It took a lot of coincidence and a lot of miles for concert pianists Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax to cross paths.
At the age of six, the Montreal-born Chung persuaded her non-musical parents to let her take piano lessons, “because I wanted to be cool” and fit in with other girls in her school.
“I didn’t even have a piano at that time, so I never even practised,” Chung recalls by phone from Dallas, Texas, where she teaches contemporary music six times a year.
When she started winning local and national competitions, her parents eventually recognized her talent and bought her a piano.
“By the time I was 10 I had already performed with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.”
By coincidence, in the southeastern Italian city of Bari, Alessio Bax’s parents were scrambling to buy their seven-year-old son a toy for Christmas.
Finding the toy aisles crowded, but the musical instrument aisle empty, they spontaneously bought him a keyboard.
“He just couldn’t keep his hands off of it,” Chung says, “so that’s why they decided to give him lessons.”
Although his first love was organ, the conservatory in Bari required him to study piano for five years before learning to play the organ.
“One thing led to another and so he just kept on going with the piano.”
After graduating from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and New York City’s Julliard School, Chung pursued further studies in Austria and Germany. And Italy.
She still hadn’t met Bax, although they had several mutual friends in Italy. By coincidence, he was living in Texas at the time.
It took a piano competition in Hamamatsu, Japan, in 1997 to bring them together.
By coincidence, the participants were grouped alphabetically surname.
“So we would practise together around the same time, and we would eat at the same time,” Chung says.
After that brief encounter, they kept in touch by email.
“It was like the movie You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks,” she explains.
“We got to write to each other every single day, and saw each other just a year and a half afterwards. It just felt like we knew each other so well, it was just natural to be together.”
It wasn’t until 2003 that the husband and wife duo decided to share a piano bench for the four-handed artistry they will bring to the Yukon Arts Centre this weekend.
It was the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival that played musical match-maker.
“We had never played together until that point, and they devised this program, and so we played for the first time, and it went really well,” Chung says.
“That’s why we started to incorporate this format in our performing careers.”
But aren’t there challenges to rehearsing and performing with one’s life partner?
“I only see positives,” Chung states flatly.
“Because we know each other’s playing so much, we bypass a lot of rehearsal time.”
Knowing each other so well allows them to react well to any circumstance, she adds.
“We’re two pianists sharing one piano, so it makes it even more intimate. I think we feel music as one, and the audience can feel that as well.”
For the couple’s Whitehorse debut, Chung promises a “great, eclectic mix” including pieces by Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Canadian composer Heather Schmidt and Argentinian tango master, Ástor Piazzolla.
“The Schubert is an extremely daunting and longing piece. I think it’s one of the most beautiful pieces he’s ever written.”
From there, they will move to a selection of Brahms waltzes that operate on different emotional levels.
“You have the beer-stomping Germanic waltz, you have the lilting waltz, you have the street waltz, and you have the lullaby. So it’s really a mix of dances.”
The Schmidt composition, transcribed by the composer for piano in four hands especially for Baxand Chung, is “just a dynamo of a piece. People will just stand out of their seats, because it’s so exciting and dynamic.”
While the two pianists often switch places at the keyboard, with the suite of Piazzolla’s “sultryArgentinian tangos,” they get to let their hair down even more.
“We improvise night to night on the basic musical content. It’s quite fun, because we play on each other’s improvisations, and we always like to see where it takes us.”
Bax and Chung’s Whitehorse Concerts performance is on Saturday, March 3, beginning at 8 p.m.