I’ve never seen so much plucking since I visited the chicken farm. Most string pieces don’t involve the plucking technique, but the Carr-Petrova Duo seems to have found those that do.
I’m teasing! I take that liberty because it seems like that would be ok with this young-at-heart pair, who prove that you can be laid-back and candid about your creative process while at the same time being consummate artists. They are more than a “duo,” two musicians who play together. They are obviously dear friends; on the stage, Molly Carr, the violist, kept turning to Anna Petrova, the pianist, talking to her and the audience, seeking her agreement and approval as girls often do when we’re together. She described a road trip they took, where they sang Disney songs in the car at the top of their lungs!
That sisterly closeness is reflected in their musicality as well. Molly can bounce her bow at lightning speed and pull from its depths a gorgeously deep round tone; Anna has a lightness of touch and an ability to bring forward the emotional intensity of the chosen pieces. Both are acclaimed solo performers, but their close personal bond fuels a unity of performance that is more than the already weighty sum of their parts.
They first brought to the fore a couple of women composers. Florence Price was an African American composer in the first half of the 20th century. Her “Elfentanz” (dance of elves) is a whimsical piece, alternating between capricious movements with unexpected rests and slow, smooth sections. Both instruments are equally important, gracefully ceding the spotlight to each other. While there are many small retards and returns to tempo, their timing together was perfect and crisp.
We don’t hear Clara Schumann’s music as much as we do her husband Robert’s, but her Three Romances for Violin and Piano are reflective of the best of the romantic era, with sustained lyricism, shimmering backgrounds, and an Allegretto that ends with an unexpected – plucked string!
Pluck shows up in their creative process too. Rather than searching for music written for viola/piano duos, or even for any duos, they fall in love with pieces of music and turn them into duos, often with a little help from their friends.
Part of a new generation of composers/performers under the age of 40, Carr/Petrova commissioned classmate Remy LeBoeuf to write a jazz piece based on music from Disney’s Aladdin, named “A Whole New World.” The middle section is a musical version of funhouse mirrors, with phrases distorted, distended, contorted; notes slide off-key until the illusions resolve. Next, Beyoncé’s “Halo” was transformed by their classmate Henrique Eisenmann into a pop/classical duo, and then heavy metal figures in another commissioned work by JP Jofre, “Let Tango….” with its syncopated rhythms, and some heavy… plucking!
In a serious turn, as musician-activists, Molly and Anna designed the Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project to give voice and visibility to the lives and struggles of refugee communities around the world. They traveled to different camps, bringing the gift of music to the people in those difficult circumstances. But it was not a one-way street. They also solicited stories and music from those they met. Their friend Fernando Arroyo who traveled with them, turned their experience into a moving composition, Novel Voices, which many think will earn a permanent spot in the viola/piano repertoire. Melodies learned from Palestinians; the unique clapping rhythms of the Congo are brought out of the shadows. Carr and Petrova played with rare vitality and passion as they relived and shared the emotions, they felt among fellow humans forced into the “Dance of Uncertainty.” With the current refugee crisis in Ukraine, it was particularly poignant.
Bringing forward works by women, commissioning new works from contemporaries – and what more? They transcribe music themselves. They turned three piano preludes by George Gershwin (yes, some plucked strings in there) into a lively and lovely duet. With their professionalism, passion, and pluck, we can’t wait to hear more to come from this refreshingly personable pair.
About the author: Meizhu Lui didn’t know there was any other kind of music except classical until she hit junior high! Piano and flute have been her own instruments of choice. She is now pursuing her bucket list goal of deepening her musical knowledge and skills.
Photos: Steve Roby