Duo Concertante — Sweet music, bright sounds Special

Posted Apr 22, 2013 by Cate Kustanczy
Duo Concertante are real-life couple Nancy Dahn and Tim Steeves. Hot off their Carnegie Hall debut in February, their new album (out on Marquis Classics) covers Beethoven's sonatas for violin and piano. As they explain, playing together isn't always easy.
Duo Concertante -real-life couple Nancy Dahn and Tim Steeves -has a new CD of Beethoven s sonatas fo...
Duo Concertante -real-life couple Nancy Dahn and Tim Steeves -has a new CD of Beethoven's sonatas for piano and violin.
Ivan Otis
As well as being teachers at Memorial University in Newfoundland, the two are also parents and busy musicians with a long list of prestigious awards and a hectic touring schedule. The couple exchanged ideas about life, art, and Ludwig ahead of their Toronto appearance at Gallery 345 to celebrate the release of Beethoven: Complete Sonatas For Violin And Piano.
You took your name from Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata the inscription (“in stile molto concertante") implies a push-pull sort of energy; how does this energy shape and inform your work, and the new album particularly?
The push-pull element is an integral part of the duo and who we are. In Beethoven it demands us to be our strongest, most convincing selves musically, to put forth our individual musical voices in a way that provides a equally strong match for the other. It also requires us to be supportive partners many times and not at odds, of course!
You've played the Beethoven sonatas together for a while now; how have your approaches to it -and each other -changed?
I think we've become better at listening to/feeling the full score as we play one part, if that makes sense. We know we're actually a duo, not two separate people, and we approach/feel the score as a whole more now than we did at the beginning.
In terms of how we approach each other -I think we continue to have a deep respect for each other's playing and opinion. We may "cut to the chase" more quickly in terms of comments in rehearsal now!
Nancy, you say in the album's liner notes that "Beethoven was after an emotional color of sound" -how has this expression of color changed over the years of your playing Beethoven, as well as other composers?
Nancy: Well, what I think I meant by that was that he was after a deep human/emotional sound or voice, not a violin sound per se. (I think of the violinist Joseph Szigeti, whose sound can be so much more than a violin, like a haunting cry from deep inside.) I imagine that Beethoven's conception of sound went way beyond the parameters of a particular kind of violin or piano sound, that his music was touching upon something much deeper and more universal.
Tim: You have to remember that Beethoven went deaf, and that his deafness wasn't immediate, but took many years. Over the course of these years I think his concept of musical sound really changed. His ears stopped working, so sound for him ceased being something physical and became something purely emotional. With these sonata scores he doesn't ask the piano or the violin to make what we would think of as traditional piano or violin sounds, but sounds and colors that are very personal, highly emotional, and intimate.
How do you think newcomers to classical music understand this sort of color?
I hope that they would feel an emotional connection or response to what the performer is feeling and communicating in the music. It don't think there has to be an intellectual understanding. Great music works on a purely emotional level. Maybe at the first hearing the listener has only a fleeting moment of connection but that moment can bring a newcomer back to experience the music again. Beethoven said that he wrote his music for everybody, and for the "everybodies" for centuries to come. His contemporaries made fun of him for saying that, but that's what he was after: a universal connection to his fellow man. (And who really remembers his contemporaries now?...)
Dahn and Steeves have their fair share of challenges as partners in both life and art.  We found it ...
Dahn and Steeves have their fair share of challenges as partners in both life and art. "We found it all fairly straight-forward until we became parents," they explain. "The main challenges we have are as real-life partners and they are pretty typical for working parents: food shopping, ferrying kids around, school projects (due tomorrow)... organizing the home life while we're on tour is very challenging!"
Marquis Classics
How does your embrace of new repertoire and contemporary composers influence your approach to older work?
I think we approach them the same way, that it's all new music (to us). We try not to listen to a lot of other recordings of works we play, so we hopefully keep a fresh approach. In the instance of both old and new music - we try to figure out what the piece is saying and how best to communicate it.