With a plethora of talented and acclaimed musicians set to perform at the 2022 Festival, we recently caught up with Edward and Stephanie Neeman of the Neeman Piano Duo.

Edward and Stephanie are a local piano duo who have been widely acclaimed for their impeccable musicianship and unique onstage chemistry in performances across America, Australia, and Asia.

Where did the two of you meet? And did you start playing together immediately?
We met at a friend’s birthday party when we were both studying at the Manhattan School of Music in New York. Two years later we started dating, and we played our first concert together a few months afterward – in Canberra at the ANU School of Music!

Some musician couples find it difficult to work together, but for us it was really easy and actually brought us closer together. We certainly don’t hesitate to speak our minds during rehearsal, no need to be diplomatic! 

What’s the big difference playing 4 hands vs 2 hands? 
Playing any kind of chamber music is a very different experience to playing solo. Having company on stage makes the experience way more fun and less lonely, and we also enjoy the back and forth of musical ideas and negotiations. We find audiences really respond to the visual side of two pianists side by side on one piano, reaching over and under each other’s hands, swapping the pedal, the kinds of faces we make at each other, etc. 

Carnaval of the Animals – what makes it fun?
Saint-Saens famously lampooned many popular pieces of his day, and certainly didn’t spare music critics (represented as donkeys) or pianists (a unique type of animal) in the process! Pianists haven’t changed that much in the past 130 years or so, but music criticism seems to have drifted off in the wake of print periodicals. The righteous indignation that Saint-Saens must have felt 130 years ago is hard to muster up against today’s few remaining classical music critics battling against the tide. 

Is it still funny?
It’s possible that audiences today aren’t as familiar with some of musical allusions by the likes of Rameau and Berlioz, but the humour is clever enough that the jokes still shine through. When the score was published posthumously in 1922 (36 years after its composition), Saint-Saens had become a bitter and reactionary composer who railed against the musical innovations of the likes of Debussy and Stravinsky. So it’s quite possible that the distance of a hundred years has flushed out any unpleasant aftertaste without dulling the satire!
Are you into animals?
Stephanie is a cat lover, though we don’t have any cats (just guinea pigs). Edward is into animals, but more abstractly. Any house spiders or cockroaches would be lucky to be caught by Edward and gently escorted outside. Stephanie is not so accommodating.