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Twin Dynamism, with the Naughton Sisters and the BSO

Christina and Michelle Naughton
Courtesy of the Artists
Christina and Michelle Naughton

Saturday, May 14, 2022
8:00 PM

The twin sisters take center stage in Mozart’s elegant Concerto for Two Pianos, and Andris Nelsons leads the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Richard Strauss’s "Death and Transfiguration."

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons, conductor
Christina and Michelle Naughton, pianos

Richard STRAUSS Love Scene from Feuersnot
STRAUSS Death and Transfiguration
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Concerto in E-flat for two pianos, K. 365

This concert is no longer available on demand.

Hear a preview of the concert with the Naughtons and CRB's Brian McCreath in the audio player above (transcript below).

Watch a performance of the Naughton Sisters at CRB's Fraser Performance Studio:

Transcript of Naughtons interview with CRB's Brian McCreath:

Christina Naughton Thank you.

Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath from WCRB with Christina and Michelle Naughton, and they're here in Boston's Symphony Hall. I want to say it's for the first time. Do I have that right, Michelle?

Michelle Naughton Yes, that is correct.

Brian McCreath So, Symphony Hall is a place that you may have heard about. Christina, what are your impressions now that you've played a rehearsal in Symphony Hall?

Christina Naughton Well, the hall has absolutely beautiful acoustics. And of course, then the orchestra itself is so beautiful that I mean...

Michelle Naughton Yes, and it's quite, actually, a treat to be playing this particular piece in this hall because I believe the last time was about 80 years ago. So there's that feeling, kind of, of this like rebirth of a beautiful piece of music as well.

Brian McCreath Well, I do want to talk about this particular piece of music, so let's let's hold those thoughts. But first, I want to dive back a number of years. I remember from meeting you in the past that you guys actually kind of grew up as separate solo pianists. You went to Curtis on separate scholarships, you know, to pursue solo piano playing. Tell me the story, though, about which one of you was the one who started playing the piano initially and why you chose the piano? Which one was it?

Christina Naughton Oh, wow, I wish I knew the answer to that. I think we might have started the same day, is that the story?

Michelle Naughton I think the story is we started the same day and we both somehow really loved it. And our mom was our first teacher, so it would be like ten minutes a day.

Christina Naughton Ten minutes a day, twice a day, I think so, we, you know, that's how long we could concentrate.

Brian McCreath As a parent, I kind of want to think that your mom was just trying to take up some time in the day. I don't know, if I can just get these kids down to the piano, maybe they'll just find themselves busy with something. And so you just kind of started the very same time. But then as you grew up, again, you were playing separately. And then, Christina, tell me about the moment that you kind of did this thing in college. I think it was when you came together as a duo.

Christina Naughton I think our first performance as a duo was towards the end of high school, beginning of college. At first, I remember it being strange. This was a four-hands on one piano concert. Sharing the space, at first it was a little like, "OK, Get out of my way." But it turns out we absolutely loved it and never turned back after that. And while we were in college, our teachers made time to teach us as a duo, so.

Brian McCreath And so when you began really studying how to play as a duo, what did you find as the greatest challenges of doing that, Michelle?

Michelle Naughton Well, I mean, I think most people would probably first think the hardest thing about duo was that space issue or, you know, being together, those basic things that people would think of. But the weird thing is we found kind of the hardest thing is when the music calls for us to speak with the same voice. Even though people would say, "Oh, you're twins, that should be easy, you have the same size hands." It's surprisingly hard.

Brian McCreath So when you say speak with the same voice, can you kind of unpack that, Christina? I mean, playing piano is not a, to those of us who don't play, the idea of a voice on a piano. What does that mean and how do you have different voices on a piano?

Christina Naughton Oh, that's a really good question. I mean, I think a lot of it actually doesn't come so much from anything physical or anything verbal. A lot of it is not even just feeling the same emotion side-by-side, but actually feeling emotion together as one. It's a little bit different. I mean, of course, there is always a little bit of an athletic element when you play, but the togetherness, I think, comes from a connection rather than so much from anything physical.

Brian McCreath So now, how that applies to this particular piece, you mentioned that this piece hasn't been even played by the BSO in decades. And without getting into all the details of it and the complexities, you learned that you were going to do this run of concerts on very short notice.

Michelle Naughton Yes! Yesterday!

