We had the good fortune of connecting with Vijay Venkatesh and Eva Schaumkell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Vijay Venkatesh, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
During the tumultuous times that the world is experiencing today, we strive to provide relief in the way we know best: Music. Accomplished soloists in our own right, we’ve discovered our love for collaboration and that the world of piano duo (both 4-hands and 2 piano) is one that lends itself to intimate bonds and new musical heights and possibilities. Most listeners of classical music will probably only get to see and hear the finished product of the musician’s journey, whether from a concert hall or a recording. But the performance is only the tip of the iceberg for us musicians. Behind the curtain is the life we’re leading, the thoughts and emotions that motivate and inspire us, and of course hours of practice, rehearsals, travels, adventure and more! Music has transformed everything in our lives. It connects us to other forms of art-painting, photography, architecture, etc. They are intertwined and appear in our daily lives if we care to listen and see. As we search for new performance opportunities, our efforts are aimed at making our audiences experience the music we choose to play just as viscerally as we do. Every day is a mission, in which we give ourselves all to the music in the pursuit of something more and more beautiful.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
We had been dating for a year before starting to play together professionally, and in that time we had been sight-reading duet music together. We realized how fulfilling it was to play together and we decided to make our first recordings of two-piano music. It was a big hit with presenters and attracted attention for engagements and so we decided to expand our repertoire and establish a media and website presence. We realized a piano duo is a great musical niche to tap into, with extraordinary repertoire to perform, and we tripled the number of concerts we were booking. Practice is definitely important for a musician, but besides locking oneself in a practice room, we think channeling life experiences into a piece of music is paramount to releasing its character. We seek to remember the moments that we felt so inspired, either seeing a beautiful sunset, enjoying a meaningful conversation with someone, hearing a beautiful speech or poem – it all reappears in our playing. Working hard is important, but in addition, it is relishing the moments of life that touched my heart and the ability to compound them into art that changes others’ lives, just as much as it has changed ours. A piano duo is unlike any other combination of chamber music and requires heightened degrees of empathy, being able to sense the music together as a unit, amplifying each other’s strength rather than competing or getting in each other’s way. This takes a lot of practice of course, but it definitely helps to know the other person well. We can’t imagine playing piano duets at a high level with a stranger, or someone we didn’t get along with on a personal level. Piano duets are unique in that both performers share a single instrument, but besides the physical proximity in 4-hands/1-piano settings, the nature of the piano, with hammers hitting the strings and creating immediate sound, means that you have to be absolutely in synch at all times. Any slight variation is immediately noticeable; there’s no hiding or stretching like you would be able to do with combinations of different instruments. It has been the interaction with audiences after concerts we played that made us realize music was something we were meant to do. It gave us a unique opportunity to move people and to contribute something meaningful. We realized in our teenage years how much a performance has the potential to deeply impact someone. We seek to program pieces that really move us. Works that tell a story are often very engaging for listeners and are fulfilling for us to perform. Schubert’s Fantasy in F Minor is a work that is very dear to us, for its undeniable beauty and the journey in which it takes us through its many stages and emotions. Brahms’s Hungarian dances are gorgeous miniatures and reveal an extraordinary amount of expression, from desolation to exuberance.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Our favorite place to eat in a beautiful setting after seeing a concert at Disney Hall is Maccheroni Republic in DTLA. You also can’t skip exploring the city for all the best taco trucks on your visit! We love the cheese fondue at creme de la crepe when we’re on the west side (we spent our last anniversary there!). In the daytime, you’ll find us out in nature hiking in Angelos Forest or the Murphy Ranch trail, with its beautiful scenery and surprising art!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Fabio Bidini, Norman Krieger, Jeffrey Kahane, Daniel Pollack are among our greatest influences as performing artists and have instilled in us this gift and love for music for which we continue to push the limits of our potential.