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The Pridonoff Duo

Virtuosity Squared—classic and new music for two pianos

Music of Liszt, Knehans and Gershwin

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PRIDONOFF DUO
Elisabeth and Eugene Pridonoff formed The Pridonoff Duo in 1982 making their formal debut with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Paul Nadler. Successful debuts followed in New York’s Tully Hall and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in 1986 and they have performed throughout the United States in such venues as the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival, the Lyric Arts Festival of Houston, the Shreveport Festival, the Arcady Festival, the Music Teachers National Association Convention, the World Piano Pedagogy Conference, the Great Romantics Festival, the American Liszt Conference, and on recital series and with orchestras throughout the country. In Mexico they were featured at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterrey, and the Sociedad Artistica Technologicao de Monterrey and were proclaimed by El Norte, one of Mexico’s most prestigious newspapers, as being among the top attractions for that season.

The Pridonoff Duo gave the World Premiere of Douglas Knehans’ Cascade in Cincinnati, the New York premier at Steinway Hall in New York City in October of 2010, and at Williamsburg College, and Kent State University. They regularly perform in Tokyo, Sendai, Sapporo, Yamagata and Osaka, Japan and have performed throughout China in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, and Hong Kong, Seoul and Kwanju, Korea, and throughout Taiwan. Elisabeth and Eugene Pridonoff are co-artistic directors of the CCM Prague International Piano Institute [www.ccmprague.org] and they have also taught at various European festivals including the Amalfi Festival in Italy, the Barcelona Piano Festival, and International Piano Week of Belgium and the Brevard Music Center Festival.  They have appeared with Bill McGlaughlin of St. Paul Sunday, NPR’s The Sunday Show, and on CBS Sunday Morning in September, 2009.

The Pridonoff Duo was featured in a cover photo and interview in the
March 2005 issue of Clavier Magazine and in the April 2006 issue of China's
premier music publication, Piano Artistry. Duo-in-residence and professors
of piano at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music the
Pridonoffs are under the management of Alkahest Artists & Attractions.

“The Pridonoffs were charming … they favor a crisp precise style … buoyant and rhythmically alive, and marked by impressive unanimity of attack.”
—John Rockwell, The New York Times on their Alice Tully Hall recital

“They have honed their performance to the highest possible degree of pianistic artistry.”
—The Arizona Republic

“What is sure is that the Pridonoffs make an exciting team in a repertory that isn’t played in public enough.”
—The Denver Post

 

Elisabeth Pridonoff, Piano
Elisabeth Pridonoff has appeared with orchestras and on recital series in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, and Asia and has performed at music festivals throughout the world including the Amalfi, Prague, Barcelona, Belgium, and InterHarmony Festivals. During the summers she is on the faculty of the Brevard Music Center Festival and co-artistic director of the CCM Prague International Piano Institute.

A prolific performer of chamber music, Elisabeth Pridonoff has collaborated with many outstanding artists including violinists Ronald Copes, William Fitzpatrick, Masao Kawasaki, Timothy Lees, Eugen Sarbu, Misha Vitenson, and Paul Wolfe, violists Catharine Carroll and Jessica Bodner, cellists Andrew Cox, Michael Mermagen, Misha Quint, Peter Wiley, and Aron Zelkowicz, clarinetist David Shifrin, french hornists Michael Hatfield and William Purvis, oboist Sara Bloom, and bassoonists Otto Eifert and William Winstead.

She has appeared with the Nashville Symphony, Oklahoma City Symphony, Shreveport Symphony, El Paso Symphony, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, Northern Kentucky Symphony, Middletown (Ohio) Symphony, Boise Philharmonic, Illinois Philharmonic, and the New Philharmonic Orchestra of Irving (Texas).

An alumnus of Vanderbilt University with a Bachelors degree from George Peabody College for Teachers, she also holds Masters degrees in both piano and voice from The Juilliard School having studied piano with Sasha Gorodnitsky and Adele Marcus, and voice with Hans Heinz and Anna Kaskas. She is currently Professor of Piano and, with Eugene Pridonoff, Duo-in-Residence at the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music.

Elisabeth Pridonoff is a Steinway Artist.

Eugene Pridonoff, Piano
Eugene Pridonoff has maintained an international performing career for over four decades since winning prizes in the Leventritt, Montreal, Brazil, and Tschaikowsky competitions. In the ensuing decades he also established himself as a world-renowned pedagogue and is Professor of Piano and Artist-in-Residence at the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music. He graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music where he studied with Rudolf Serkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski.

He has performed with orchestras throughout the world, including the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, Central Opera Orchestra of Beijing, and the San Salvador Symphony Orchestra, under such conductors as Seiji Ozawa, Izler Solomon, Andre Kostelanetz, Michael Gielen, Frederic Prausnitz, Nicholas Harsanyi, Howard Mitchell, John Barnett, Gerhard Samuel, William Smith and Lawrence Leighton Smith. He has also performed in North, Central, and South America; Moscow, Russia;, Seoul, Korea; Taipei, Taiwan; Beijing, Shanghai, and Wuhan, China; Hong Kong; Australia; Czech Republic; Belgium; Italy and Spain. He has given chamber recitals with Lynn Harrell, Leonard Rose, Jaime Laredo, and Peter Wiley.

