Katia & Marielle Labèque in Havana

Katia and Marielle Labeque
Granma International

By Mireya Castañeda

KATIA and Marielle Labèque make a perfect duo. Their level of communication, synchronization and energy is continually described, but listening to them is thoroughly convincing.

Thanks to Maestro Leo Brouwer and his 4th Chamber Music Festival, the Labèque sisters offered an exceptional concert in Havana’s Karl Marx Theater, hypnotizing the audience with their passionate performance of just three pieces.

Their perfect symbiosis is evident as they play, but does not overwhelm their individual personalities. Katia is energy and Marielle, when she plays the second piano, supports her sister in everything she does.

Charged with opening the 4th Leo Brouwer Festival, they were obliged to include their innovative interpretation of George Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue," the recording of which won them a Golden Disc and marked the beginning of their extraordinary international success.

The sisters showed their absolute dominion and understanding of Gershwin’s work, and it seemed impossible they could follow up with something more.

Nevertheless, the fantastic duo took on the energy and lyricism of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in a suite by Irwin Kostal, who did the original orchestration, arranged for them at the request of the composer himself.

The arrangement for the musical, based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but set in New York in the 1950’s, included Latin percussion and other sound effects, and during their concert here, the pianists were accompanied by their compatriot, drummer Raphael Seguinier, and Venezuelan Gonzalo Grau (conga, bongos, small percussion instruments).

The Labèque sisters, with remarkable skill, presented an intimate version of West Side Story’s most famous aria, "Maria," with its sweet, romantic melody, making a reality of the phrase "the most beautiful sound in the world." Their performance of "Somewhere" brought to mind the incomparable voice of Barbra Streisand.

The duo’s memorable repertory includes works from all reaches of the musical world, from baroque to contemporary, from the eclectic to the unexpected, since as Katia Labèque would say, "before even playing on the stage, you must be convinced of the music you are going to play, in order to convince the audience," reflecting an outlook shared with Leo Brouwer, who said that the Festival "does not emphasize the known, but rather the new."

The Labèque duo have developed a marvelous career and have been invited to perform with the world’s most prestigious orchestras (Berlin, Della Scala, Vienna), conducted by important figures such as Semyon Bychkov, Sir Colin Davis and Zubin Mehta.

This year, they have performed in Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, Austria, Ireland, Portugal, Britain and Germany, as well as outside of Europe, this past April at the Trancoso Music Festival and the Espaço Tom Jobim.

What a privilege for Cuba that they chose to travel here this month, to offer their unparalleled art. Listening to Katia (1950) and Marielle (1952) born in Bayonne, France, was a consummate pleasure.

It would seem that their native language is music, understood the world over.