it is called, makes playing together much more demanding.
RS I think playing in a piano duo is really about honest and open communication. Both have to be able to say without offence if something is not working. If issues are not sorted out, they can fester and affect the eventual result. Conflict resolution is constantly essential. In fact, having a therapist on hand would be fantastic.
LA It’s Wimbledon season at the moment. Solo and duo playing are like playing Singles and Doubles: totally different ball games, with different mind sets and different requirements of skills.
RS With any kind of chamber music, you have to listen like a hawk. If you imagine playing a Chopin Nocturne, and then imagine that one person is playing the melody and the other person is playing the accompaniment … or even a waltz and think “I’m going to put some rubato in” … it becomes a very different and difficult thing for two people to accomplish.
RS A soloist has one brain working two hands. With a piano duo it’s two brains working four hands, hence our motto: ‘Four Hands One Heart’!
LA We don’t always take the same part; sometimes I play Primo, at other times Robert does.
RS We’ve been on a bit of a journey with this because Linda assumed I would take the top part as I’ve got bigger hands and bigger shoulders. But then people and also our agents said that Linda can’t be seen when I play Primo. They want to see her and the dresses she wears …
LA We have realised that the visual impact of a concert is really important too.
RS When we begin a new work we sight-read through it and then practise it separately on two different pianos for some time. Issues arise when we come back together and work out how to find one interpretation from the different ways in which we’ve come to hear the piece. That’s when conflict kicks in again.
LA I think of Maria Callas at this point. She went to every single orchestra rehearsal and said “If you want to know how to act, you listen to the orchestral part, it’s all there”. So it’s really important to know all the parts. Sometimes we actually swap roles so we know the other part intimately – that’s the ideal.
RS We’re interested in finding neglected composers and playing their music, especially when it’s really good. We’ve found the French composer Georges Onslow, who we discovered in a dusty drawer in a music library. During his lifetime, was as celebrated all over Europe as Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn and admired by all of those, but interest in his music faded when he died. His family didn’t take on the publication or organisation of it, and so it just disappeared from public view. We’ve just recorded a CD which includes his Op. 7 sonata and his six solo pieces.
LA We also play the standard repertoire, and a lot of our own arrangements, for example ‘An American in Paris’ , ‘Carmen Fantasy’, ‘Tea For Two’ and Liszt’s ‘Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” where we’ve added our own cadenzas . Also ‘Stranger in Paradise’ from Kismet and ‘ You Are My Heart’s Delight’ by Franz Lehar. There’s also Johann Strauss’ ‘ Voices of Spring’. Very often we take tunes from operetta or music theatre and rearrange them. I used to play these arrangements on my own, and when Robert turned up he added another tier, so we’ve called one piece: ‘Gershwin In Tiers’ We’ve recently recorded six Poulenc songs which I arranged and turned into a suite for piano duo: ‘Songs of Love & War’.
RS We also add pianistic gestures and write big virtuosic finishes which always work well in concert.
Wednesday 29th July at 7 pm
St Mary Magdalene Church, Munster Square, London NW1 3PT
Admission is free, though contributions will be welcome at the end
‘Carmen Carnival’: Bizet arr Ang/Stoodley
Since its creation in 2010, “Piano À Deux” with its ‘Four Hands One Heart’ approach is redefining the piano duo experience for audiences worldwide. Robert & Linda have been wowing audiences in Hungary, Italy, Germany, Singapore, in the UK and on cruise ships with their charisma, comedy and virtuosity set in their original musical arrangements. They met not through music, but at a dating website, and married in 2008. Apart from their arrangements they also play the standard repertoire and music by neglected composers like Georges Onslow. They have just recorded his Op 7 Duo Sonata and six solo pieces on their second CD, which includes music by Debussy and songs by Poulenc (arr Linda Ang) Through their first CD: “Strictly Not Bach” released in 2011, Piano À Deux, with their audiences, have raised £2,000 for WorldVision and other charities. Their 2012 appearance on UK’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, where one of the judges Amanda Holden said, “I’m sure that the Royal Family would love this!” has earned them the epithet: ‘Darlings of ITV’ from producer Chris Gidney.