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Check Out Eva Schaumkell and Vijay Venkatesh’s Story of Vieness Piano Duo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vieness Piano Duo.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
We both grew up playing solo piano and chamber music a lot, even though our journeys started on opposite ends of the world – Eva in Germany and Vijay in California. We finally met during our studies at USC pursuing piano performance degrees. We had been dating for a year before starting to play together professionally, and in that time we had been sight-reading duet music together. We realized how fulfilling it was to play together and we decided to make our first recordings of two-piano music. It was a big hit with presenters and attracted attention for engagements and so we decided to expand our repertoire and establish a media and website presence. We realized a piano duo is a great musical niche to tap into, with extraordinary repertoire to perform, and we tripled the number of concerts we were booking. Practice is definitely important for a musician, but besides locking oneself in a practice room, we think channeling life experiences into a piece of music is paramount to releasing its character. Working hard is important, but in addition, it is relishing the moments of life that touched our hearts and the ability to compound them into art that changes others’ lives, just as much as it has changed ours.

A piano duo is unlike any other combination of chamber music and requires heightened degrees of empathy, being able to sense the music together as a unit, amplifying each other’s strength rather than competing or getting in each other’s way. This takes a lot of practice of course, but it definitely helps to know the other person well. We can’t imagine playing piano duets at a high level with a stranger or someone we didn’t get along with on a personal level. Piano duets are unique in that both performers share a single instrument, but besides the physical proximity in 4-hands/1-piano settings, the nature of the piano, with hammers hitting the strings and creating immediate sound, means that you have to be absolutely in synch at all times. Any slight variation is immediately noticeable; there’s no hiding or stretching like you would be able to do with combinations of different instruments. It has been the interaction with audiences after concerts we played that made us realize music was something we were meant to do. It gave us a unique opportunity to move people and to contribute something meaningful. We realized in our teenage years how much a performance has the potential to deeply impact someone. We seek to program pieces that really move us. Works that tell a story are often very engaging for listeners and are fulfilling for us to perform. Schubert’s Fantasy in F Minor is a work that is very dear to us for its undeniable beauty and the journey in which it takes us through its many stages and emotions. Brahms’s Hungarian dances are gorgeous miniatures and reveal an extraordinary amount of expression, from desolation to exuberance.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
As for most artists, 2020 was probably the most challenging year we have faced as performers. The entire concert season was scrapped practically from one day to the next. But this difficult year has also helped us remember why we love what we do and inspired us to find new ways of continuing to pursue our passion. We started teaching online and have now expanded to a full teaching studio, working with students in person in the LA area but also connecting with students from all over the country and the world whom we would have never met under ‘normal’ circumstances. Not getting to perform and connect with live audiences was the hardest part, but we invested time into making new recordings and played several live streams. Now we are excited that live concerts are back and we’ve been performing on the East Coast and in California again since this summer. This Fall, we are excited to go on tour in the Midwest through six states for three weeks!

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
During the tumultuous times that the world is experiencing today, we strive to shine a light in the way we know best: Music. Accomplished soloists in our own right, we’ve discovered our love for collaboration and that the world of piano duo (both 4-hands and 2 piano) is one that lends itself to intimate bonds and new musical heights and possibilities. Most listeners of classical music will probably only get to see and hear the finished product of the musician’s journey, whether from a concert hall or a recording. But the performance is only the tip of the iceberg for us musicians. Behind the curtain are personal successes and struggles, the thoughts and emotions that motivate and inspire us, and of course hours of practice, rehearsals, travels, adventure and more! Music has transformed everything in our lives. It connects us to other forms of art-painting, photography, architecture, etc. They are intertwined and appear in our daily lives if we care to listen and see.

As we search for new performance opportunities, our efforts are aimed at making our audiences experience the music we choose to play just as viscerally as we do. Every day is a mission in which we give all of ourselves to the music in the pursuit of creating something special. Beyond performing, we have a passion for teaching and sharing our skills, insights and musical ideas with our students. We believe that teaching and performing should go hand in hand and are both invaluable parts of a successful music career. It can be incredibly inspiring to delve into a piece with a student and help them discover works that are new to them – which in turn lets us discover pieces we have played our entire lives from new angles. We always strive to help students find their own unique voice and help them develop the skills to express themselves through music.

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
Find the people you admire and reach out to them! It is easy to be intimidated by seasoned experts in your field, but if you share a passion for the work, whether that is music or something else, people often want to help. We would also recommend looking to your peers. The classical music world is a small community and the people who know each other as students are often the ones who want to work together later. Whilst competitions certainly have their place, we think it is important to remember that music thrives through community, through connection with people, and the more you support and collaborate with those around you, the stronger your community and your network will be.

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Image Credits:

Martin Chalifour Mark Harry Westling

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