A spirited duo

Katia and Marielle Labèque with the Berliner Philharmoniker

(Photo: Umberto Nicoletti)

They are usually to be experienced together: the pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque have long been considered one of the most successful piano duos of our time. A “Captivating spirit” and “unbeatable precision” characterise their playing, wrote the Tagesspiegel following their debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in February 1987. At that time they performed the brilliant concerto for two pianos by Francis Poulenc under the direction of Myung-Whun Chung. “Just the thing for a duo as special as the Labèque sisters,” rejoiced the critic of the Berliner Morgenpost. “A sensuous delight for the ear and eye, a triumph for the two French women who expressed their thanks for the unusually long ovation with three encores.”

Waldbühne and “Late Night”

In the following years, the sisters performed Poulenc’s superb Piano Concerto with the Berliner Philharmoniker on several occasions: they played it in two Philharmoniker concerts under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle in April 2002, at the 2004 Salzburg Festival, and at the 2005 Waldbühne Concert at which they also performed Camille Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals. At the time, they spoke enthusiastically about the orchestra in the Berliner Philharmoniker’s magazine: “It’s a great ensemble, yet the musicians play like a chamber orchestra; each one is with you, and they’re always better than you imagined.” The Labèques also enjoyed participating in unusual orchestral projects such as the education programme’s dance project MusicTANZ-Modern Times in December 2006 and the Late Night concert in December 2013, in which they shone in Osvaldo Golijov’s Nazareno, a composition they premiered in Paris in 2010 and presented in Berlin in a version specially arranged for the Late Night event. This season, together with Marielle’s husband, the conductor Semyon Bychkov, they join the Philharmoniker to present the rarely heard Concerto for Two Pianos by Max Bruch. Incidentally, in the same family grouping, the three of them appeared with the orchestra in 1989 for a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in E flat major K. 365, and were acclaimed by the press for their “spirited interpretation”.