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Katia & Marielle Labèque

The sibling duo of Katia and Marielle Labèque are known for their dynamic performances of pieces composed specifically for duo piano and, even more so, for their own reinterpretations of various classical works. While they drew attention throughout the '70s for a repertoire that favored 20th century composers like Berio and Ligeti over Mozart and Schubert, they rose to international fame with their two-piano recording of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in 1981. The sisters later expanded their instrumentation to include percussion on works by composers such as Bernstein and Ravel, and they have also recorded albums of jazz and Spanish song. In 2013, the Labèques premiered Philip Glass' Two Movements for Four Pianos with Maki Namekawa and Dennis Russell Davies, and in 2015, they premiered his Double Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra -- which was written for them -- with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Their debut of Concerto for Two Pianos by The National's Bryce Dessner took place with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 2018. Born in Bayonne in the French-Basque region near the Spanish border, the two Labèque sisters began studying piano with their mother, an accomplished piano teacher, when they were three and five years of age. Madame Labèque was born in Tuscany, in Torre del Lago, Italy, where Puccini's estate was located. The girls' father was a doctor from Landes. Katia and Marielle later entered the Paris Conservatoire, where both of them took First Prizes. Upon graduating in their mid-teens, the sisters took to performing contemporary works by Berio, Boulez, and Messiaen, often defying the expectations of advisers and audiences alike. Their first recording was of Messiaen's Visions de l'Amen, released by Erato in 1970, with liner notes by the composer. Subsequent recordings for Erato in the '70s included Bartók's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion and Rachmaninov's Two Suites for Two Pianos, as well as works by Hindemith and Martinu, among others. In 1980, the Labèques reached a worldwide audience with the Philips Classics release Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue; Piano Concerto in F. It sold over a half-million copies in 1981 and earned the burgeoning imprint its first gold record in France. Their other '80s recordings spanned the Scott Joplin release Gladrags (1983), a version of Gershwin's American in Paris (1984), and West Side Story Symphonic Dances and Songs (1989), which was arranged by Irwin Kostal, orchestrator of the original Bernstein work. The sisters' increased celebrity also brought collaborations with many of the world's leading conductors and orchestras, including the London, New York, and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras. In 1991, Sony issued Love of Colours, a set of jazz tunes that included pieces by Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea, and John McLaughlin, who also arranged the album. Katia has also recorded alone with McLaughlin, including a version of Michael Tilson Thomas' Duos for Guitar and Piano. Other releases by the Labèques in the '90s included 1994's ¡España! (Albéniz, Falla, and Lecuona) and 1997's The Debussy Album. Their participation in Piano Grand!: A Smithsonian Celebration, which also featured Billy Joel, Dave Brubeck, and several others, was televised and later released as a concert album by Columbia in 2000. Over the following decade, the sisters returned to composers such as Gershwin (2001's I Got Rhythm) and Ravel (2007's Ravel), and also explored Spanish song with Flamenco singer Mayte Martin (2008's De Fuego y de Agua) and works by Satie (2009's Erik Satie). They covered short pieces by over a dozen different composers on 2014's Sisters, issued by KML Recordings (not to be confused with a six-disc box set of the same name from Deutsche Grammophon in 2016), and 2016's Invocations presented Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring alongside Debussy's Six Épigraphes Antiques. Their early-2018 Deutsche Grammophon release Love Stories revisited West Side Story plus David Chalmin's Star-Cross'd Lovers, a composition inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. That March, the sisters performed the world premiere of Bryce Dessner's Concerto for Two Pianos with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Another Labèque album, Amoria, followed in August 2018, this one focusing on Basque composers. Before the year was through, they appeared on a full-length tribute to composer Moondog (Moondog) and on Dessner's El Chan, which included the first recording of his concerto alongside two additional original works for duo piano. Still with Deutsche Grammophon, Katia and Marielle Labèque returned in 2020 with Les Enfants Terribles, featuring a custom arrangement of music from the opera by Philip Glass. It was recorded in Katia's home studio.
© Marcy Donelson /TiVo


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