DUO Stephanie and Saar: Bach Crossings

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Bach Crossings, a first release for DUO Stephanie and Saar on New Focus, features Gyorgy Kurtag's inspired transcriptions of works by Bach for four hands piano.

Audio

# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 39:36
01Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit - Sonatine, BWV 106
Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit - Sonatine, BWV 106
2:22
02Nun komm' der Heiden Heiland, BWV 599
Nun komm' der Heiden Heiland, BWV 599
1:01
03Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr, BWV 711
Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr, BWV 711
3:27
04Dies sind die heil'genzehn Gebot', BWV 635
Dies sind die heil'genzehn Gebot', BWV 635
0:48
05Pastorale in F Major, BWV 590
Pastorale in F Major, BWV 590
2:12
06Herr Christ, der ein'ge Gottes-Sohn, BWV 601
Herr Christ, der ein'ge Gottes-Sohn, BWV 601
1:23
07Aus tiefer Not schrei ic zu dir, BWV 687
Aus tiefer Not schrei ic zu dir, BWV 687
4:12
08Gott, durch deine Güte, BWV 600
Gott, durch deine Güte, BWV 600
0:54
09Christe, du Lamm Gottes, BWV 619
Christe, du Lamm Gottes, BWV 619
1:46
10Alle Menschen müssen sterben, BWV 643
Alle Menschen müssen sterben, BWV 643
2:01
11Das Alte Jahr vergangen ist, BWV 614
Das Alte Jahr vergangen ist, BWV 614
2:32
12Gavottes I & II from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068
Gavottes I & II from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068
3:45
13O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig, BWV deest.mp3
O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig, BWV deest.mp3
4:16
14Nun komm' der Heiden Heiland, BWV 599
Nun komm' der Heiden Heiland, BWV 599
1:47
15Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 545
Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 545
5:01
16Corrente IV
Corrente IV
1:03
17Corrente III
Corrente III
1:06

Bach Crossings, a first release for DUO Stephanie and Saar on New Focus Recordings, is a crossing of paths, crossing of minds and inspirations. The music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the monolith of Western music, is recast and given new light by one of the most creative living composers of our time, György Kurtág. DUO Stephanie and Saar, the collaboration of pianists Stephanie Kai-Win Ho and Saar Ahuvia, have been acclaimed for their versatility and intellectual curiosity. Since teaming up at Baltimore’s Peabody Institute, the couple has been exploring the wide and often unconventional duo repertoire, with music ranging from Machaut to Messiaen, from Mozart to George Crumb and Bill Evans.

Bach Crossings is born out of a desire for exploration. Stephanie notes in the British publication International Piano Magazine, “The most amazing thing about the Kurtág transcriptions is that they are from Bach’s cantatas [and organ works], which most solo pianists don’t know that well. We feel that Bach’s solo keyboard works are very different from his choral works… [they] are pedagogical and virtuosic. Kurtág’s transcriptions are very spiritual; you get a sense of that seriousness and darkness and a whole new kind of Bach, very enlightened, a kind of Man of God you don’t hear in the preludes and fugues, which are so technique-driven, so hard to play.”

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The title of the album also alludes to the difficult hand crossings that Kurtág requires the performers to implement in his four hand transcriptions, as demonstrated on track one, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit from Cantata BWV 106, where the melody is played entirely with the arms crossed. The whimsical configuration of hand crossings in Gott, durch deine Güte, BWV 600 is visualized in the cover photo of the album. Of the fourteen Bach transcriptions represented here, three are by other important Bach transcribers: Franz Xaver Gleichauf and Max Reger, who represent a crossing of various approaches to Bach transcribing over the last two centuries. Two delightful “encores”, correntes by Girolamo Frescobaldi transcribed by Kurtág, pay homage to one of Bach’s sources of inspiration.

"These well-matched artists found considerable expressive depth in Kurtág’s version of the Sonatina…The rapport between Ho and Ahuvia was readily apparent throughout their portion of the program; their music- making placed added value on elegance and subtlety” – The Baltimore Sun

“The duo gave beautifully understated performances” – The New York Times

Transcriptions of works of J.S. Bach for piano four hands by Gyorgy Kurtag, F.X. Gleichauf, and Max Reger.

Recorded at Oktaven Audio, Yonkers, New York
November 6 and 21, 2011
www.oktavenaudio.com

Produced by DUO Stephanie and Saar and Ryan Streber

Hamburg Steinway D provided by Arlan Harris
www.arlanharris.com

Photo and design by Masataka Suemitsu
www.masatakasuemitsu.com

DUO Stephanie and Saar

Pianists Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia collaborate as DUO Stephanie and Saar in performances noted for their artistic versatility, elegance and intellectual curiosity.Their 2016 performance at Makrokosmos Project in Portland, OR led Oregon Arts Watch to proclaim that “in the hands of (Ho & Ahuvia) the work (Philip Glass’ Four Movements) emanated a sheer joy of piano sound.” Also noted was their “masterly” performance of George Crumb’s Otherworldly Resonances which “scintillated with dense tintinnabulations reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen’s battiest religious ecstasies.”