Brian McCreath So is this Mozart piece one that you kind of always have under your fingers?

Michelle Naughton Yes. Yes. This is an old friend of ours, and it's a different piece every time you know you play it. And we just came from rehearsal and that was like, it's a new, beautiful piece every time.

Brian McCreath In what way? How does it feel different here with the BSO?

Michelle Naughton Well, just so vital in just the way the players respond to each other. It's actually a very kind of fragile ecosystem, this piece, Mozart. So it's really important the way we kind of physically have a dialog. And here, somehow it's just that intertwined conversation is just so sublime.

Brian McCreath So, Christina, this piece, as you say, it's kind of under your fingers all the time, an old friend, as your sister says. And where does it sort of sit in the big picture of piano duo works? Like is it one that's sort of the baseline for most players who are duos, or is it a little bit more off the beaten track?

Christina Naughton I would definitely say this is a staple of the duo piano repertoire, especially because Mozart actually wrote this to play with his sister, and I think there's something very special about that, and you can really feel that in the music.

Brian McCreath And so when you come around to it again, even on a day's notice, what are those challenges? So you learned yesterday that you're going to play with the BSO, you're going to do this concerto for two pianos, and instantly, what are the things in your brain, knowing this piece so well, Michelle, that you know you have to attend to when you're going to play this piece of music?

Michelle Naughton In some ways, it's always the same with any piece of music. There's certain things you have to kind of work out. You know, we kind of like to know the ins and outs of the music so that we can kind of, on a dime, spontaneously change things as well. So we kind of went over, you know, how we have been playing it and seeing maybe a few things that we can change. And we're also doing that with Maestro Nelsons today. And that's kind of the really neat thing about music. It's always spontaneous, always changing.

Brian McCreath Let me ask you about the last year and a half during this pandemic. I'm sure you, like most artists, had concerts canceled, just your whole calendar wiped clean. What did this time mean for you as musicians, Christina?

Christina Naughton Well, I feel, of course, it was devastating for the whole industry in general, including musicians. But the one thing that did stay alive is the art itself. I mean, it was a time where all of us really took that time to learn some new things that we hadn't learned in a while. And also, we did a lot of virtual productions where we would play a concert and then we would talk and greet the audience over Zoom, because that was our only option at the time that felt very, very special.

Brian McCreath Yeah, yeah. No, I think that's something that a lot of musicians sort of found themselves doing all of a sudden, is being sort of media producers. And did that in any way kind of open some new avenues to you, the way you're thinking about music or audience, Michelle?

Michelle Naughton Absolutely. I think it changed, for a lot of musicians, our, you know, artistry in lots of ways. We had to, and many times actually produce these things ourselves. So that was a whole new skill, and it also allowed us to hear the music differently because you're hearing different takes, you're working on the sound, you're even controlling the visuals sometimes. And it's all one big art that kind of allows us to get to know our art better.

Brian McCreath Now, we got to know you guys pretty well at our station a number of years ago with a couple of CDs that you recorded there. What kinds of things, I mean, first of all, these two CDs just stand up as these amazing pieces because of, mostly because the rap that you chose, you're so adventurous with the things that you're trying to do, Conlon Nancarrow and Olivier Messiaen, and all these great composers. John Adams, wow. Some of that John Adams that you played was unbelievable. What have you found recently that you hadn't really encountered before, that sort of has sparked some new imagination for you?

Michelle Naughton Well, just actually listening to music more during the pandemic. I feel like we did much more of that than normally, maybe because there was more time and it was actually, in some ways, growing even closer and loving, really realizing just how lucky we are to actually do what we do and love what we do.

Brian McCreath That's great, Michelle. How about you, Christina?

Christina Naughton Well, one of the works that we finally really delved into during this pandemic, which we're starting to perform now, is the Beethoven Grosse Fuge. And it's actually originally written for string quartet, but you can play it for four hands on one piano, and it is an incredible piece that really needed that time to grow, and I really think that's one of the things I really enjoyed doing.

Brian McCreath Yeah, yeah, no, that piece, I think is definitely one that you need time to sit with to just let it sort of evolve within your minds and your imaginations and everything. Well, thank you so much. It's been really fun to have you here. And wow, congratulations on your BSO debut, Christina and Michelle Naughton.

Michelle Naughton Thank you.