Piano News

Piano News Interview

her & Süher Pekinel

By: Carsten Dürer 

Süher means in Turkish flowing water, Güher is a precious stone and while “Pekin” means strong, “El” means hand.
The twin sisters Güher and Süher Pekinel have a reason to be glad for their names, since in that case “Nomen est Omen”.
The sisters reached every aspect throughout their career, they have performed in each prestigious Hall in the World, worked with all the distinguished Conductors from Karajan to Mehta among others. Now a special collection of their recordings have been released as a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray Box with the name “Treasures”. We met the Duo in Switzerland for an Interview.
They are living in London, Istanbul and Switzerland. Güher and Süher Pekinel are all along cosmopolitans. Their roots are in Turkey and their education is to the greatest possible extent acquainted: After their primary piano education during their childhood in Turkey, they went to Paris to study with Yvonne Loriod, afterwards they continued their studies in Frankfurt am Main with August Leopolder, then to Curtis Institute of Music to study with Rudolf Serkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski. They completed their Master Degree and worked with Adele Markus among others in New York Juilliard School. But how was it all possible? We asked about it and had to find out that the twins are complementing one another. They talked about music and their career with full of Energy and much Enthusiasm.



PIANONews: At what age did you go to Paris?
Güher Pekinel: Very early, we were 13.

Süher Pekinel: No , even 12 years

PIANONews: How was it possible to leave your country in such an early age?

Güher Pekinel: Why wouldn’t  it be?

PIANONews: Because it is very uncommon to study abroad at such an early age.

Güher Pekinel: We were accepted to Istanbul Conservatory at the age of 5 and gave our first Concert with the age of 6. The Director of the Conservatory – an Austrian, who was a student of Alfred Cortot- wanted to tutor us himself. It was a big chance for us. We loved him and it was mutual.

Süher Pekinel: But besides, we also continued to our formal education. Our parents insisted on not to have only a musical, but also a formal education. After we graduated from ground school with the age of 10, we went to a French-speaking Boarding School.

Güher Pekinel:  Since our father had studied in Brussels, French was spoken anyway at home. So, we could adapt ourselves to school immediately.

Süher Pekinel: That school was not a usual one, they really cared about the artistic education as well. Therefore, we didn’t only have piano studios, but also we could play chamber music, we painted and also gave concerts. At some point our parents recognized the situation to make a decision, if we should stay or go abroad for our studies.

Güher Pekinel: Our teachers wanted us to continue our education in Europe,.

Süher Pekinel: You could receive a very good basic education in Turkey, but to find out and internalize different schools of piano, we had to go to Europe. Since we were in a French school, we decided to go to Paris. We auditioned for Yvonne Loriod (wife of Messian). She enrolled us immediately in her class. After 2 years, we realized that we had to internalize also the tradition of German Piano School. Our family supported our decision to go to Germany. We were matriculated in another boarding school, in which among others Wolfgang Fortner gave the music lessons. It was the “Odenwaldschule” . They had a very progressive education system, supporting art besides formal education. We had the chance to practice piano contiguous to our curriculum. So we practiced also at night.

Güher Pekinel: In addition to the concert grand at school, they provided another one, so that each one of us could practice on her own. We gave quarterly recitals at school, because the school management, parents and friends „requested“ that we play.

Süher Pekinel: By the formation of our education, the piano school and the tradition of a teacher, was very important for us.

Güher Pekinel: We always analyzed how and where the teacher had been educated. We listened to their many recordings and then decided, whom we would work with. Because those teachers were abroad, we had to go to their schools.

PIANONews: But the synergy needs to be adequate mutually, doesn’t it?

Süher Pekinel: Of course.

Güher Pekinel: After two years in Paris, we wanted to expand our education by learning and discovering the depths and details of German tradition. We wanted to experience Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann in his cultural enviroment. We couldn’t discover the dimension of the culture, while living in France . Today the world is more globalized, borders are more blurry, but then it wasn’t the case.

PIANONews: You studied with August Leopolder in Germany, right?

Süher Pekinel: Yes, He was a representative of Busoni School, which we wanted discover.

When we were in Curtis, Serkin once told us „ Since my hand is different than yours, I cannot teach you on the instrument. He didn’t want to focus on the technical part, he was indeed, working in different range of cultural dimensions like philosophy, literature, painting, etc.