The duo’s 2015 performance at the Sarajevo Chamber Music Festival featured George Crumb’s dazzling Celestial Mechanics for amplified piano and other cutting-edge American works to international acclaim by Radio Sarajevo. “Stephanie and Saar’s last night’s performance once again recalled all the epithets of elegant and innovative, that have been following them throughout their career.” In celebration of György Kurtág’s 90th birthday in 2015, DUO Stephanie and Saar toured with “Hommage à J.S.B.”, a program that featured Kurtág’s Játékok alongside selections from Bach’s Art of Fugue. Their program also featured the dazzling four hand transcription of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Quartet in C Major, Op. 59 No. 3 “Razumovsky.”

Other recent performances include Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos, K. 365 with Musikkreis Horgen (Switzerland), PianoForte Salon Live on Chicago’s WFMT 98.7, Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation’s “Film Goes Classical: A 2 Piano Celebration of the Movies” at Miami’s Coral Gables Arts Cinema and a live concert on All Classical Portland’s Thursdays @ Three.

As probing recording artists, the duo explores repertoire with concomitant classical and contemporary sensibilities. Beethoven Dialogues, their 2014 album featuring Beethoven Quartets Op. 18 Nos. 1, 4 and 6 in rarely heard four hand arrangements, was performed in its entirety at New York City’s (le) poisson rouge and chosen as Album of the Week on WQXR. Bach Crossings, the duo’s 2012 album featuring György Kurtág’s illuminating transcriptions of Bach, continues to receive acclaim. International Piano Magazine states, “It is clear from the precision and elegant phrasing on this disc that this is a tight partnership between..."

Highlights from their eclectic programming include a jazz-inspired concert at the South Miami- Dade Cultural Arts Center featuring the world premiere of Fantasia de Très Mundos by Cuban- American jazz pianist Martin Bejerano. In celebrating the 100th anniversary of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, DUO Stephanie and Saar toured Rite in four-hand, two-piano and mixed ensemble arrangements. Multiple collaborations with Michael Linville and the New World Symphony Percussion Consort featured Linville’s own arrangement of Igor Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and André Boucourechliev’s aleatoric fantasy piece Archipel I. The duo takes special pride in a performance at the residence of the United States Ambassador in Berlin, Germany, featuring works by Henry Martin (US), Avner Dorman (Israel) and Felix Mendelssohn.

DUO Stephanie and Saar are the artistic directors of Makrokosmos Project, a music festival in Portland, Oregon dedicated to contemporary American music and performances by Oregon-based performers and composers.(www.makrokosmosproject.org). Saar Ahuvia, a native of Israel, studied at Israel's Tel Aviv Academy and Switzerland's Schaufhausen Conservatory before coming to the United States to pursue a Graduate Performance Diploma with Leon Fleisher at Peabody Institute. Stephanie Ho, of Taiwanese descent, grew up in Portland, Oregon before obtaining degrees from Oberlin College and Northwestern University. She received a Graduate Performance Diploma from Peabody Institute, under the direction of Julian Martin.

Stephanie and Saar, who are married to each other, reside in New York City. http://www.stephsaarduo.com


Reviews

Huffington Post

Bach Crossings, a first release for DUO Stephanie and Saar on New Focus Recordings, is a crossing of paths, crossing of minds and inspirations. The music of Johann Sebastian Bach is recast and given new light by one of the most creative living composers of our time, György Kurtág, and one who is obsessed with Bach. As is fashionable these days, the release event for Bach Crossings took place at Le Poisson Rouge on March 11. In addition to being drop dead gorgeous if totally anachronistic, these performances and arrangements explain what "voicing" is in Bach (i.e., how to hear the voice with the melody among all the other notes), setting off the high radiant in Bach. Here is voicing in practice rather than just in theory: the sound is both modern and grand, strange yet familiar, just the thing for jaded Bachians. At the end the Duo throw in two Kurtág arrangements of Frescobaldi at his most delectable.

-Laurence Vittes, March 31, 2012

International Piano

Piano duo Stephanie Kai-Win Ho and Saar Ahuvia have previously explored a wide range of music for both two pianos and one piano, from works by Guillaume de Machaut to Olivier Messiaen's epic Visions de l'Amen. It is clear from the precision and elegant phrasing on this disc that this is a tight partnership between two pianists who have developed an implicit understanding of each other's musicality. The articulation is clear and bright, and the pianists capture the lively spirit of the dance-like sections with character and class, evoking joyful images of tankard-swilling, pot-bellied revellers. The playing is well balanced between the two parts and there is a strong overall sense of musical line, with the lilting interactions and echoes finely balanced. Most of the transcriptions are by György Kurtág, with additional pieces by Franz Xaver Gleichauf and Max Reger.

