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Hamptons Life

Apr 1, 2013 12:06 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

'Rising Stars' Celebrates 10th Year

Apr 4, 2013 10:18 AM

A head nod. A sway. A shift in their shoulders.

Caribbean-American pianists and siblings Michelle and Kimberly Cann do not need a conductor. Even with their backs to one another or two separate pianos between them, the women change tempo and fall into their music, always managing to stay together without seeing one another’s hands.

Kimberly Cann calls it “some sort of magic sister connection” mixed with a strong dose of ensemble experience, which they will debut as a professional duo on Saturday, April 6, during the fourth concert of the annual “Rising Stars Piano Series” at the Southampton Cultural Center, now in its 10th year.

Series organizer Liliane Questel said she is thrilled to celebrate the milestone anniversary, and that nobody has been more surprised with its popularity and staying power than she.

“No, no, no, I never thought we would still be here,” she said last week during a telephone interview. “And this year’s pianists are all performers from years past.”

A decade ago, the series began on the second floor of the Veterans Memorial Hall in Southampton with pianists plucked by Ms. Questel from “Pianofest,” an intensive piano study program in East Hampton run by director Paul Schenly.

It was a hot summer evening, recalled Russian pianist Konstantin Soukhovetski last week in an email exchange. He was the first pianist to ever perform in the series, he said, and he remembers it well.

“We had to open the windows to keep from fainting,” he said. “I was beginning my concertizing career and it felt so wonderful to be among ‘family’ of PianoFest, my Hamptons friends.” He added, “It’s a pleasure and an honor to be performing on the 10th anniversary season. For me, it has a special added meaning as I look at the beautiful Levitas stage and play the fabulous Steinway. How the series has grown since that first, hot summer evening concert 10 years ago.”

During his encore performance on May 18, Mr. Soukhovetski will bring a program of pieces from Richard Strauss’s final opera, “Capriccio”—which is “some of the best music ever written,” the performer said—plus a selection from Philip Glass’s film score for “The Hours” and his own version of Maurice Ravel’s “La Valse,” which he said he brings closer to the orchestral sound while juxtaposing the sensuality and terror in the music.

“It’s one of the most striking and deductive compositions ever,” Mr. Soukhovetski said. “Originally meant to be a ballet, but then rejected by Diaghilev as un-choreographable, this whirlwind waltz represents the final moments of the old world ball culture before its eminent extinction.”

The Cann sisters will also perform “La Valse,” but the duo piano version that actually preceded the solo version. They will also perform variations on a theme of Nicolò Paganini by Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski; Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos, Op. 17;” and “Rock-a-My-Soul” by Dolores White.

“As an African-American female composer, she’s in quite the minority,” Kimberly Cann said of Ms. White during a telephone interview last week. “And duo piano music is scarce as it is. Michelle and I have been trying to step outside the box of our conservatories and search for these composers who might not otherwise hit the spotlight on a broader basis but have amazing works to offer.”

Six years older than her sister, Kimberly Cann first found herself in front of a piano at age 3 while growing up in Bermuda. Her father, Leonard, had moved back to his native country to launch a music education program in the school system with his brother, Michael—one of the young girl’s strongest influences.

Kimberly’s earliest childhood memories are of sitting with her uncle, listening to him play classical guitar and being enthralled by the sound, she said.

“Unfortunately, Michelle never met him,” Ms. Cann said. “He passed away the same day she was born in 1987. It’s ridiculous. Michael was amazing. He had lung cancer. And he was only 36. He made such an impact in Bermuda, as well as my dad. Previous to them, there was no formal music program at the few schools there. They gave back a lot to really start those programs up.”

The family moved back to the United States and Michelle Cann was born in North Carolina, where they lived for six years before relocating to Florida. It was there she officially began her training—apart from imitating her older sister.

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