Piano News Interview

her & Süher Pekinel

By: Carsten Dürer

Süher means in Turkish flowing water, Güher is a precious stone and while “Pekin” means strong, “El” means hand.
The twin sisters Güher and Süher Pekinel have a reason to be glad for their names, since in that case “Nomen est Omen”.
The sisters reached every aspect throughout their career, they have performed in each prestigious Hall in the World, worked with all the distinguished Conductors from Karajan to Mehta among others. Now a special collection of their recordings have been released as a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray Box with the name “Treasures”. We met the Duo in Switzerland for an Interview.
They are living in London, Istanbul and Switzerland. Güher and Süher Pekinel are all along cosmopolitans. Their roots are in Turkey and their education is to the greatest possible extent acquainted: After their primary piano education during their childhood in Turkey, they went to Paris to study with Yvonne Loriod, afterwards they continued their studies in Frankfurt am Main with August Leopolder, then to Curtis Institute of Music to study with Rudolf Serkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski. They completed their Master Degree and worked with Adele Markus among others in New York Juilliard School. But how was it all possible? We asked about it and had to find out that the twins are complementing one another. They talked about music and their career with full of Energy and much Enthusiasm.

Education

PIANONews: At what age did you go to Paris?
Güher Pekinel: Very early, we were 13.

Süher Pekinel: No , even 12 years

PIANONews: How was it possible to leave your country in such an early age?

Güher Pekinel: Why wouldn’t  it be?

PIANONews: Because it is very uncommon to study abroad at such an early age.

Güher Pekinel: We were accepted to Istanbul Conservatory at the age of 5 and gave our first Concert with the age of 6.  The Director of the Conservatory – who was a student of Alfred Cortot- wanted to tutor us himself. It was a big chance for us. We loved him and it was mutual.

Süher Pekinel: But besides, we also continued to our formal education.  Our Parents insisted on not to have only a musical but also a formal education. After we graduated from Ground school with the age of 10, we went to a French-speaking Boarding School.

Güher Pekinel:  At our home, since our father had studied in Brussels, French was spoken anyway. We could adapt ourselves to School immediately.

Süher Pekinel: That school was not a usual one, they really cared about the artistic education as well. Therefore, we didn’t only have Piano Studios, but also we could play Chamber Music, we painted, there were Concerts. At some point our parents recognized the situation to make a decision, if we should stay or go abroad for our studies.

Güher Pekinel: Our teachers wanted us to go to Europe to continue our education.

Süher Pekinel: You could receive a very good basic education in Turkey but to find out and internalize different schools of piano, you had to go to Europe and so far. Since we were being educated in a French school we decided to go to Paris. We had been auditioned for Yvonne Loriod. She enrolled us immediately. After 2 Years we realized that we had to learn the depths of German Piano School internalize the tradition. Our family supported our decision to go to Germany. We were matriculated in another Boarding School, in which among others Wolfgang Fortner gave the music lessons. It was the “Odenwaldschule” . They had a very progressive education system , supporting art besides formal education. We had the chance to practice piano contiguous to our curriculum.  So we practiced at night.

Güher Pekinel: In addition to the Concert Grand at School, they provided another one so that each one of us could practice on her own. We gave quarterly recitals at school because the pupils „requested “a concert each time we played.

Süher Pekinel: By the formation of our Education Piano School and Tradition of a teacher, was very important for us.

Güher Pekinel: We always analyzed how and where the Teacher had been educated. We listened to their recordings at our Parents and then decided whom we would work with. Our Parents left us the decision if we wanted to work specifically with a Teacher. And those teachers weren’t around by hazard, so we had to go abroad to be able to study with them.

PIANONews: But the synergy needs to be adequate mutually, doesn’t it?

Süher Pekinel: Of course.

Güher Pekinel: After two years in Paris, we wanted to expand our education by learning and discovering the depths and details of German Tradition. We wanted to experience Bach in his Culture. You couldn’t do so while living in France . Today the world is more globalized , borders are more blurry , but then it wasn’t the case.