May/June 2012

Chicago Reader

This oddly named piano duo -- husband and wife Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia -- named their recent album Bach Crossings (New Focus) in part because its Bach transcriptions for four hands by Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag so often required them to cross arms while sitting side by side at a single piano. This lively concise recording does nothing to obscure Bach's indelible melodies (most of the pieces are cantats, so the transcriptions required editorial decisions), but it still feels very different from conventional performances of the same music: Kurtag provides a modern sensibility and heightened harmonic splendor, while Ho and Ahuvia bring a less rigid sense of time and rhythm. 

- Peter Margasek, July 2012

Music and Vision

Bach Crossings, a first release for Duo Stephanie and Saar on New Focus Recordings, is a crossing of paths, minds and inspirations. The music of Bach, the colossus of Western music, is made over with a new perspective by György Kurtág (born 1926, Lugoj, Romania), one of the foremost living composers of our time.

The artists are husband and wife pianists. Saar Ahuvia studied at the Rubin Academy of Music, Tel Aviv University and Switzerland's Schaufhausen Conservatory before moving to Baltimore, Maryland, to pursue a Graduate Performance Diploma with Leon Fleisher at Peabody Institute, Johns Hopkins University. A native of Israel, Mr Ahuvia was awarded the America-Israel Cultural Foundation Scholarship for the uncommon period of ten consecutive years. Solo recital engagements have taken him to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Prague, Moscow, Zürich, Paris, Barcelona and cities of the US Eastern seaboard.

Mrs Ahuvia; Stephanie Kai-Win Ho (Taipei, Taiwan), grew up in Portland, Oregon before completing intensive courses in religion, philosophy and piano performance at Oberlin College, Ohio and a Masters in Music at Northwestern University, Illinois. She received a Graduate Performance Diploma from Peabody Institute, under the guidance of Julian Martin (Juilliard); artistic director Valencia International Piano Academy 2012.

While in Baltimore she actively premiered and performed new music as a member of Peabody Camerata while her recitals have been heard in the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Spain, Canada and many parts of the US.

An interest in programming unconventional, thought-provoking repertoire has led Duo Stephanie and Saar to explore a wide variety of works from Guillame de Machaut to Olivier Messiaen's monumental Visions de l'Amen, as well as their own four-hand transcription of A Time for Love by jazz pianist Bill Evans.

In keeping with 21st century fashion the release event for Bach Crossings took place at 'Le Poisson Rouge' (often referred to as LPR), a music venue and multimedia art cabaret founded by Justin Kantor and David Handler (2008) on the former site of The Village Gate, New York City -- where Stephanie and Saar have made their home.

The title 'Crossings' is a reference to the tricky hand crossings Kurtág asks of the pianists during his four hand transcriptions. On Track 1, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit from Cantata BWV 106, the melody is played entirely with the arms crossed.

July 2012

Audiophile Audition

Two of these pieces are arranged by Gleichauf, one by Max Reger, and the rest by Gyorgy Kurtág. In his piano transcriptions of music from the cantatas and organ works of J.S. Bach, Kurtág engages the music of Bach with persuasiveness and a controlled sense of voicing that is simply not found among other such arrangements. I like the recording very much—natural piano sound, soft, vibrant, and played with a lot of style. The two performers are both resident at the Peabody Conservatory and have been exploring many of the wider regions of the two-piano repertory.

The pieces, mostly chorale preludes, are stunningly rendered and beautifully conceived. I have seldom heard such fine arrangements, hinting at the true Baroque world that is Bach while at the same time peppering the music with a dose of modern sensibility that soothes the soul in a remarkable way. The album has its name because of the number of hand crossings that the performers have to negotiate during the playing of many of these works. I can’t imagine that anyone, Bach purist or modernist, would object to such persuasive playing. One thing though—the short timing is irritating, and at full price a detriment to my giving it four stars—40 minutes in my book is not acceptable, but I certainly can recommend this recording on its other merits.

Listen

When György Kurtág sets out to transcribe Bach for himself and his wife to play on the piano, something special happens: the fragile wit of Kurtág is married to the eternal genius of Bach and, unbelievably, something even greater than the individual parts emerges. Piano duo Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia must feel similarly about them, focusing on Kurtág transcriptions (alongside some of Reger et al.), in their delightful album, Bach Crossings. The performances are a few percentage points short of perfection, but the music isn’t. Bach–Kurtág is a bit like getting God injected into the ears.

– Jens F. Laurson, Listen

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