By SUSIE DUMMIT
Susan Grace and Steven Beck graced the intimate theater of Packard Hall once again on the night of Tuesday, Sept. 24. The duo, known as Quattro Mani, strayed away from their usual setup by playing a shared piano, swapping sides between each piece.
“While we typically do contemporary, we will be playing more traditional pieces, as we are debuting a contemporary piece by Jeff Nichols,” Grace said.
Grace, a Grammy Award nominee and Steinway Artist, is associate chair, artist-in-residence, and senior lecturer in music at Colorado College, in addition to being the director of the Summer Music Festival. Her performance partner, also a Steinway Artist and soloist in a variety of philharmonic orchestras, has released quite a few recordings with her through Bridge Records, including “Lounge Lizards,” “Restructures,” and their most recent, “Stefan Wolpe: Volume 8.” Their music has led to dedications and collaborations with leading composers, such as George Crumb, Paul Lansky, Tod Machover, Poul Ruders, Michael Daughtry, and Fred Lerdahl.
The pair started with Mozart’s “Sonata in C Major, K.521,” which was the final duet the composer ever wrote. This led into Johannes Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Op. 23.” Grace took on the higher end of the piano, while Beck played the lower, making their distinct parts take on the form of a conversation between the two.
Although there was intended to be an intermission following this, they dove straight into the second half, beginning with Beethoven’s “Sonata in D Major, Op. 6,” which mirrored the same traditional style as the previous two pieces. However, the pattern was quickly contrasted when the two performed the world premiere of Jeff Nichols’ “Geistliches Hochzeitslied (Spiritual Wedding Song).”
“It’s based on a brilliant work by Brahms, but it’s a 12 tone piece and you can see Brahmsian themes seep into it every here and there,” Beck explained as he introduced the piece. “So we’re going to try to put a lot of color into this and bring it to life.”
Created as a wedding gift for his friends, Nichols’ piece stood out from the rest, filled with character and quick changes and possessing an eccentric, postmodern tone. With the abrupt, individualistic notes played, it seemed to end in a questioning manner, but nevertheless helped positively diversify the sound of the night.
“Now, for some fun,” Grace said at the start of their final piece, “Gazebo Dances” by John Corigliano. Highlighting their compatibility as a duo, it closed the night in a vibrant and light-hearted manner.
Quattro Mani continues to inspire music lovers on campus and will have other highly anticipated performances on campus in the future.