Piano Concert Provides a Sunday Respite

BY DALE LEONHART ’19

Pratt Music Hall was filled with musical reverie on Sunday afternoon as pianists Dana Muller and Gary Steigerwalt delighted audiences with a showcase of their talent. The husband-wife team have been playing a four-hand and duo-piano repertoire for over three decades, traveling internationally to perform. Steigerwalt, a Mount Holyoke College professor Emeritus,  and Muller were welcomed to campus by a large audience who was eager to hear their masterful musicality. 

The duo took center stage to warm applause. As the lights dimmed, the pair sat on the piano bench, the first of many synchronized moments of their performance. The audience was first treated with the “Andante con Variazioni, Op. 83a,” composed by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy in 1844. The piece was upbeat yet elegant, with an intensity that carried all the way through to a brilliant finale. 

Next was Maurice Ravel’s “Ma mère l’Oye” (Mother Goose), a delicate and fanciful note. Though the piece started out slowly, taking a more melancholic mood, it quickly became dreamy and playful. The keys, lightly tickled, were reminiscent of youthful exploration and excitement, tracing back to Ravel’s vision of the Mother Goose fairy tale. 

The pair’s impressive moments of physical synchronicity and concentration highlighted the particular instances where either Muller or Steigerwalt took the spotlight individually. 

Steigerwalt and Muller then performed “The Silent Hearth,” a piece composed by David Sanford, a Mount Holyoke professor of music. Sanford thanked the duo, citing himself as “the beneficiary of listening to [Gary] practice,” as the two shared next-door offices. Professor Sanford’s piece was inspired by Steinert Hall, an abandoned subterranean concert venue located in Boston. A photograph of the venue appeared on the cover of the program, a visual that Sanford believes represents “music floating from the past to the present.” “The Silent Hearth” started with a deep reverberance, followed by long, pregnant pauses full of anticipation. The piece had a rumbling quality akin to thunder accented by several lighter notes furiously thrown into the tune. 

After a brief intermission, Alfredo Casella’s “Pagine di Guerra (Pages of War): Films” musicali was played, accompanied by a silent video montage made by Varsha Manoj ’15. The video showed scenes of tragedy and despair, with clips of German artillery rolling through Belgium, charging soldiers, a battleship in the Adriatic Sea military funerals and lines of crosses at a cemetery. The music echoed the muted visuals perfectly, capturing the various warlike moods displayed on screen. 

The fervor with which the pair attacked the finale, Franz Liszt’s “Concert-Fantasie” dazzled audience members. Cadenzas full of fantasy were partnered with wild crescendos to create a dizzying effect. Several people bounced their heads along to the music. Community member John Muelen spoke to the piece’s power. “It was fun, and so impressive,” Muelen said. “The tempo of the piece and the contrast within it shows how talented they are.” 

Described as “a must-see” by Muelen, many members of the Pioneer Valley community, including students of the College, attended. Yujing Ming ’18, a computer science and music double major, said she had been “looking forward to the performance” due to her connection with Steigerwalt, who had been her major advisor during his time at Mount Holyoke. “He inspired me a lot,” said Ming, “He’s so talented, so it is really nice to see him now, as a senior.”

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