Güher Pekinel: He was more than a teacher.

He left the students to discover the piece by themselves and than questioned the details. He used to ask, if we read Goethe or Stefan Zweig in order  to understand a Beethoven-Sonata. This was then again a different school, a different perception.

Süher Pekinel: This was the essence of Curtis Institute in contrast to Juilliard School in New York, which was a Pianist- Fabric. But we wanted to experience this spirit as well. We intended to form our own musical journey, in which we wanted to fuse the contradictions. New York opened our vision to new possibilities, realites and to the world. In Curtis, we used to be in a whole different, even philosophical globe.

PIANONews: Like in an island?

Süher Pekinel: Yes like an island of artistic and philosophical synergy.

Güher Pekinel: Therefore, since Curtis wasn’t offering a master program at that time, we went to Juilliard School to absolve a masters-degree. We studied with Adele Marcus , who was from Russian Neuhaus School.

To see how the Americans established their career was very exciting and interesting for us. In Germany you construct your career step by step slowly as strong as possible. In USA the way was different to proceed: speed, perfection and melted different art files were very important. Everything could develop instantaneously.

The Way to Duo

PIANONews: Did you play together all along?
Güher Pekinel: No, we didn’t want that.

PIANONews: And for how long you didn’t play as a duo?
Süher Pekinel: Until we were on the same opinion that our personalities are formed so far, to let us accept each other mutually and “talk” in dialog together. It was first after our master exams in The Juilliard School of Music. We studied until then always as soloists with our teachers.

PIANONews: Was the pressure high in Juilliard?
Güher Pekinel: We didn’t assume it as “pressure” it was a possibility to discover your efficiencies and strength in yourself. If you use this opportunity to reach to your skills deep inside, you realize that there are no impossibilities.
What was peculiar in New York was that, we could examine different artistic styles and disciplines. We went to theatre shows and drama rehearsals very often to study also their techniques. It was very interesting for us to discover the use of breath and voice. The long breath and its application in music interested us since our childhood.

Süher Pekinel: For us it was very important to realize the long breath in our musical style. From the beginning of a piece till the end. Because breath is also a part of timing. It’s also very important that the original breath flows from the beginning until the end, while you’re interpreting in different levels.

PIANONews: Doesn’t the function of breath depend on the voice language of the composer?
Güher Pekinel: It depends how the composer put the structure together with detailed information. Such finesses are incredibly important. The emotional, motional and the specification of refinement in a measurement, plays a very important role, also in chamber music.

Süher Pekinel: You can liken it to the ultimate control over the body in Ballet. The control is the most crucial and vital element. The biggest actors and actresses are the ones, who are free at the stage. But first, they learn how to be in total control of their body, in order to operate free in a performance.

PIANONews: In summarization, you had the chance to study music in different countries, languages, within different traditions and schools.

Güher Pekinel: Among other factors, the language was very important to us. We also wanted to learn more languages. But at the end, language was only a medium to represent our ultimate voice with different other factors, which we melted also in music.

PIANONews: So it would be possible for you to continue as soloists.
Süher Pekinel: What we indeed maintained for a long time. During Curtis Institute, we practiced with Horszowski as duo but never played publicly together. Towards the end of our master program in Juilliard, there was a Duo – Piano Competition in Colorado, for which they encouraged us to apply. Adele Marcus told us to play exclusively as soloists, nevertheless we decided to apply for the competition and practiced only for 3 weeks. We won the 1st prize. Few weeks later we won another first prize in Young Concert Artists Competition as a duo in New York. In the final round , the managing director of ICM (International Concert Management) came to listen us. After the concert ICM signed us immediately and we started our duo career.

PIANONews: At this moment, were there any question marks to proceed as soloists?

Güher Pekinel: No, the essence of playing as a duo, fascinated us. We wanted to experience new possibilities. We thought the time of mutual dialogue, in which we can rely on each other, had now arrived.

PIANONews:You had to work on a whole new repertoire then!

Süher Pekinel: In Curtis as stated before, we studied with Horzowski for duo piano, the basic elements and repertoire were there, although we didn’t consider yet to give concerts as duo back then, we wanted the circumstances of dialogue to mature.