PIANONews: You studied with August Leopolder in Germany, right?

Süher Pekinel: Yes, He was a representative of Busoni School, which we wanted to study.

When we were in Curtis, Serkin once told us „ Since my hand is different than yours, I cannot teach you on the Instrument. He was indeed working genuinely . He was philosophizing on the Piano.

Güher Pekinel: He was more than a teacher.

He left the students to discover the piece by themselves and than questioned the details. He used to ask, if we read Goethe or Stefan Zweig in order  to understand a Beethoven-Sonata This was then again a different school, a different perception.

Süher Pekinel: This was the essence of Curtis Institute in Contrast to Juilliard School in New York, which was a Pianist- Fabric. But we wanted to experience this spirit as well. We intended to form our own musical journey, in which we wanted to fuse the contradictions. New York opened our vision to new Possibilities, Reality and the World. In Curtis we used to be in a whole different, even philosophical globe.

PIANONews: Like in an Island?

Süher Pekinel: Yes like an Island of Artistic and Philosophical Synergy.

Güher Pekinel: Therefore, since Curtis wasn’t offering a Master Program then, we went to Juilliard School to absolve a Masters-degree. We studied with Adele Marcus , who was from Neuhaus School

To see how the Americans established their career was very exciting and interesting for us.In Germany you construct your career step by step slowly as stabile as possible.  In USA the way it was different, that you proceeded with speed and instantaneously.

The Way to Duo

PIANONews: Did you play together all along?
Güher Pekinel: No, we didn’t want that.
PIANONews: And for how long you didn’t play as a duo?
Süher Pekinel: Until we were on the same opinion that our personalities are formed so far to let us accept each other mutually and “talk” in dialog together. It was first after our Master Exams in The Juilliard School of Music.
PIANONews: Was the pressure high in Juilliard?
Güher Pekinel: We didn’t assume it as “pressure” it was a possibility to discover your efficiencies and strength in yourself. If you use this opportunity to reach to your skills deep inside, you realize that there are no utter impossibilities.
What was peculiar in New York was that, we could examine different artistic styles and disciplines. We went to Theatre Shows and Drama rehearsals very often to study also their techniques. It was very interesting for us to discover the use of breath and voice. The long breath and its application in music interested us since our childhood.
Süher Pekinel: For us it was very vital to realize the long breath in our musical style. From the beginning of a piece till the end…
PIANONews: Doesn’t the function of breath depend on the voice, language of the composer?
Güher Pekinel: It depends how the composer put the structure together with detailed information. Such finesses are incredibly important. The emotional and motional  precision play also a very important role, like in Chamber Music.
Süher Pekinel: You can liken it to the ultimate control over the body in Ballet. The Control is the most crucial and vital element. The biggest actors and actresses are the ones who are free at the stage. But first, they learn how to be in total control of their body, in order to operate free in a performance.
PIANONews: In summarization, you had the chance to study music in different countries, languages, within different Traditions and Schools.
Güher Pekinel: Among other factors, the language was very important to us. We also wanted to learn more languages. But at the end, language was only a medium to represent our ultimate voice with every other factor, we melted in together: Music.
PIANONews: So it would be possible for you to continue as soloists.
Süher Pekinel: What we indeed maintained for a long time. During Curtis Institute, we practiced with Horszowski as duo but never played publicly  together. Towards the end of our Master program in Juilliard, there was a Duo – Piano Competition in Colorado, for which they encouraged us to apply. Adele Marcus told us to play exclusively as soloists, nevertheless we decided to apply for the competition and practiced only for 3 weeks. We won the 1st prize. Few weeks later we won another first prize in Young Concert Artists Competition as a duo in New York. In the Final Round , the managing director of ICM (International Concert Management) came to listen us. After the concert ICM signed us immediately and we started our duo career.
PIANONews: At this moment, were there any question marks to proceed as soloists?

