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Katia and Marielle Labèque: An Extraordinary and Epic Tale for Two Pianos


This coming May 8, 9, and 11, world-renowned pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque will appear at the Maison symphonique joined by the OSM in Philip Glass’ Double Concerto for Two Pianos, a work composed specifically for them. Though they have played this Concerto on many occasions, this will be their first Montreal performance of the work.

A career under a lucky star

Introduced to music very early in their lives by their mother, a pianist who guided them in their learning, Katia and Marielle Labèque obtained First Prizes in piano from the Paris Conservatoire in 1968. Shortly thereafter, they perfected their training in the United States, upgrading their already highly acclaimed piano duo ensemble with Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale in the United States, and with Aloys and Alfons Kontarsky in Europe. Through thick and thin in their early career as a duo, and today, after more than 50 years as performing artists, Katia and Marielle have come to realize that good fortune and hard work have made their journey together possible.

Good fortune did indeed smile upon them as students at the Paris Conservatoire: there, they met Olivier Messiaen, who asked them to record his Visions de l’Amen. This was a pivotal moment that awakened the two sisters’ interest in contemporary music. Their many subsequent and rewarding collaborations with celebrated composers, including Adès, Boesman, Boulez, Dessner, Golijov, Muhly, and others, as well as premieres of works dedicated to their duo have greatly contributed to reinvigorating and expanding the repertoire for this ensemble. For these two performers, “playing contemporary music is a way of staying alive and relevant, of keeping pace with our time.”

Philip Glass and the Labèque sisters: a longstanding artistic alliance

“The Labèque sisters are tremendous. They’re great performers and great interpreters. And they’re wonderful supporters of music‒not only modern music, but just music. It is great to work with them.” — Philip Glass

Minimalist music, and particularly works by Philip Glass, hold a meaningful place in these two pianists’ repertoire, which specifically includes the latter composer’s Four Movements for Two Pianos, Double Concerto for Two Pianos, and more recently, a suite for two pianos adapted from the opera Les enfants terribles, recorded in 2020 under the title Cocteau Trilogy. The premiere of the Double Concerto at Walt Disney Hall, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, has remained etched in the Labèque sisters’ memories. As they recall, “The whole hall stood up at the end, it was a very, very special moment.”

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Venturing outside the classical realm

The Labèque sisters have to admit that there is always something driving them to explore other repertoires, strongly compelling them to depart from the classical route into other genres like ragtime, flamenco, Basque music, rock, and jazz—with respect to the latter, Katia has played with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea.

Their discovery of Thom Yorke—the main vocalist and songwriter of the band Radiohead—was a true revelation for them. In their view, Yorke is distinctive as an artist and figures among the greatest musicians of our time. In 2019, they premiered his work Don’t Fear the Light, written for two pianos and modular synthesizer. Blending electronic and acoustic instruments is, in Katia’s view, the optimal approach for embracing today’s music.

Fusion, complementarity, and vitality are some of the outstanding attributes of these two exceptional musicians. Their prolific career as a duo, which has taken them many times around the globe, has seen them perform for an audience of over 100,000 at the Schönbrunn Palace, in a momentous recital given as part of the Vienna Summer Night series.

“Their musical line always sounds as if it’s being woven for the very first time … but the illusion of improvisation is the genius of their performances.” — The Times.

Be dazzled by these two piano magicians in the concert The Double Concerto for Two Pianos by Glass.

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