Güher Pekinel: Back then, duo piano was a part of chamber music for us. In Curtis to enable musicians to experience different levels of musical expansion, chamber music was as important as solo performances.

Süher Pekinel: Among others we joined the masterclasses of Budapest Quartette and Guarneri Quartette in Curtis. We learned the dialogue of playing together during these courses. This approach enabled us to intensify our interest and desire for chamber music. During our career, we implemented for the first time during the concert to put the pianos with their original lids open to the public without seeing each other. It was important for us in this position to obtain the most original sound and intensify our music making, which you can’t reach by playing facing each other. And we are still the only one.

Life and Opinions

PIANONews: Beginning your duo career, it was clear that you have to work very close together, wasn’t it?

Süher Pekinel: To practice together, doesn’t mean to live together. We were living separately in 5- minute distance apartments. Each of us practiced separately. We came together for analyzing and changing ideas to build the structure and musical language.

Güher Pekinel: We are practicing more alone, than other duos, since we are memorizing and working on both parts of the composition. This is a very important choice for us to understand the structure of the composition deeply and eventually to reach the musical breath together.

You cannot only learn a sonata for one hand and leave the other. ( She laughs) . Everything is united. This enables you to challenge higher risks at the stage and if something happens, you can turn this unexpected detail to a surprise and transform it to a higher level.

Piano News: Did you change your parts?

Both: Yes, of course.

Güher Pekinel: In addition, we were the only ones, playing the pieces by memory. That gave us freedom in each aspect so we pushed our boundaries and discovered new possibilities. We are communicating telepathically. Despite filing on each detail, every concert is a surprise. Our intuition helps us to transcribe surprises into music.

One of the most important reasons, why we sit back to each other is, exactly the fact, that we challenge the higher risk in order to live and let live the momentum more intensively. We could create our own perception of tonality in a hall with this replacement, which enables the pianos to preserve and reflect their own tone, quality and presence as in a solo concert.

PianoNews: And this was totally a unique idea of yours, which wasn’t present among other duos till then?

Güher Pekinel: Yes, exactly and since then, we wished that the other duos would try this, too, but unfortunately, we didn’t see and had the chance to listen other duos with this replacement of pianos.

Piano News: Do you think, it is the fear of not being able to see each other, while playing?

Güher Pekinel: No, I don’t think so. But of course you need to practice more to be able to perform that way.

Süher Pekinel: This is more logical to us to place the instruments back to each other. At the end of a duo performance the musicians are both playing as soloists.

PIANONews: You used this emplacement especially for the orchestral concerts, didn’t you?

Süher Pekinel: No, also in recitals.

Güher Pekinel: The conductors were always astonished and wouldn’t like to play in that unfamiliar way. But mostly we could persuade our emplacement.

You know, if you really pay attention on the exact measurement between the gap of two pianos, which we always do, the sound of the pianos changes immediately and that convinced the conductors who pursuit this difference from the hall.

Thoughts on Treasures

PIANONews: Your latest „Treasures„ Box is released under Arthaus /Unitel label with 7CDs, 4 DVDs, 2 Blu-Rays and a 108- Page Book.

Güher Pekinel: We were asked to create on our own a special collection of variety for the Box to reflect the development of our musical Journey with different aspects , such as Bartók Sonata for two pianos and percussion and the concerto two pianos and orchestra from Arthaus.

PIANONews: But “Treasures”isn’t a jubilee Box, right?

Süher Pekinel: Yes it is. If you always perform on the stage, without any breaks this will lead you to repeat yourself. You need a creative freedom time, to be able to develop new ideas. Although, we had been warned, that if we do take a break our career would be over, we still did make free spaces between concerts, to be able to create and internalize new perceptions from different artistic angles.

Güher Pekinel: To regenerate our body, we also had to take sabbaticals, because tours and concerts consumes your energy and emotions, which you have to regain as a whole. In our extended world tours, we always created time to be able to see museums, theatre and galleries of this city to be able to internalize the culture and feed ourselves on an artistic and intellectual level. Since this profession requires hardworking time, we are at some point, known as perfectionists. We don’t really like the term, because one cannot really reach only perfectionism, without also the poetry of the moment. That is the base of progress.

