Individually, the members of Duo Diorama are expert and greatly respected.
Winston Choi, the pianist, was laureate of the 2003 Honens International Piano Competition and winner of France’s 2002 Concourse International de Piano 20e siècle d’Orléans.
Minghuan Xu, with her violin, is a winner of the Beijing Young Artists Competition and has collaborated with the St. Petersburg String Quartet, Colin Carr, Eugene Drucker, Ilya Kaler and Ani Kavafian.
But together, the married couple push the boundaries of the genre by playing contemporary music that pays tribute to the masters and the foundations they laid.
“The old classics fuelled the art form,” says Choi over the phone from their Holland, Michigan home near where Xu teaches. “It provides context, but the new works are the spirit of today.
“This way, the music is vibrant and fresh while we relate it to the music of the past.”
When Duo Diorama plays at the Yukon Arts Centre March 7, for Whitehorse Concerts, audiences will still hear Chopin, Debussy and Franck, says Choi.
“We have a variety of pieces that are geared toward classical music lovers, but it is so vibrant and just as relevant today.
“We do shows for high schools and we just give them a little context first and it isn’t as elitist without dumbing it down.
“We challenge them to rise up to the music and we find them fully engaged even if their favourite music is rap.”
Choi pauses, and then says rap really isn’t music but, rather, “a form of self expression that is used as a backdrop”.
“Rap music doesn’t offend my ear like someone who is older,” says Choi, pointing out that he and his wife are in their early 30s. “It is part of the culture.”
Although young, Dr. Winston Choi is the head of piano studies at The Music Conservatory of the Chicago College of Performing Arts, Roosevelt University.
Yes, that is a two and a half hour drive from his wife’s school, but they have a home in downtown Chicago, too.
Married for three and a half years, they met at Northwest University in Chicago where they both played.
“So it was music that brought us together,” says Choi, laughing.
Besides the hours of practice, they achieve brilliant cohesion onstage by “understanding each other”.
“We have that advantage of being husband and wife,” says Choi.
“Yet we have different approaches to music, but we can be very honest with each other.
(Yeah, he knows.) He says they know of other couples who don’t play together because they fight.
“We have developed a way of rehearsing … some things don’t need to be said.”
As a bonus, Choi says promoters only need to pay for one hotel room.
If the Yukon Arts Centre audience has members who have not sought out classical music to listen to before, Choi says they will be “delighted” with the program as it will “stretch their ears”.
One piece that was written for him by Mischa Zupko, in 2006, Trigger, is considered avant-garde because of how they physically present it.
“We stamp our feet, shuffle around, drum on the piano and there are some surprises, too,” he says.
When it is pointed out to him that he will be playing the Yukon Arts Centre’s treasured Steinway, he adds, “It is actually a delicate piece.”
With the reputation of being avant-garde, Choi says they earned that reputation for just being different.
“Avant-garde isn’t avant-garde anymore,” he says. “We have an attitude of openness and trying different things.
“One piece is influenced by a Chinese folk tune.”
Duo Diorama will perform at the Yukon Arts Centre Saturday, March 7. Tickets for this Whitehorse Concerts event are available at the Yukon Arts Centre Box Office and Arts Underground.