Eugene Pridonoff regularly performs and teaches in Asia and has made
twelve trips to Japan, performing in Tokyo, Sapporo, Yamagata, Osaka, and
Sendai and was also presented in recital in Seoul, Korea in 2004 at the
Ewon Cultural Center. For many summers Eugene Pridonoff performed
and taught at the Amalfi Coast Music Festival in Italy, International Piano
Week of Belgium, and the Barcelona Festival. He now serves as co-artistic
director of the CCM Prague International Piano Institute.

Eugene Pridonoff has recorded for the Vienna Modern Masters label and
is a Steinway Artist.

 

Concerto Pathétique — Franz Liszt
Having played the B minor Sonata of Liszt, I was most curious to discover its kinship to the Concerto Pathétique. It is a work that has grown on me and its depth of expression is quite remarkable. Though it doesn't present the same degree of difficulty as the B minor Sonata in either the 1st or 2nd part, together the textures and expressive range create an orchestral effect that is powerful and moving. Creating a spontaneous yet homogeneous interpretation is a particular challenge with two piano performing and the improvisational nature of this work tests those limits. I believe that it is a supremely effective and satisfying work in this two-piano incarnation and one of the great works for this medium.
— Note by Eugene Pridonoff

 

Cascade — Douglas Knehans
Cascade is my first work for two pianos, which I wrote at the request of the superb Pridonoff Duo.

I had attended a number of concerts of the Pridonoffs and knew some central and defining things about their approach to this repertoire: they favor bold interpretations of technically formidable works which they deliver with sensitive and powerful artistry coupled with a nimble and effortlessly adaptable technique in support of the musical line.

To write a work for such artists was both a humbling and challenging experience. In talking with Elisabeth and Eugene we had decided on the broad shape of the work together: a multi-movement work of about 20 minutes duration that would create a challenge in the areas of their strength as musicians, namely their terrific technique and their subtle, expressive musicianship. Finally, they wanted some nice tunes.

With this as a working brief I set to work considering this project and almost immediately fixated on the aspect of the piano that I find most aurally fetching — the delicate and velvety ‘glow’ of piano resonance as it hangs in the air. This in turn led me to consider how sounds as waves move about the air as we hear them and thus images of clouds and ocean waves began also to occupy my mind. I decided upon a fast-slow-fast arrangement of movements with the outer movements showing off the duo’s tremendously agile and facile technique and tight ensemble; with the slow movement focusing more on their subtle, sensitive and deeply emotional musicianship.

The work took shape over the summer of 2010 and was written in about 7 weeks. The movement titles were all drawn from my initial musings on the liquidity of sound in the air: Drift Echo; Wave and Torrent all evoke some central things about each movement, with the whole work’s title also evoking a fast succession of waves.

Cascade has been a journey of discovery for me: discovery of the endless, tremendous sonorities offered by the piano; discovery of a new side of my musical language and most of all discovery of the amazing depth of technique and musicianship of these two deep and richly committed artists — The Pridonoff Duo.
— Note by Douglas Knehans

 

Fantasy on George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess — Percy Grainger
I had the good fortune of working with the great African American baritone Todd Duncan at the Temple University (Ambler) Music Festival near Philadelphia in the late 1960's and consider him to be one of my most important musical influences. George Gershwin had envisioned the role of Porgy for Todd Duncan who starred in that role at its premier and this was one of the reasons that I very much wanted to perform and record this amazing two piano version by Percy Grainger.

Though the storyline behind this 1934–35 "American folk opera" based on DuBose Heyward's play about a beggar in Charleston, South Carolina is well known, it is worth repeating. Gershwin was living on an island near Charleston, South Carolina during the summer of 1934 and couldn't help but be influenced by the music, lifestyle, and speech of the local people. Songs such as Summertime, Leavin' for the promise' lan', and I got plenty o' nuttin' are such examples.

Considered to be Gershwin's greatest work, Porgy and Bess was the first truly American music drama and was completed when Gershwin was thirty-six. Almost all of the roles in Porgy and Bess were sung by African Americans, none of whom had ever sung in an opera, and most of whom had never had any stage experience.

It begins at dawn in Catfish Row. You can hear everyday life–swishing brooms, shaking out of dust rags, people going to work. Against the backdrop of the beating of carpets and crap–shooters hollering, a mother sings a simple lullaby: Summertime.

Porgy who is physically handicapped and has lost the use of his legs is the central character along with his sweetheart Bess who is cheating on him with Crown, a strong and burly stevedore. Crown kills a man with his cotton hook, escapes and Bess is comforted by Porgy and she decides to live with him. The scene shifts to the room of the slain man where the poignant My Man's Gone Now is heard. After Porgy sings a cheerful I Got Plenty o' Nutin', a picnic is announced that Porgy is unable to attend due to his condition. Insisting that Bess enjoy herself without him, he declares his love and confidence in the great duet, Bess, You Is My Woman Now.  

