If a single pianist is capable of revving up high excitement on the concert stage, imagine how much of a thrill factor two grand pianos playing at once can generate. Bay Area music lovers are in for a great treat when two unique pianists stride onto the Davies Symphony Hall concert stage Monday night. Not only are both pianists glamorous women, they are sisters -- and world-renowned ones at that.
This sibling duo piano team, Katia and Marielle Labèque, were born in 1950 and 1952, respectively, in Bayonne, France, with a massive dose of musicality in their genes. Their Italian-born mother, Ada Cecchi, was a noted piano teacher in the area, and their father was a doctor who played rugby and sang in the Bordeaux Opera. Their mother started them on the piano when they were 3 and 5, and both continued studies, graduating from the Conservatoire de Paris.
During the earlier part of their concert career, they specialized in performances of contemporary music by such composers as Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Olivier Messiaen, Philippe Boesmans, Gyorgy Ligeti -- none of whom were renowned for audience-friendly works. But in 1980, the Labèques enchanted audiences throughout the world with their duo piano version of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," which was to become one of their first records to go gold in sales. Since that stunning success, they have performed duo piano arrangements of a broad range of music that includes early baroque, jazz, ragtime, flamenco and experimental rock, along with new works by Estonian composer Arvo Part, Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov and American minimalist John Cage. Two of their recent hits have been recordings of the first instrumental version of Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story" as transcribed by Irwin Kostal, and a two-piano plus a Basque percussionist's version of Ravel's "Bolero." During their luminous careers, they have performed with the world's greatest orchestras, including those of Berlin, Vienna, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and London, and in a number of music festivals throughout the world conducted by the world's greatest conductors, including our own San Francisco Symphony maestro, Michael Tilson Thomas and the much-lauded Semyon Bychkov, who happens to be Marielle's husband. Katia's love interest is composer, producer and singer/guitarist David Chalmin.
In addition to being such terrific musicians, the sisters are high-achieving businesswomen. They have created their own foundation, Fondazione Katia e Marielle Labèque, in Rome; their own recording label, called KML Recordings; and even commissioned the construction of two Silberman fortepianos so they could perform together with such premier baroque ensembles as Musica Antiqua Koln, the English Baroque Soloists, the Venice Baroque Orchestra, Il Giardino Armonico and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
Their upcoming Davies Hall concert will include excerpts from "West Side Story," Gershwin's "Three Preludes for Two Pianos" and the more adventurous "Four Movements for Two Pianos" by Philip Glass.
Details: 8 p.m. Monday, 201 Van Ness, S.F.; $35-$96, 415-854-6000, www.sfsymphony.org.
'Fingers of steel'
More music from a lovely pianist is coming next week, from Khatia Buniatishvili, born in Tbilisi, Georgia, 26 years ago. Like Katia Labèque, Buniatishvili also has a sister with whom she enjoys playing four-handed piano -- but on just one piano.
She made her debut at age 6 with the Tbilisi Chamber Orchestra and has performed in Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Russia and Israel. She has won honors at the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, the Horowitz International Competition for Young Pianists in Kiev, and the first prize of the Elizabeth Leonskaya Scholarship.
Following her San Francisco debut at Davies Hall in January 2012, Buniatishvili won praise for her "flawless technique" and "fingers of steel."
Her next performance here, sponsored by Chamber Music San Francisco, is on April 12 at Marines' Memorial Theatre and will include Liszt's Sonata in B minor, Ravel's "La Valse," Chopin's Sonata No. 2 and Stravinsky's "Petrushka."
Details: 8 p.m. April 12, 609 Sutter St., S.F. $45; 415-392-4400, www.chambermusicSF.org.
Contact Cheryl North at email@example.com.