Pane-Funahashi duo: an auditory spectacle
Steve Pane and Yuri Funahashi shake the walls of Given Auditorium during their piano duo performance.
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As the seats of Given Auditorium filled on the evening of Friday, Nov. 4, the audience watched with anticipation at the two grand pianos positioned side by side in the center of the floor. When the two performers, Steven Pane and Assistant Professor of Music Yuri Lily Funahashi, emerged from the wing and took their seats, the crowd waited with baited breath. After a brief setup, the duo jumped right into the first part of the lengthy “Romeo and Juliet Suite Op. 64.” The introductory piece, entitled “Folk Song,” made the incredible synchronization the two pianists had with one another instantly apparent. With a light, airy skip, Pane and Funahashi went back and forth with perfect coordination, as one’s notes joined with the other’s to produce a vibrant Russian folk tune.
The Pane-Funahashi duo was created in 1990 and features Pane, a faculty member at the University of Maine Farmington, and his wife Funahashi, a faculty member here on the Hill. The duo has performed at several prestigious concert halls over the years, including the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, NY.
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) of Russia composed the ballet “Romeo and Juliet Suite” (1937). This performance was an arrangement done by Funahashi herself—that she completed while pursuing her Ph.D. at Julliard.
The pianists progressed to the second piece, “Young Juliet.” The pianos jump between the rapid pace of the youthful Juliet and a slow, wistful foreshadowing of the tragedy to come. The flat notes dance around, forming a mix that was both carefree and melancholy. In the third piece, “Dance of the Knights,” the low notes marched at a steady pace, with a stabbing staccato. The music had a strange dark, ominous fury to it, a fury that was replicated by the jerky body language of Pane and Funahashi. “Dance” strongly contrasted with the fourth piece, “Romeo Bids Juliet Farewell,” a very beautiful and serene piece.
The duo incorporated a few technological advances in their performance. Each piano had an iPad resting on it, from which the musicians read the sheet music. At each of their feet by the pedals was a black Bluetooth controller that would change the pages at the tap of a foot. This allowed for uninterrupted playing until, in the fifth and final part, “Finale: Death of Tybalt,” Funahashi’s iPad malfunctioned. Laughing, the pair started the piece over. After the only technical difficulty in the show, they restarted the intense, violent finale of the “Romeo and Juliet Suite.” With electrifying arpeggios and violent bursts, the pair brought the Russian ballet to a close, followed by a thunderous applause from the awestruck audience.
Pane and Funahashi continued the show with “Romance from Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos, Op. 17,” composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943). A much more standard piece musically in comparison to Prokofiev, this again showcased the masterful harmony of the duo. The walls of Given echoed with the graceful music.
To close the first half of the show, the duo performed “Paganini Variations for Two Pianos (1941)” by Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994). It was a whirlwind of a performance, with wildly changing tempos and fiery cadenzas. The song resonated pure emotion infused in the piece by Pane and Funahashi.
After the intermission, the couple returned to the stage to perform Igor Stravinsky’s (1882-1971) three movements from “Petrushka.” A piece that is demonstrative of Stravinsky’s modern, thrown-together style, “Petrushka” is a wild mix of folk and classical, telling a traditional Russian folk tale of a puppet who comes to life and develops emotions. The opening part, “Russian Dance,” was a very hectic tune that featured a lot of free, dancing movement. The middle part, entitled “Petrushka” itself, was described by Pane as “what puppets do when we’re not watching.” Immediately, there was a distinct notion that some sort of trouble was brewing. Each piano part had a sing-song, call-and-repeat melody that they would throw back and forth. The duo’s grand finale of the evening was the third part, “The Shrove-Tide Fair.” The music was a proclamatory, modern jubilee. It culminated in two very different melodies swirling around each other, almost frenzied at times.
The evening’s performances were a sampling of the beautiful yet turbulent Slavic music of the 20th century. Pane and Funahashi played with such emotion and harmony that made for a spectacular show.