Community Concert Association Delights Audience With Piano Duo Concert Debut
– by Lee Greene
The Jackson County Community Concert Association (J.C.C.C.A.) is like a hidden gem among the performing arts organizations in Oregon’s Rogue Valley. For over 75 years it has been presenting live entertainment in Jackson County: “artists . . . carefully chosen to provide the highest quality entertainment. . . .” Yet the J.C.C.C.A. doesn’t receive the media attention lavished upon many other Rogue Valley performing arts organizations (e.g., Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Britt Festivals, Rogue Valley Symphony, Craterian Theater, etc.). It is also freer in taking risks, booking performers who may demonstrably be “the highest quality entertainment”, but do not yet have a track record, are not yet widely acclaimed, and are not YET heavily in demand. Lucky for US, who reside in the Rogue Valley.
On Sunday afternoon, October 12, the J.C.C.C.A. struck gold, with the concert debut of the piano duo, Martin Majkut and Alexander Tutunov, at the newly remodeled North Medford High School Auditorium. The pair are individually well recognized: Mr. Majkut as the accomplished and beloved conductor of the Rogue Valley Symphony, as well as conductor for Rogue Opera and for Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Mr. Tutunov as one of the best virtuoso concert pianists to emerge from the former Soviet Union, and more recently as Professor of piano in the Music Department of Southern Oregon University. Each is well trained and accomplished on the piano. Mr. Tutunov was the First Prize winner of the Belarusian National Piano Competition and winner of the Russian National Piano Competition and has maintained a busy international performing schedule on his own as a recitalist and soloist with orchestra. Mr. Majkut, who hails from Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (current day Slovakia), graduated from the State Conservatory in orchestral conducting and piano performance.
This concert marked their debut as a piano duo presented as the featured performers in a concert before a paying audience. (Caveat: they have played piano together twice before: once in a promotional event for an audience of Symphony supporters in February 2014 and again as an encore to Mr. Tutunov’s appearance as piano soloist with the Rogue Valley Symphony in March 2014.) But until Sunday’s concert, no one had taken the leap of promoting the two Slavic émigrés as a piano duo to a paying audience. As sometimes happens, when several unique parts are assembled together, the whole was magically greater than the sum of the parts. Imagine, if you can, the comedy duo of Abbott and Costello, where each is also able to handle a piano like Van Cliburn and that will give you a sense of the stage presence of Majkut and Tutunov. The piano playing was sublime, at times even transcendent. Granted that each is an exceptional piano player in his own right, but that’s no guarantee that the two playing together would gel. In fact, the paired piano playing was extraordinary and surpassed the already lofty virtuoso levels of their solo piano skills. It’s hard to fully and accurately capture in words how well the duo played together, meshed with one another, fed off of each other and energized one another. It’s easier to grasp what it was like and how good it was, by watching the video recording excerpt presented below (of the duo performing the last minute of Ernesto Lecuona’s Malagueña) .
Perhaps more surprising than the outstanding piano playing was the entertaining repartee by the duo between the piano pieces. Explaining four hand piano playing, they vamped:
“It used to be the rage among young lovers, which we are NOT . . . (pause) . . . young.”
In introducing another piece, Majkut to Tutunov: “Wouldn’t you agree that’s so about this piece?”
Quizzical look from Tutunov.
Majkut: “If we are playing the same piece.”
Another quizzical look from Tutunov.
Majkut: “We ARE playing the same piece aren’t we?”
Tutunov (deadpan): “Guess we’re going to find out.”
When they were not delighting the audience with sublime and divine music on the pianos, they had them in stitches – and it was all apparently ad-libbed. The dialogue, though always amusing and sometimes hilarious, was spontaneous and not rehearsed, another hint of the mystical and magnetic chemistry between the two. Above all, whether playing the piano or inventing shtick during interregnums, the duo are clearly having fabulous fun performing together.
They presented 8 pieces in a program divided in half with a brief intermission. The material ran the gamut from the serious high classical works of Bach (Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring), Mozart (Sonata for Keyboard Four Hands in B-flat major), Brahms (Hungarian Dances in F-sharp minor and D-flat major), and Schubert (Fantaisie in F minor) to the more contemporary and sometimes whimsical works of Bizet (Habanera for Two), Barber (Hesitation Tango, from Souvenirs), Lecuona (Malagueña), and Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue). They mixed 5 four hand pieces (sharing one piano) with 3 two piano pieces. There wasn’t a clunker in the bunch. All were rendered superbly. And when an appreciative audience exploded with applause and would not cease and desist, they sat down again, for an energetic encore.
Here is an excerpt of the piano duo, Martin Majkut and Alexander Tutunov, performing the last minute of Ernesto Lecuona’s Malagueña:
To borrow a much used line, “How does one get to Carnegie Hall?” In my case, you buy a ticket and sit in the audience, which I’ve had an abundance of experience with, growing up in the NY metropolitan area and residing in NYC as a practicing attorney. I have seen musicians perform on stage there, and I promise you this piano duo was good enough to be booked there. All that Mr. Majkut and Mr. Tutonov require in order to undertake a notable and profitable concert tour as a piano duo is some good representation (and some time away from their day jobs and home lives). They were THAT good. Kudos to the Jackson County Community Concert Association for “discovering” this fine piano duo and giving them their debut concert.
Though a concert tour has not yet been planned or booked, for anyone interested in catching a performance by this fine piano duo, Mr. Majkut and Mr. Tutunov have agreed to perform again as a piano duo at the Gala Celebration Concert for the new Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University on Saturday, Nov. 15 at 7:30 pm in the SOU Music Recital Hall. Tickets are available through the SOU website at http://sou.edu/performingarts/boxoffice.html, by calling the box office at 541-552-6348, or in person at the box office in the lobby of the SOU Music Recital Hall on South Mountain Av. in Ashland, OR.
As for Jackson County Community Concert Association, they will keep doing what they have been doing so well, and have three more concerts scheduled this season, all at the newly remodeled North Medford High School Auditorium at 1900 N. Keene Way Dr. in Medford:
- Sat. Jan. 24, 2015 7:30pm – Those Were the Days concert featuring William Florian, former lead singer of The New Christy Minstrels
- Fri. Feb. 13, 2015 7:30pm – SAXsational concert where one of the most beloved instruments in American culture takes center stage! Rob Verdi (Side Street Strutters) shares his rare and unusual instrument collection, along with five decades of songs and artists that have shaped the saxophone. Accompanied by local band musicians.
- Fri. March 13, 2015 7:30pm – Karrnnel concert where violinist Karrnnel, the 2012 Winner of the Western Canadian Music Award for Instrumental Album of the Year, performs a unique blend of Celtic, Gypsy and Bluegrass music on the violin.
Tickets for the J.C.C.C.A. concerts can be purchased online on their website at http://jcconcerts.org/ or by contacting the box office at JCCCA, PO Box 1358, Medford, OR 97501.
This review was originally published by the Jacksonville Review on October 15, 2014 at http://jacksonvillereview.com/community-concert-association-delights-audience-piano-duo-concert-debut/