Süher Pekinel: Perfectionism needs to internalize all the different details in every dimension. With the emplacement with pianos lids open and back to each other, the listener can hear each nuance and the exact poetic timbre with richness. So, that the original sound of the instrument and the personal “touché” is reflected.

PIANONews: Do you have a studio in which the pianos are accordingly placed?

Güher Pekinel: Yes. In Zürich and Istanbul pianos are placed back to each other. Only in our London Studio, due to the size of the space they are placed next to each other.

The Effect of Pekinels on Duo-Piano Literature

PIANONews: Many works are composed or re-written for you, some of them are from very famous composers such as Leonard Bernstein symphonic dances from „West Side Story“ or Krysztof Pendereckis „Ciaconna“. Did you influence the Duo Piano Literature consciously or unconsciously ?

Güher Pekinel: Of course consciously! Everything we do has its essence in its own meaning.

This is how we proceed. We act always after we assess the aspects and purpose of a deed in our life also retroperspectively. For example our recording with Jacques Loussier.

Bach always accompanied us during our childhood and the moment we listened Jacques Loussier’s Bach Arrangements, we were amazed. He „found“ something in these Arrangements , which only he can present. His technique with half-pedal, nonlegato und portamento is unbelievable.

Süher Pekinel: We performed very often Bach and after we heard his Bach Arrangements, we thought that we had to play with him. We didn’t want to change Bach but to experience him in other aspects. Right after our recording with Jacques Loussier our way of playing Bach has changed as well. It allowed us to work on and reflect the already existing lightness in Bach.

Güher Pekinel: In the Second Movement of his arrangement for three pianos, Jacques Loussier encouraged us to improvise our own . ( she laughs). We enjoyed it as well.

Süher Pekinel: Our interaction with Bernstein was through Curtis Institute, in which he studied for a while as well.

The Institute is in the center of the city, with a wonderful park beside, but if you go 3 or 4 blocks further, there is a strict and dazzling contrast to philosophical and harmonic isolation Curtis provides. This opponency made us question the boundaries and contradictions. „West Side Story“ represents the discrepancies in search of humanistic approaches. It really touched us. Penderecki, Lutoslawski and Bernstein , they were all in search of peace and humanitarian understanding .


PIANONews: You have started and carry out 3 Foundations in Turkey. “Güher & Süher Pekinel Orff -Approach in Anatolia“ „G& S Pekinel Music Department Tevitöl“ and „Young Musicians on World Stages”. What are your purposes on these Foundations?

Güher Pekinel: They are different foundations, completing each other organically. This is also long planned and created with a philosophy behind, like any other work we do. (She laughs)

Süher Pekinel: Since we weren’t in Turkey for a long time due to our studies abroad and worldwide concerts, thereafter we looked closely how the music education has been developed further. After we realized that there is an insufficient music education, we decided to start from the pre-school era for which the Orff Approach is a perfect fit. Also Tevitöl is a special boarding school for highly-gifted children, who are going to be the future leading CEO’s and academics, who will support and invest for art, where they are being educated already with the notion of music. The 3rd step is supporting extraordinary young talents from Turkey, for their international solo-career, which doesn’t happen automatically, but needs to be supported and encouraged in many levels. Finding financial support, very good musicians as pedagogs, creating programms for each their careers, controlling their work through master classes and competitions and building groups for chamber music making, until the begin of their professional musician careers. Also thereafter, we are open for all their problems. Only then, they are securing their lives in everyway. Also we had it not easy! But very lucky to meet the right people at the right time and having been accepted very quickly.

PIANONews: How do you select musicians for „Young Musicians on World Stages“ ? Are they auditioning?

Güher Pekinel: This is a three-stage structure, which supports outstanding talents selected from conservatories all over Turkey. Young outstanding musicians can also apply with their CVs from which we choose, and ask them to send their live concert videos. After the evaluation of the videos, the last part is to perform in a concert hall with a program of different styles for 1,5-2 hours. The chosen ones will be accepted in this program.

The system enables outstanding young musicians to enrich their education and build a top international career. For this reason, the right teacher, the right school and a foreign language is necessary to put all this into action with a sponsor, as soon as possible. Over time, by strengthening the dialogue between musicians, forming chamber music groups, organizing concerts and most importantly participating in prestigious competitions after 1-2 years of preparation period. https://pekinel.com/young-musicians-on-world-stages/