“If we Hadn’t Been Museum Guards...”

Güher and Süher Pekinel are the international music world’s most extraordinary piano duo. Describing themselves as ‘museum guards’, they confess that the classics give them far more satisfaction than many works of contemporary music.

The Güher and Süher Pekinel piano duo are two of the most talked about artists in the international music world. First performing at the age of six, these twin sisters now give very few recitals. Arthaus Müsik’s recently issued DVD of four of the duo’s concerts therefore offers classical music lovers a special treat.

What is more important in a concert:  musicality, virtuosity, style, interpretation, empathy, being in sync?
SÜHER PEKİNEL: All of them are essential for a good musician. Your virtuosity means nothing though, if it is not at the service of your musicality. The same is true of style and interpretation. You may be a great interpreter, but if you don’t stay within the bounds of the composer’s style, it will be difficult for the listener to understand because the interpretation will never succeed in expressing the meaning of the piece. In the end, style is the transformation of the musical alphabet into a language.

You are the only piano duo in the world that play without eye contact. You make the audience marvel at how you are able to execute even the subtlest rubato perfectly in sync, right down to the micro second. How do you do it?
SP: Playing together means listening to each other. If your ears can be your eyes, then your concentration is increased by half and the positive dynamism of silence flows between you. This is what we have sought to do all our lives. Therefore we are two soloists on stage. That is the only way we can surmount all the obstacles and concentrate on the music that wants to speak through us. And we can experience the moment more purely and originally through that mystical dynamism and the risk it entails.

Recently classical music has been flirting with jazz as a way of enriching itself and finding more freedom. You too have made use of jazz in your Bach interpretations. Are you going to continue to do so?
GP: Following the Bach concertos we decided to experiment with the freedom the jazz experience offers in other initiatives as well. We have some surprises in store.

Are classical music listeners going to be able to adapt to this new freedom? What I mean is, are experiments of this sort going to change the course of classical music?
GP: In other words, how can a classical music form that has settled into place over the centuries adapt to freedom outside the mold? In our view this is a natural process of development. Every genre of music today is inevitably transformed through contact with its counterparts in its own style. Modern music is the best example of this. In the quest for innovation, contrasting elements often come together, and the radical effect this produces results in the development of new styles and musical forms that are more free. This process also brings us closer to the concepts that underlie jazz.

From the standpoint of the audience, isn’t it risky to play only the standard repertoire in concerts? Perhaps it’s not an apt metaphor, but aren’t soloists nowadays regarded a little like ‘museum guards’? What are your views regarding playing the new composers and their compositions?
SP: I wonder if there would even have been a concept of the classical music concert today if we had not been ‘museum guards’. It is ‘classic’ after all. When we define a classic, we are talking about a work that exists for all time. Like, for example, the music of Bach that keeps past, present and future alive simultaneously through its inexhaustible power of vision. All these works still preserve their relevance today without any statute of limitations, and we continue to learn from them. As for contemporary music, unfortunately today’s music is very limited in two-piano repertoire, because it is a composition technique that demands great mastery. The fact that the timbres of the two instruments are exactly the same creates serious difficulties when it comes to composition.  Since the piano is an orchestral instrument, piano compositions need to have an extremely colorful and original harmonic structure. That’s why the classics give us far more satisfaction than many contemporary works that have been dedicated to us.

Going back to the beginning, you started performing when you were six years old and gave two concerts with the Ankara Philharmonic at the age of nine.  Do you think your talent would have been recognized so early if your mother had not steered you into music?
GP: There is no denying of course our mother’s influence on our careers. But even if that had not been the case, talent will out one way or another. Around the house we were both trying to get a sound out of the piano, or hitting sticks against different surfaces to produce different sounds. Those were the first indications of our interest in music. Our mother noticed this and took us to the Austrian pianist, Ferdi Statzer, who was director of the Conservatory at the time. We were five years old when we started to study with him.

If your musical talent had not been discovered, what kind of lives would you have had and what professions would you have liked to go into? 
GP: Music is the language in which I express myself best. If I had not been a musician, I would still have had music in my life in some way or other. I think I might have been a sculptor or an architect, or maybe a designer.
SP: If I hadn’t been a musician, I would surely have gone into literature or painting. They excite me as much as music. Philosophy is another passion of mine. As you can see, I need to be reincarnated a few times!