Karen and Jeff Savage

Faculty Piano Duo Plays Carnegie Hall

In her senior high school yearbook, when asked about aspirations for the future, Karen Hsiao Savage (clinical assistant professor, music) said, "I want to play in Carnegie Hall!"

Her dream was realized this spring when she and husband Jeffrey Savage (assistant professor, music) performed together, as piano duo 88 Squared, at the celebrated venue's Weill Recital Hall.

The Savages earned the opportunity to appear at Carnegie Hall as winners of the Special Presentation Award at New York's 36th annual competition held by Artists International Presentation.

For their New York debut as a duo, Jeffrey Savage said they selected a repertoire of "pieces we felt really close to . . . We were thinking about putting together a program with a good variety that shows our spectrum and range."

They performed a full program that included pieces for two pianos by Mozart and 20th-century classical composers Sergei Rachmaninov, Frederic Rzewski, and Witold Lutoslawski.

They also premiered pieces by award-winning contemporary composers Heather Schmidt of the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto, and Daniel Ott of the Juilliard School.

Schmidt's composition, "Centaurus A," was commissioned by the Savages with funds provided through a WSU New Faculty Seed Grant.

The Life of a Duo

Meeting for the first time at new graduate student orientation at the Juilliard School in 1994, the Savages immediately became fast friends and later married.

They began seriously playing piano as a duo in 2005 when they joined the WSU faculty and formed 88 Squared.

The Savages, whose offices in Kimbrough Hall each hold two pianos, practice together three to four hours each evening. They agree that two pianos can be challenging.

In perfecting the unison, texture, and timing required for four hands and two sets of keyboards, the Savages take subtle physical cues from one another. When they are playing as a duo, even their breathing is synchronized.

Each had early musical mentors who performed in piano duos with their spouses.

A native of Canada, Karen Hsiao Savage studied with Robin (Lawrence) Wood at the Victoria Conservatory of Music in British Columbia, where a recital hall is named after Wood and his piano partner and wife, Winifred Scott Wood.

As an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, Jeffrey Savage studied with Angela Chang, who continues to perform as a duo pianist with her husband, Alvin Chow.

With such formative role models, the path the Savages have chosen seems natural and has now led them to Carnegie Hall.

More Honors & Awards

In March, the Savages won first place at the National Federation of Music Clubs National Competition for Duo-Pianists, held at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where they also took first prize for performance of an American work. They were invited to perform as guest artists at the national convention in Orlando and will receive concert management for the next two years.

Gerald Berthiaume, director of WSU's School of Music, said, "In winning this award, in addition to performing at Carnegie Hall by invitation this spring, the Savages are having a tremendous year and represent the very best of Washington State University!"

The Savages both hold master's and doctoral degrees from the Juilliard School. As a duo, they were top prizewinners at the 2006 Concours Grieg International Piano Competition in Oslo, Norway, and have performed together with members of the Oslo Philharmonic, at New York's Lincoln Center, at the Rutgers Church Piano Recital Series in New York City, during the Bowdoin Music Festival, and at the Perlman Music Program.

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