176 Keys of Love

Waxing romantic over husband-and-wife collaborators the Hirsch-Pinkas Piano Duo

Where have the great romantic duos of music gone? Grace Slick and Paul Kantner: drugs, fights and a roller coaster of love that ran off the tracks. Cher and Gregg Allman: Your union was pure sin, babies! Various permutations of Fleetwood Mac: As they say in the schoolyard, incest is best!

Now St. Louis sets itself to welcome a married pair of virtuosos with real staying power: Evan Hirsch and Sally Pinkas. Their wild life together isn't rooted in the antics of rock & roll but in the mayhem of 20th-century avant-garde classical music.

The New Music Circle welcomes the well-traveled piano duo to Washington University's art heart, Steinberg Hall. The couple don't do no Fabulous Baker Boys Ferrante and Teicher piano-bar dookie. The George Rochberg piece on this week's agenda, Circles of Fire, is an epic meditation on the musical core of life. Rochberg, a dean of the avant-garde at age 80, wrote the piece for his friends the Hirsch-Pinkases. It features "tonality juxtaposed with atonality," one critic said, and acknowledges traditional classical masters before getting down with the new flavors of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Hirsch and Pinkas are both classical-music soloists in their own right. He has taught at Dartmouth College and Brandeis University and performed with many contemporary ensembles. She is a music professor at Dartmouth and has recorded works by Debussy and others.

Together they make beautiful noise from forward-leaning scores of the last 100 years, such as the works of Messiaen and Milhaud. Quarries is a noted work written for them by nontraditional composer and family friend Daniel Pinkham. When the pair isn't banging out a dissonant duet, they might trot out some Mozart, Brahms or Rachmaninoff. It has been said by more than one observer that their couplehood adds something warm and tender to their collaborations.

Perhaps the pair will return for an encore to play on the same piano. Perhaps as they conjure the notes, sharing the pedals, their knees will brush. They will look up to find the castle of love and music they built together in each other's eyes. Perhaps then we will know the circle of fire.

The Hirsch-Pinkas Piano Duo performs Circles of Fire at 8 p.m. March 2 in Washington University's Steinberg Auditorium. Call 647-1740 for more information.

 
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