At the Kittiwak Island picnic grounds a fast talking Harlem man called Sporting Life enchants the crowd with It Ain't Necessarily So, and afterward, Crown, who is hiding there, comes out and persuades Bess to stay with him. In a delirious state after some days with Crown, Bess begs Porgy to forgive her and Porgy swears vengeance upon Crown. 

During a storm, Crown suddenly appears while people are praying and singing spirituals and under Porgy's window tries to entice Bess. Porgy is waiting for him and throwing open the shutters strangles Crown shouting, "I am a man! I am a man!"

Porgy is arrested and jailed while Sporting Life is luring Bess with the promise of good times (There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York). After his release from jail Porgy brings presents to everyone in Catfish Row, but his two-timing sweetheart has gone.  Porgy's lament brings the opera to a close as he goes on his "goat cart" to search for Bess while singing Oh Lord, I'm on My Way.
— Note by Elisabeth Pridonoff

 

COMPOSERS BIOGRAPHIES

FRANZ LISZT was one of the leaders of the Romantic movement in music. In his compositions he developed new methods, both imaginative and technical, which left their mark upon his forward-looking contemporaries and anticipated some 20th-century ideas and procedures; he also evolved the method of ‘transformation of themes’ as part of his revolution in form, made radical experiments in harmony and invented the symphonic poem for orchestra. As the greatest piano virtuoso of his time, he used his sensational technique and captivating concert personality not only for personal effect but to spread, through his transcriptions, knowledge of other composers’ music. As a conductor and teacher, especially at Weimar, he made himself the most influential figure of the New German School dedicated to progress in music.

 

DOUGLAS KNEHANS has recently been a guest of the Premieres of the Season Festival in Kiev, Ukraine where the Kiev Piano Duo gave the European premiere of his two piano work Cascade. This work has also been widely performed and recorded by the Pridonoff Duo, who commissioned the work. The Verdehr Trio also recorded his work rive for release in the fall of 2008 on Crystal Records. Piano virtuoso Michael Kieran Harvey has also recorded his Boyd panels for Move Records (Australia), which also was released in fall 2008. His latest commissions are from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (Australia) for a new work for string orchestra and violin solo; a new double concerto (clarinet and violin) for Elsa and Walter Verdehr and a new work for oboe and string orchestra for Dwight Parry, principal oboe of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Knehans holds degrees from the Australian National University, Queens College, CUNY and Yale School of Music. He has been a fellow at MacDowell Colony, Leighton Artist Colony (Banff) and Carnegie Hall and has fulfilled commissions for a wide variety of works from orchestral, to chamber music, opera, dance, choral, electronic and film. His music for the short film A Song of Air was screened at the prestigious Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival and over a dozen others world wide, while his music for the PBS Documentary Animal, Vegetable, Mineral was nominated for an EMMY Award.

Knehans was a visiting professor of composition at the National University of Singapore (2006) and the Cracow Academy of Music, Poland (2007) and has given lectures on music composition and his own music at The Australian National University, New York University and Yale University. He was Director of the University of Tasmania Conservatorium of Music from 2000–2008 and Artistic Director of the Australian International Symphony Orchestra Institute from 2005–2008. Between 2008–2010 he was the Dean and Thomas James Kelly Professor of Music at the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) at the University of Cincinnati. He currently is on the composition faculty at CCM where he is the Norman Dinerstein Professor of Composition Scholar.

 

GEORGE GERSHWIN was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 26 September 1898, and began his musical training at thirteen. At fifteen he quit high school to work as a pianist and 'song plugger' for a music publisher, and soon he was writing songs. Swanee, introduced by Al Jolson, brought Gershwin his first real fame. But it was George and his older brother Ira who became the dominant Broadway songwriters to emerge during the 1920s, creating a ceaseless flow of brisk, infectious rhythms and affectingly poignant ballads. Working together, they fashioned the words to fit the melodies with a 'glove-like fidelity'. This extraordinary collaboration led to a succession of 22 musical comedies, among them Lady, Be Good! (1924); Oh, Kay! (1926); Funny Face (1927); Strike Up The Band (1927 & 1930); Girl Crazy (1930), and Of Thee I Sing (1931), the first musical comedy to win a Pulitzer Prize. Since its premier at Aeolian Hall in New York on 12 February 1924, Gershwin’s iconic masterpiece, Rhapsody In Blue caught the public's fancy and opened a new era in American music.

Gershwin, fascinated by the DuBose Heyward novel Porgy, recognized it as a perfect vehicle for opera using blues and jazz idioms. What he called a 'folk opera", Porgy And Bess (co-written with Dubose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin) was the Gershwin brothers' most ambitious undertaking, tightly integrating unforgettable songs with drama.

In 1937 George Gershwin was at the height of his career. It was in Hollywood, while he was working on the score of The Goldwyn Follies, that George Gershwin collapsed and on 11 July, 1937 died of a brain tumor. He was not quite 39 years old. Countless people throughout the world, who knew George Gershwin only through his work, were stunned by the news as if they had suffered a personal loss. John O'Hara summed up their feelings at the time: 'George Gershwin died July 11, 1937, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to'.

— Reprinted by kind permission of Warner/Chappell