Invitation to the Dance for Four Hands

Rebecca Liao on March 9, 2010
Back in the days when the piano ruled and recordings didn't exist, a lot of music for four hands (one piano, two players, as opposed to two pianos) got written or arranged for the home market. But today it's hard to find players who specialize in this intimate style. Enter the ZOFO Duet, the San Francisco-based musical partnership of pianists Keisuke Nakagoshi and Eva-Maria Zimmermann, which performs at Old First Church on March 28. Already acclaimed for their superior pianism, the ZOFO Duet scours the globe for all kinds of four-hand music.
The Zofo Duet

"We just started casually playing together last spring and performing last September," says Zimmermann. "Soon we realized it was a lot of fun and wanted to formally start a duet together. We knew each other because Keisuke lived just a block from me. He was in a house full of musicians, and sometimes they would put on chamber music parties there."

"But we didn’t really start playing together until he got a hand injury, and I took over some concerts that he had with the Adorno Ensemble. When he came to a concert, he said, 'We should read something together. I really want to do the Rite of Spring; that’s my dream.' He gave me the music, and I totally got drawn into it. We were crazy about the piece, and we still are."

It takes special artistic personalities to make the close coordination of four-hand music work, especially if it's the Rite of Spring we're talking about, as Zimmermann explains. "It’s so much fun because there is so much choreography involved in it. Since we started playing together, I’m much more aware of how I move when I play, even when I play solo. I really enjoy this new layer of movement — the choreography of how to play things because if you don’t plan it, you clash, or you play on each other’s fingers."

Listen to the Music

Igor Stravinsky: Rite of Spring
Sacrificial Dance
The pair thrive on each other's differences. "I think we both have a lot to offer to each other," says Zimmermann. We’re actually not very similar as players. He’s a very relaxed player, and he’s taught me a lot already, by just sitting next to me, to relax and observe my movements more. I’m more of a person who goes into detail, and I think he can draw from that.

The upcoming program at Old First finds the ZOFO players applying their style to American dance music, including Gershwin's delightful Cuban Overture. "We wanted to do a dance program. Keisuke showed me a David Garner piece [Four for Shiva], and I really liked it, and he showed me the Barber Souvenirs. He also had a recording of the Allen Shawn piece [Three Dance Portraits], so he contacted Shawn and got the score." But whose idea was it to call the program "Mosh Pit of American Dances"? Zimmermann laughs: "My husband’s. I didn’t even know what a mosh pit was. Some of the pieces are pretty heavily influenced by rock music, like the Allen Shawn, very hard-edged. David Garner, as well."

This is only the tip of the iceberg for the intrepid collaborators, but it's a start that will excite and amaze listeners about four-hand music in the concert hall. But played with ZOFO's intensity and commitment, it may very well turn out to be the start of something grand.