Güher Pekinel: No, the essence of playing as a duo, fascinated us. We wanted to experience new possibilities. We thought that the time of mutual dialogue , in which we can rely on each other, was now arrived.

PIANONews:You had to work on a whole new repertoire then!

Süher Pekinel: In Curtis as stated before, we studied with Horzowski for duo piano, the basic elements were there, although we didn’t consider yet to give concerts as duo back then, we wanted the circumstances of Dialogue to mature.

Güher Pekinel: Back then, duo piano was a part of Chamber Music for us. In Curtis to enable musicians to experience different levels of musical expansion, chamber music was as important as solo performances.

Süher Pekinel: Among others we joined the masterclasses of Budapest Quartette and Guarneri Quartette in Curtis. We learned the dialogue of playing together during these courses. This approach enabled us to intensify our lust for Chamber music.

Life and Opinions

PIANONews: Beginning your duo career, it was clear that you have to work very dense and tight together, wasn’t it?

Süher Pekinel: To practice densely together, yes. But not to live together. We were living separately in 5- minute distance apartments. Each of us practices separately. We came together afterwards to work on details.

Güher Pekinel: We are practicing densely than other duos since we are memorizing and working on both parts of the composition. This is a very important choice for us to understand the structure of the composition deeply and eventually to reach the musical breath together.

You cannot only learn a Sonata for one hand and left the other. ( She laughs) . Everything comes united. This enables you to challenge higher risks at the stage and if something happens, you can turn this unexpected detail to a surprise and transform it to a higher level.

Piano News: Did you change your parts?

Both: Yes Of course.

Güher Pekinel: In addition we were the only ones playing the pieces by memory. That gave us freedom in each aspect so we pushed our boundaries and discovered new possibilities. We are communicating telepathically. Despite filing on each detail, every concert is a surprise. Our intuition helps us to transcribe surprises into music.

One of the most important reasons, why we sit back to each other is, exactly the fact, that we challenge the higher risk in order to live and let live the momentum more intensively. We could create our own perception of tonality in a Hall with this placement, which enables the pianos to preserve and reflect their own tone and musicality as in a Solo Concert

Piano News: And this was totally a unique idea of yours, which wasn’t present among other duos till then?

Güher Pekinel: Yes, exactly and since then we wished that the other Duos would try this, too but unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to listen other duos with this placement of pianos.

Piano News: Do you think it is the fear of not being able to see each other, while playing?

Güher Pekinel: No, I don’t think so. But of course you need to practice more to be able to perform that way.

Süher Pekinel: This is more logical to us to place the instruments back to each other. At the end in a Duo Performance the musicians are both playing as soloists.

PIANONews: You used this emplacement especially for the orchestral concerts, didn’t you?

Süher Pekinel: No, also in Recitals.

Güher Pekinel: The conductors were always astonished and wouldn’t like to play in that unfamiliar way. But mostly we could interfuse our emplacement.

You know, if you really pay attention on the exact measurement between the gap of two pianos, which we always do, the sound changes immediately and that convinces the conductor.

Thoughts on Treasures

PIANONews: Your latest „Treasures „Box is released under Arthaus /Unitel label with 7CDs, 4 DVDs, 2 Blu-Rays and a 108- Page Book.

Güher Pekinel: We made on our own a special collection of variety for the Box to reflect the development of our musical Journey with different aspects , such as Bartók Sonata for two pianos and percussion.

PIANONews: But “Treasures”isn’t a jubilee Box, right?

Süher Pekinel: Yes it isn’t , to refresh our vision with multiple artistic ways and come up with a new program we try to make pauses. If you always perform on the Stage without any breaks this will lead you to repeat yourself. You need always a creative freedom time, so that you can develop new ideas. Although we had been warned, that if we do take a break our career would be over, we still made Stage Pauses to be able to create and internalize new perceptions from different artistic angles.

