Life & Culture

We’re in perfect harmony

Israeli husband and wife, Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg, both pianists, have a new album out.


Aimez-vous Brahms? (to echo Françoise Sagan). If, like me, you do, then you will love a startling new album from the Israeli piano duo of Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg. The husband and wife team, now resident in Berlin, have recorded a “new concerto”: Brahms’s Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor, arranged deftly by the composer Richard Dünser for two pianos and string orchestra. Listening to it, you might have some difficulty working out where one piano stops and the other begins, so close and ideal is their blend.

Silver and Garburg are that unusual phenomenon, an internationally renowned piano duo who work exclusively together. What’s more, they have been together for 24 years, are raising their ten-year-old son and spend their days working as one unit.

“The piano is different from all the other instruments,” says Gil Garburg. “A violin, for instance, is a singer; but a piano is a very complicated percussion instrument, yet we still need to make it sing. The way we do that is through lots of changing of balance, which most solo pianists achieve on a subconscious level. But as a duo, you want the result to sound as free and beautiful as a solo pianist, so you have really to find this way together.

“This is a very long and difficult process, much more work than playing alone, and this is what we’re doing most of the day. We almost never practise alone because we want to grow together with this feeling. It’s very rewarding because if you can get there you eventually become like a Hindu god with four hands which do exactly what you want them to do, and it’s really wonderful.”

Garburg and Silver have known one another since their schooldays in Tel Aviv and followed each other first to the same piano teacher and then through university. They eventually moved together to Germany to study in Hanover with the celebrated Israeli professor Arie Vardi, who together with a team of eminent colleagues has made Hanover’s Hochschüle für Musik a magnet for some of the best young pianists in training (others who studied there have included Igor Levit and Beatrice Rana).

“We were both very young,” Silver says, “and we felt that Israel is a small place, we want to see the world, we want to be independent, we need to open our eyes and ears. So we moved there to study, stayed for two years — and then more than two years…” They eventually settled in Berlin, for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and peerless musical life, dividing their time between Germany, Israel and Graz, Austria, where they hold professorships at the University of the Arts.

The new Brahms recording sparkles and gleams at every turn. Unlike Arnold Schoenberg’s orchestral version of this piano quartet, which is somewhat notorious for its excessive colouristic effects, Dünser’s stays close to Brahms’s original concept, but writes it larger. The duo joined forces with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and conductor Florian Krumpöck to record it in the city’s Konzerthaus; the result has been greeted with rave reviews. It’s the latest of several collaborations between the duo and Dünser, and it seems certain it won’t be the last.

The idea, say Silver and Garburg, was not only to create a new concerto for their challenging combination, but to explore Brahms’s intentions even more closely. “Brahms was a great fan of four-hands piano music and for dozens of his pieces he had four-hands versions which he loved, perhaps sometimes even more than the orchestrations,” says Sivan Silver. “It wasn’t just music for amateurs to play at home; it was really a concert version. He was also changing quite a lot — sometimes he’d use a different texture to create a colour. It wasn’t just a question of reducing the music to the piano.” Their next effort is to be one of the biggest available to a piano duo: recording Schubert’s complete music for four hands, a giant collection of under-recognised masterpieces that will run to eight CDs.

Like all musicians, their hectic international activities have been grounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, but in the brief respite in the summer they found themselves on the road in Europe and busy once more. Now that winter has brought a new spike, concerts are cancelled; but with two pianos at home, they are using the opportunity to work on new repertoire and deepen their efforts.

“Making music is the one of the most cosmopolitan and universal things you can do,” says Silver. “We meet people from so many cultures and classical music is part of the language. It’s based on western culture, but I do think that drawing upon many influences is something that’s also Jewish. Jews are living all over the world and come from so many places and so many traditions that they all become ours.”


The Silver Garburg Duo’s recording of Brahms’s Piano Quartet No. 1 arranged by Richard Dünser is out now on the Berlin Classics label

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