Pizzicato Interview



The Turkish sisters Güher and Süher Pekinel are among the best in the world of classical music, today. Herbert von Karajan discovered the twins in 1984 and invited them to the Salzburg Festival. Since then, their piano playing has set standards through virtuoso mastery and individual expressiveness. Remy Franck spoke to them in Paris.

Süher & Güher Pekinel

Is it easier for a pair of twins to form a piano duo than two pianists who are not twins?

Süher P.: Easier and harder at the same time! Easier, because there is a common way of thinking and feeling right from the start, but this requires at the same time the same work as with any other duo because of the deepening. Harder, because other duos fight to be together, while as twins we always put our own perceptions about the structure first, only after, we look for common ideas. We believe that harmony needs different stages and different ideas of developments.

How do you differ when you speak of opposites?

S.P.: Our characters are different, and how we approach a work is also contradictory from the start. I’m more the realistic one, I start to analyze from the structure and to first build space, then add the colors, while Güher first analyzes the structure of the needed and necessary colours to create the right atmosphere, which harmonieses perfectly.

Güher P.: The timbre of the piano sound is also different for both of us. That’s good, because the music lives from the colors and the own timbre of the pianist. This has also led us to play back to back and no longer against each other. When the two pianos are interlocked and the lead of one piano is open, 65% of the sound from the second piano is lost. We don’t need to see each other, we feel much stronger and can focus on the flow. Our eyes are also our ears.

 Pekinel Duo & Shanghai Symphony Orchestra

S.P.: Two things are very important for our musical path. First, the big breath that we want to have deeper and deeper, longer and longer as the years go by, and second, as important as breathing, the risk. The more controlled we are, the freer we want to become, and in freedom or in total control we are able to enjoy freedom and also can  build the risk to the maximum.

When interpreting, external moods may also determine the interpretation. If you both had different experiences in one day and come to a concert in different moods, how do you reconcile that?

G.P.: Everything we have experienced in a day is important, but the moment we are on stage nothing is more important than the music itself, and it has been like this since our childhood. It is the music within ourselves that prompts us to find our center immediately. We need to find our center, to make music together. On the day of the concert we are totally focused to our performance. It’s like a ritual. We always rehearse at the same time and besides of meditating we need full stillness, till the concert. This allows us to be able to concentrate and letting nothing affect us.

Have there never been complicated differences because of the interpretation?

S.P.: Of course, there have! We had to cancel Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps, because we couldn’t agree at all. It needs time to reshape and rebuild the work. It’s a normal process, you have to accept it, you can’t force anything.

Süher & Güher Pekinel


Do you always only work your own part or do you play both?

S.P.: Everyone studies both parts. What strikes me about other duos, keeping playing the same part, doesn’t help them to develop the needed big breath. Changing the parts, helps to keep it fresh, and to discover new aspects. Three weeks before a tour, we fix the parts, and it stays the same throughout the tour. We once tried to switch them, which caused lots of trouble.

It is sometimes said, that there is a dominant character in twins and also in identical twins. Is it the same for you?

S.P.: I am the talkative one, but not the dominant one!

G.P.: I think it’s also a question of time, everything flows in its own timing between us without noticing it. Sometimes, Süher leads for a while and has everything under her control and suddenly I’m the one who makes the decisions! Everything is intuitive and this is also often surprising for us.

Have you always played together?

S.P.: We started at the age of six at the conservatory. Our first orchestral concert was with nine. We split up, because of the need of finding our individual expression. Our teachers and our parents were very helpful in making this decision. Just imagine what it would be like, if we had always played together since our childhood: we wouldn’t be able to give each other anything, today! Serkin and Arrau, were insisting to work with us only as soloists. According to Serkin: «You were born for a duo and you will do that one day anyway, I just want to work with you only solo!» In the beginning, we won only solo competitions. For example, we competed individually in the national competition in Germany, but we both got the first prize, and had to share it! Another time, I got the first prize, and the next year when my sister entered the same competition, won also the first prize, but with complications. Because of our similar names and looking, she had to show her ID to the jury to proof that we are twins.

G.P.: For example, we also never play the same pieces!

S.P.: Because we didn’t want to influence each other we never heard one another. This enabled us to develop and consolidate our individuality and our own sound. Then, after we got our masters at Juilliard, our teacher Adele Marcus asked us when we will play together. She said, “there are so many pianists as sand on the sea, but no real duos!” Since there was already a competition for piano duos in Colorado at the time, we took part and immediately won the first prize. After we won several competitions, we saw that this was our path. There is, an internal clock that determines, where the musical path you ultimately leads. We never forced anything. We thought: “When the time comes, we’ll notice it, too! »

Pekinel Duo & London Philharmonic


Does that mean, that duo playing wasn’t encouraged in your parents’ house?

S.P.: We knew very early what we wanted, and it wasn’t just a career. We only knew, we wanted to be musicians. But we also wanted to discover different domains.

You said earlier that the colors in music are very important to you. How do you produce colors?

G.P.: A few years ago, while we were concertising very intensively, we felt the importance of making time for our creative energy. So, we began to search for different cultural areas. Beginning with great painters and museum visits for all kind of art, also starting painting which led us to ourselves. I think for both of us, three aspects have always been very important: timing, breath and colour. These are elements that simply cannot be separated. We used to attend a lot of rehearsals by great orchestras and conductors, such as Ormandy with Philadelphia Orchestra, or in Munich, Celibidache with the Munich Philharmonic. It was very important for us to discover and observe how they direct the orchestra, how they create for each work the musical idea, also the use of timing and breath. This also gave us incredible urge for our work!

There is already lots of color in your first names, what do your names actually mean?

S.P.: My name means “flowing water” and we have always looked for the flowing in music and it will stay that way until the end. Güher means “a rare gem with many colors!” Our last name has also a meaningful content: “Pekin”, means strong and “El”, means hand, so, Pekinel is strong hand!