Güher Pekinel: To regenerate our body, we also had to take Sabbaticals, because the momentum we create each time is a whole beyond only intellectual level. This consumes your energy and emotions , which you have to regain. In our extended world tours we always created time to be able to see museums, theatre and galleries of this city to be able to internalize the culture and feed ourselves on an artistic and intellectual level. Since we were working very hard, at some point, we were known as perfectionists. We don’t really like the term, because one cannot really reach perfectionism, but the poetry of the moment, searching the perfectionism while at the same time freeing yourself from it, is important for us. That is the base of progress.

Süher Pekinel: We are paying attention on perfect details though for the sound quality. With the emplacement of pianos lids open and back to each other, the listener can hear each nuance and tone exactly . So that the original sound of the instrument and the personal “touché” is reflected, we filed each detail with perfection in our recordings.

PIANONews: Do you have a studio in which the pianos are accordingly placed?

Güher Pekinel: Yes, Unless we couldn’t practice. In Zürich and Istanbul pianos are placed back to each other. Only In our London Studio, due to the size of the space they are placed next to each other.

The Effect of Pekinels on Duo-Piano Literature

PIANONews: Many works are composed or re-written for you , some of them are from very famous composers such as Leonard Bernstein and Symphonic Dances from „West Side Story“ or Krysztof Pendereckis „Ciaconna“. Did you influence the Duo Piano Literature consciously or unconsciously ?

Güher Pekinel: Of course consciously. Everything we do has a philosophy.

This is how we proceed in our way. We act upon after we assess the aspects and purpose of a deed in our life also retroperspectively. For example our Recording with Jacques Loussier.

Bach always accompanied us during our childhood and the moment we listened Jacques Loussier’s Bach Arrangements, we were amazed. He „found“ something in these Arrangements , which only he can present. His technique with Half-pedal, Non Legato und Portamento is unbelievable.

Süher Pekinel: We performed very often Bach and after we heard his Bach Arrangements, we though that we had to play with him. We didn’t want to change Bach but to experience him in other aspects. Right after our recording with Jacques Loussier our way of playing Bach has changed as well. It allowed us to work on and reflect the already existing lightness in Bach.

Güher Pekinel In the Second Movement of his arrangement for three pianos, Jacques Loussier encouraged us to improvise our own . ( she laughs)

Süher Pekinel: Our interaction with Bernstein is through Curtis Institute in which he studied for a while as well.

The Institute is in the center of the city with a wonderful park beside, but if you go 3 or 4 blocks further, there is a strict and dazzling contrast to philosophical and harmonic isolation Curtis provides. This opponency made us question the boundaries and contradictions. „West Side Story“ represents the discrepancies in search of humanistic approaches. It really touched us. Penderecki, Lutoslawski and Bernstein , they were all in search of peace and humanitarian understanding .

Foundations.

PIANONews: You have started and carry out 3 Foundations in Turkey. “Güher & Süher Pekinel Orff -Approach in Anatolia“ „G& S Pekinel Music Department Tevitöl“ and „Young Musicians on World Stages”. What are your purposes on these foundations?

Güher Pekinel: They are different foundations, completing each other organically. This is also well planned and created with a philosophy behind, like any other thing we do. (She laughs)

Süher Pekinel: Since we weren’t in Turkey for a long time due to our concerts, we forgot how the music education was. After we realized that there is an insufficient Music education , we decided to start from the Pre-School era for which the Orff Approach is a perfect fit. Tevitöl is a special boarding school for highly-gifted children, who are going to be very important CEOs who will invest on art and support it, being educated already with the notion of Music. The 3rd Step is supporting extraordinary young talents from Turkey, for their international solo-career, which doesn’t happen automatically but needs to be supported and encouraged.

PIANONews: How do you select musicians for „Young Musicians on World Stages“ ? Are you auditioning?

Güher Pekinel: Of Course, we organize Live-Auditions after we evaluate video- recording applications. Important is for us, that this 3 Step Consolation , starting from Pre-School to elder ages, helps and supports the new highly gifted generation. This structure enables young musicians to expand their education for a career on an international basis and compete on highest level.