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15 Questions to the Duo Hammel Sanchez

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
¡Saludos!  We are very busy, thank you! We are in Spain, in the Madrid/Toledo region, land of great cheeses, wines, and olive oils.

What’s on your schedule right now?
Performances in New York, Italy and Spain. For the concerts in New York we have created our own enhanced arrangement of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for one piano four hands, which will include accompanying percussion played simultaneously by both of us. We will also perform Liszt’s wonderful transcription (which he did himself) of his famous Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, which has not been published since the 19th Century and for which we searched around the world to find the score. This program should be a lot of fun, both the Gershwin and Liszt as well as the rest of the program, which does contains more “serious” music (we hate that term). 

Then we have a concert tour in Italy this summer which will be performances for both one and two pianos, and then back to New York. 

We have also been invited to the Málaga Contemporary Music Festival in Spain where we will premiere a new work by an Andalusian composer and also perform the entire oeuvre for one piano four hands by Spanish composer José Luis Turina (grandson of Joaquín Turina).

If you hadn’t chosen music, what do you think you would do right now?

It is a hard question to answer. Music has been a huge part of our lives, and our definition of who we are is inextricably linked to being musicians. We both love being musicians, being in this world, and being able to share it with others. I don’t think we ever seriously thought of being anything else. If it weren’t performing and teaching, it would most certainly be something related to music. Perhaps we would be writing this article instead? <smile>

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?
Individually we have each had several major influences but as a duo it has been without a doubt the Hungarian pianist and professor Ferenc Rados. He was also Andras Schiff’s teacher and is an absolutely brilliant musician, and by brilliant we mean a complete genius. His perspective on music is unlike anything either of us had encountered before. He allowed our duo find a truly organic concept of the music we play.

What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?
Being a musician is having a lifelong relationship with your instrument and the music, which can be as volatile as with a human being. As in any relationship the hardest part is probably the lack of certainty in your life, the unpredictability. But this is also the best part about it. Unlike some other professions, one of the benefits of being a musician is that if you grow as a person, the music grows with you. The piece you played as a seventeen-year-old speaks much more deeply to you when you are 30 and 50 and 70. It is flexible, it matures inside of you and becomes a reflection of your emotions and your experiences in a way that nothing else can. How can we say no to being a part of that?

What’s your view on the classical music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
Here we need to separate “music” into traditional classical music (meaning the generally beloved favorites) and today’s contemporary classical music.

Music truly is just another language, in the sense that it is used to express something: an object, an emotion, a state of existence.  A language is only useful as long as it serves to communicate this “something” to an individual and in order for the language to survive it needs to adapt to the changing environment of humanity.  We no longer speak the English of Chaucer or the Spanish of Cervantes and we understand them with difficulty. So why then should we be shocked to find that today’s technology-craving, pop-culture-bombarded society no longer understands Bach, Schumann or Ravel? 
In today’s world, “traditional” classical music will always have its small, dedicated group of followers, but this is how it will remain unless we change the way children today are educated and entertained.  If people no longer feel themselves to be reflected in the music they hear then that music loses its meaning and its basic purpose of communication.  When taught the tradition of musical language one can still delight in its full meaning, but that is now a very small minority. Classical music is universal enough that it will not die out, but we also don’t see the situation improving anytime soon. The issue with contemporary classical music is that composers are stuck in a quandary: to compose in a language which only the selected few will understand and appreciate or to try and compose in a language that will be accessible to a greater number of people. Some will call it catering to the lowest common denominator, and there are populist composers who do this.  But we think truly good art is universal: it speaks to the many, not to the few, by expressing some aspect of the human condition. Even if the masses may not comprehend its many layers, there is some part of it they can grasp. This is the music that will last. Everything else will be forgotten in time.

Some feel there is no need to record classical music any more, that it’s all been done before. What do you tell them?
We agree in some cases. Does the world really need any more recordings of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto or of Beethoven’s Moonlight? We have more recordings available for some pieces than a person knows what to do with. 

But behind these works lie thousands of composers who have never been recorded before. It is true that some are best left to oblivion while others may be one-hit-wonders but not everything worth recording been recorded. In fact there are even pieces by famous composers that have never been republished and therefore have been left with none or just one recording. Even in the not-so-obscure world of piano duo music, it is amazing to us just how few recordings are available of even the most played duo pieces. We are busily trying to correct that!

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
A great performance is when you feel the audience connecting with the music. Anyone who is not a musician may wonder at a pianist saying this, after all, while we’re performing we don’t look at the audience, we don’t talk to them, or acknowledge them in any obvious manner in the way a singer or other instrumentalist would have to. And yet the energy they emanate is extremely palpable to us and our performance itself feeds off of it. Nothing beats having an audience that is with you on every note and that you know is being emotionally affected by the music.

What does the word “interpretation” mean to you?
It means taking every word, every note, every inflection the composer wrote and making it your own. So much so that eventually you feel the piece is no longer the composer’s but yours, because you have found the meaning of every note, the very reason each one exists in that score. And it is in that meaning wherein the word “interpretation” lies; the source of meaning will be different for different people.

True or false: It is the duty of an artist to put his personal emotions into the music he plays.

This relates to the last question. “Emotion” is the not the right word. It is “meaning”. Any good artist will imbue the music with their own unique perspective of the meaning and intent presented in the score.

True or false: “Music is my first love”
We both began playing the piano before we understood what love even was therefore we would say false. We have grown to love music as we have matured ourselves, but we don’t think we can call it our first love, even if it was there first. That is too bad though, as our actual “first loves” were probably less deserving of our affection in the first place!

True or false: People need to be educated about classical music, before they can really appreciate it.

Both, true and false. Good music can be appreciated at many levels, and just like anything  in this life that is worthwhile, the more you know about it the more you get out of it. That doesn’t mean that the non-specialized masses cannot enjoy and be entertained by classical music. We love going to the movies and are entertained by the films we see, but when accompanied by a true film connoisseur we realize all the angles of the story and the filming process we normally don’t take into account and which make the movie so much more complex and make one appreciate a well-made film infinitely more. Music is the same.

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?

There would definitely a great deal more chamber music, from piano duos to quintets to varied ensembles. There is such incredible repertoire that exists for chamber music and it is too neglected by the average concert series, always favoring symphony concerts, opera, singers, and solo pianists. This does a disservice to everyone: the composers, the music, the musicians, and most especially the audiences which are continually being bombarded with more of the same not knowing that there is this entire world available to them that is just as thrilling, powerful and moving.

What’s your favourite classical CD at the moment?

Don’t have one favorite one. Our preference for certain music or performers will change with our moods, or the weather, or the time in our lives, or if I ate garlicky pork or if Laura had coffee instead of dessert after lunch...

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?

We are pianists through and through. Although the first instrument Laura ever played was the guitar (what a surprise…she’s from Spain) and we both have played the organ to earn a little money back in our student days. Laura also claims she mastered the viola to the point where she used it to play Happy Birthday to one of her friends.

But do not fear, we plan to keep our day job.

Works for one Piano 4 Hands
176 Keys to Europe

Duo Hammel Sanchez

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