THE INSIDE STORY: Dana Muller, Gary Steigerwalt, and IN YOUR HEAD

Dana Muller and Gary Steigerwalt have performed as duo pianists for more than three decades, creating programs that encompass the historical and stylistic gamut of the piano four-hand genre. As recitalists, they have performed extensively in the United States, South America, and Scotland. They performed regularly as members of Wistaria Chamber Music Society and with other western Massachusetts performance organizations such as the Pioneer Valley Cappella. Active as promoters of new music, the couple has premiered works for numerous composers, including many featured on their latest Navona Records release, IN YOUR HEAD.

Dana and Gary appear at schools, universities, and before music teachers’ organizations, offering workshops, master classes and lecture-recitals on a variety of topics. For ten years they wrote program notes and presented pre-concert lectures for the Musicorda Festival on the campus of Mount Holyoke College. Gary is Professor Emeritus of Mount Holyoke College where he taught on the music faculty from 1981 to 2016. Dana’s teaching career encompasses institutional (University of Houston, University of Southern California, University of Hartford, Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College) and private studio instruction (Berkeley CA; New York NY; South Hadley MA).

Today, Dana and Gary are our featured artists in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our artists. Read on to learn about an especially precarious performance experience the duo had in Long Island…

Who were your first favorite artists growing up?

Both of us were inspired by the warm tone, musicality, and humanity of Polish pianist Arthur Rubinstein. Gary was equally amazed by the virtuosity and breadth of the young American pianist Van Cliburn.

What were your most unusual and challenging live performances?

Most unusual: playing Alfredo Casella’s Pages of War in coordination with video of scenes from World War I that inspired the work.

Most challenging: the two of us balanced on a small single artist bench while performing the complete four-hand works of Beethoven at the same keyboard outdoors in the sun on a steamy afternoon on Long Island.

If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

We’re pretty much doing that now, living in Tucson and enjoying the Sonoran Desert community.

If you could instantly have expertise performing one instrument, what instrument would that be?

For both of us, that would be the cello (not counting the piano, of course), simply for the beauty of its sound.

What was your favorite musical moment on the album?

For Dana, it’s the final pages of Lewis Spratlan’s Dreamworlds, from the bureaucrat’s romantic dream sequence to the end of the movement. For Gary, it’s the eerie overtones heard in the opening (and later) bars of David Sanford’s The Silent Hearth, achieved by silently depressing keys above loudly rapped gestures in the bass.

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From left: Recording Session Engineer John Weston, Recording Session Producer Brad Michel, Dana Muller, Gary Steigerwalt, composer David Sanford, and PARMA Engineering Manager Lucas Paquette at Futura Productions

What does this album mean to you personally?

The album is both a tribute to our composing friends and our way of contributing to the contemporary repertory for two players at one piano. We premiered Lewis Spratlan’s Dreamworlds at our four-hand recital at Mount Holyoke College in 2016, just prior to Gary’s retirement from the college and our subsequent relocation to Arizona. Taking our album title from the overarching psychological theme of Lew’s work, we asked four other living composers whom we knew – David Sanford and Donald Wheelock of the Mount Holyoke and Smith College faculties respectively, Daniel Asia of the University of Arizona, and Matthew St. Laurent, film composer and Dana’s former piano student – to wrap their creative juices around a similar rubric. Adding the four-hand sonata by our now-deceased friend John La Montaine seemed to bring the project full circle in a beautifully satisfying way.

Is there a specific feeling that you would like communicated to audiences in this work?

We would like audiences to be able to hear the vast variety of sonorities that can be created on one piano by two people in synchronized performance, and to appreciate the diversity of music written by these six composers.

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IN YOUR HEAD is now available through Navona Records for streaming or purchase. Click here to explore this new album.

 

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