Robin McCabe, director of the UW School of Music, will perform with a very special guest on Jan. 23 in Meany Theater — her own sister, Rachelle McCabe.
Rachelle is the director of keyboard studies and professor of piano at Oregon State University. When the two teamed up for a concert with the UW Symphony in 2004, it was the first time they’d played together in eight or nine years. Now they’re back, this time without the orchestra.
“In the past we used to do a lot of summer festivals and so on, but we had stopped doing that, so 2004 was a new beginning,” said Robin McCabe. “We did this concert at Thanksgiving in Corvallis, and we’re happy to bring it here.”
The sisters will be playing Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 358, a piece played by two pianists on one piano, which McCabe says is “a bit crowded, but fun to watch.” Mozart wrote the piece to play with his sister, Nannerl, who was also a gifted pianist.
“He wrote a number of these,” McCabe said. “They’re like miniature symphonies, really. Rachelle will be playing the treble part and I’ll be doing the bass and handling the pedals.”
Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Opus 56b is what McCabe calls the “intellectual star” of the program. “It’s a piece that has a main theme and then every variation is a play on that theme. It’s very inventive. He takes a rather simple theme and plays with it, tweaks it. It’s a complete journey when you get to the end,” she said.
The program’s other star composition is Gershwin’s An American in Paris, a piece McCabe calls luminous and effervescent. “It has a little bit of everything — a cake walk, some blues, some rock,” she said. “He scored it for orchestra and also for two pianos, but even in the piano version you can still hear sound effects like car horns.”
Also on the program are Rachmaninoff’s Barcarolle (from “Fantaisie-tableaux,” Opus 5) and Darius Milhaud’s Scaramouche (Suite pour Deux Pianos).
McCabe describes performing with her sister as symbiotic — not surprising since they have both been playing since age 5 and both earned bachelor’s degrees at the UW, with advanced study at Juilliard. “We’re each so attuned to the way the other plays,” she said. “We each know how the other will end a phrase or curve a line. We can read each other.”
And through their pianos, they talk to each other too. McCabe said the ideal two-piano composition balances the two instruments in a provocative way. “So just as you have a brilliant conversation between two people, you want to have a brilliant conversation between two pianos.”
The concert will be at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students and seniors) and are available at the Arts Ticket Office, 206-543-4880 or online at www.meany.org.