Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Two sisters share passion for piano
|Yuki and Tomoko Mack perform together as dueling pianists. Photo courtesy of www.macksisters.com|
By Rebecca Wyatt Thomas, OU Web Writer
Elena and Theresa Mack came to Oakland University in the mid-1980s to study with now-retired piano professor Flavio Varani, artist in residence and head of the piano program in the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance. While here, the sisters, now known as Yuki and Tomoko respectively, met the late Joyce Adelson, a piano professor, who helped them develop a unique style — as duo pianists. Now Yuki and Tomoko are performing throughout the United States and abroad.
While both sisters came to Oakland to study with Varani, they found a community at Oakland that allowed them to grow and perfect their artistry as individuals and as a duo.
“I wanted to be able to commute from home. I wanted to stay close to the community where I was getting a lot of support,” Yuki said. She and Tomoko found that Oakland offered a personal environment with one-on-one attention and plenty of opportunities to perform and learn from professionals.
Tomoko said Varani held master classes on Fridays that helped them as budding musicians to not only perform, but to teach, which is an important part of their career.
Yuki and Tomoko, who are separated by a year-and-a-half, began playing the piano around the age of four and taking lessons when they were about five or six years old.
“My father purchased the piano for the family when my sister was about to be born. Our father also played records for us. We were always surrounded with music,” Tomoko said.
They worked mostly on solo repertoire since their teachers thought it was important to develop as individual artists before turning to duo piano. At OU, Adelson encouraged Yuki and Tomoko to try duet and duo works pieces. Adelson and her twin sister Joanna had been an internationally recognized duo until Joanna became too ill to continue.
While still in college they entered a concerto competition for duo pianists and won first prize — a trip to Knoxville, Tenn., to perform at the World’s Fair. In 1994, after graduation, Yuki and Tomoko began playing professionally.
“There aren’t many duo pianists performing, especially those who are sisters. It’s nice to be siblings playing duos and duets because it gives us a unique niche and is more fun when we go on tour. We owe that to Joyce Adelson,” Tomoko said.
Yuki and Tomoko play either on two separate pianos or together on the same keyboard. Doing either, they said, requires a great deal of practice and synchronization. On the same keyboard, they must learn to pedal for each other and also not bump into one another. Either way they have to learn to communicate and really listen to each other.
“We know each other so well. That makes it easy to communicate,” Yuki said. “Some people ask us if we have a sixth sense to read each other. I think it’s just growing up together, we know each other’s habits and personalities well.”
Each sister has had to adapt her style and take on a role to make the duo or duet work.
“Instead of leading, I’m more of a supporter. I’m comfortable with the second part. We have the same technical approach and very similar styles. The good pieces are always written pretty equally. We both have to be strong players to really make it work,” Yuki said.
“Playing like this is sort of like working through a relationship,” Tomoko said.
The Mack sisters have won several international competitions, including first and Kodama prize at the Fourth International Piano Duo Competition in Tokyo, best performance of an American work at the Ellis Two-Piano Competition and the Dranoff International Two-Piano Competition. In addition, they have been featured in the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Michigan, the Symposium for Two-Pianos in Florida and the Quebec International Two-Piano Festival.
Works for duo piano are very complex. Many orchestral works were written for piano duet first so the composers could test them before hiring a full symphony to play them.
“We never run out of things to play. Even the contemporary composers are always sending us new stuff to try out. The repertoire is always expanding,” Yuki said.
While they focus a lot on their work together, Yuki and Tomoko are both exploring projects as individuals. Tomoko spends time each summer in Poland for the International Music Festival, a program her husband runs. While there, she gives lectures and participates in solo work.
Yuki, too, has collaborated with other artists, including her husband, who is a percussionist in a band.
“We always have maintained a professional and personal life,” Yuki said. They practice separately each day and together three days a week, sometimes more frequently if they have a performance coming up.
Currently, they are researching new music to perform. They are working on combining some dance and folk music with music from their Japanese culture.
“We are always setting new goals for ourselves. Of course, the main goal is to keep learning, working and striving to perfect our piano-playing,” Tomoko said. “We also want to keep going out into the community and exposing people to four-hand music and piano duos.”
Yuki and Tomoko have released three CDs. “Rhapsody,” “American Mosaic” and “Fantasy,” which are available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. They also plan to release another CD in late fall or early winter.
For more information on the Mack sisters, visit their Web site at www.macksisters.com or e-mail their manager Sally Sanfield at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the International Summer Music Festival that Tomoko and her husband participate in each summer, visit www.polandfestival.com.