Brian Lee and William Phemister, collectively known as the Chicago Piano Duo, performed a concert this week at John Brown University. On Thursday, several dozen students, faculty and community members listened attentively as the pianists’ hands gracefully stroked the keys.
The pair played four pieces during their set. They opened with Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter: The Bringer of Jollity, from The Planets.” Phemister explained beforehand that the song has a hymn-tune included in the middle, and went on the read this text, “O God Beyond All Praising,” as an opening prayer to the performance.
During this work, the two were on separate pianos; their minimal eye contact yet perfect timing confirmed countless hours of rehearsal.
For the second work, Shubert’s “Fanstasie in F minor, Op. 103 D940,” however, Lee and Phemister sat side by side, their four hands side to side on one set of keys.
Lee introduced this duet written for one piano, describing how the composer’s confidence and emotion are expressed through his musical creations.
“For me, part of that raw emotion has to do with how quickly he can change from one emotion to another,” Lee said. “Listening to Shubert’s music, sometimes you’ll feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster.”
After a brief intermission, the duo played a piece by Debussy called “Nocturnes.” Phemister translated the names of the three different movements as Clouds, Festivals and Sirens.
“I urge you to fasten your seatbelts so you will not be lured onto the stage,” the pianist joked.
The pair ended their performance with “Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn, Op. 56b” by Brahms—an upbeat end to their hour-long concert.
The show was part of the University’s Artist Series. Jan Lauderdale, the administrative assistant for the department of communication and fine arts, explained that this is the first time the duo has performed at the University and Lee’s first time in Arkansas.
“This recital is given for the artistic benefit of faculty, staff, students, and anyone in the community with an interest in experiencing quality music,” Lauderdale said. “It is difficult to find artists of this caliber, and even more rare to bring two such artists together to our campus.”
Both pianists are graduates of The Julliard School and Steinway artists. They are currently playing their third season together.