PULLMAN — New York City’s Carnegie Hall has come to symbolize a pinnacle for musical achievement, and on Feb. 16 piano duo 88 Squared, comprising WSU music faculty Jeffrey Savage and Karen Hsiao Savage, will perform at the celebrated venue’s Weill Recital Hall.
As philanthropist Andrew Carnegie laid the hall cornerstone in 1890 he said, “It is probable that this hall will intertwine itself with the history of our country.”
WSU School of Music director Gerald Berthiaume said, “Now, two outstanding artist-faculty from WSU’s School of Music, Dr. Jeffrey Savage and Dr. Karen Savage, will become part of that history by showcasing their pianistic talents and premiering two new works for duo-piano by Canadian and U.S. composers.”
The Savages earned the opportunity to appear in Carnegie Hall as winners of the Special Presentation Award at New York’s 36th annual competition held by Artists International Presentation.
They will perform a full program that includes pieces for two pianos by Mozart and 20th-century classical composers Sergei Rachmaninov, Frederic Rzewski and Witold Lutoslawski.
They will also premier pieces by award-winning contemporary composers Heather Schmidt of the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto, and Daniel Ott of the Juilliard School.
Schmidt’s composition “Centaurus A” was commissioned by the Savages with funds provided through a WSU New Faculty Seed Grant.
For their New York debut as a duo, Jeffrey Savage said they selected a repertoire of “pieces we felt really close to. We were thinking about putting together a program with a good variety that shows our spectrum and range.”
Meeting for the first time at new graduate student orientation at The Juilliard School in 1994, the Savages said they immediately became fast friends and later married.
They began seriously playing piano as a duo in 2005 when they joined the WSU faculty and formed 88 Squared.
The Savages, whose offices each hold two pianos, practice together three to four hours each evening. They agree that two pianos present unique challenges.
In perfecting the unison, texture and timing required for four hands and two sets of keyboards, the Savages take subtle physical cues from one another. When they are playing as a duo even their breathing is synchronized.
Each had early musical mentors who performed in piano duos with their spouses.
A native of Canada, Karen Hsiao Savage studied with Robin (Lawrence) Wood at the Victoria Conservatory of Music in British Columbia, where a recital hall is named after Wood and his piano partner and wife Winifred Scott Wood.
As an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, Jeffrey Savage studied with Angela Chang, who continues to perform as a duo pianist with her husband Alvin Chow.
With such formative role models, the path the Savages are taking seems like a natural choice, and one that has led them to Carnegie Hall.
“We at WSU are very excited that they will be performing at this significant and historic venue and are proud to have them on our faculty,” said Berthiaume.
Jeffrey Savage said, “It is really exciting. … We’ve been to a lot of concerts at Carnegie Hall, but it will be a different experience to be on the performing side.”
In her senior high school yearbook responding to a question about aspirations for the future, Karen Hsiao Savage said, “I want to play in Carnegie Hall!”
The Savages both hold master’s and doctoral degrees from The Juilliard School. As a duo, they were top prizewinners at the 2006 Concours Grieg International Piano Competition in Oslo, Norway, and have performed together with members of the Oslo Philharmonic, at New York’s Lincoln Center, at the Rutgers Church Piano Recital Series in New York City, during the Bowdoin Music Festival and at the Perlman Music Program.
88 Squared was recently selected as a finalist in the Federation of Music Clubs’ biennial Ellis Duo Piano Competition. In March they will audition at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C., for top place.
Their upcoming trip to perform in New York is sponsored by WSU’s Office of the President, College of Liberal Arts and School of Music.
to listen to an audio clip of Rachnaminoff Fantasy Suite performed by Karen and Jeffrey Savage.