Four hands, two pianos, 176 keys, 20 fingers: on the evening of Thursday, February 17, the music department at Tufts put the spotlight on two of its most gifted pianists. “Doubles: Thomas Stumpf and Edith Auner, piano” showcased spectacular feats of musical skill, precision and artistry.
Watching two pianists perform simultaneously is a sight to behold. There is a certain thrill in this delicate and synchronized musicality. Both pianists must be locked in the room along with their duet partner. A faulty tempo, dynamic or style can derail the whole performance: it’s the musical equivalent of a pair of trapeze artists navigating through the air. Every aspect of every song requires precision, right down to the page turns of the score. Fortunately, Stumpf and Auner are exceptional performers who have a keen ear and brilliant coordination while playing a stimulating repertoire that ranges from canonical standards to contemporary compositions.
Both Stumpf and Auner are on staff in the music department at Tufts. Auner, who serves as both Applied Music Coordinator and Outreach Activities Director, also performs as a solo pianist in her music career. Auner received her Master of Music in piano from the New England Conservatory. Stumpf, who is also an alumnus of the New England Conservatory, has many responsibilities at Tufts, including his positions as pianist, co-director of the opera ensemble, and choir accompanist.
The concert began with the “Sonata in D major, KV 448” by WA Mozart (1756-1791). Testimony of the ability of pianists to meet a challenge, each movement displays a great variation in style and tempo. Each of these changes highlighted the great coordination between the duo as they brought to life a challenging classical piano repertoire.
Stumpf, who has received worldwide acclaim for his talent on the piano, is also a composer. The evening’s performance saw the world premiere of his play ‘A Seventh Dream’ (2020). According to the concert notes, his piece is dedicated to the commemoration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday. With a more contemporary style and influence, this work presents new challenges to the skill of playing a double piece. Stumpf described the rhythm of the piece as “fatalistic”, which is evident in the performance. Each note has a certain weight that suggests a sense of inevitability. The duo aspect reinforces this idea, as both players continue to lean into the ebbs and flows of the room.
Stumpf’s work wasn’t the only world premiere of the evening. Music teacher John McDonald wrote for the pair of pianists. His new work, “Barely; Fully op. 662″ (2020-2021), has a refreshing sense of experimentation. With four hands available for composition use, McDonald’s chooses to start with just one. The piece then allows the other three hands to be integrated along the way. It is an exploration of the possibilities of a duplicate piece. Never feeling unwarranted, the play allows Auner and Stumpf to display their skillful timing by placing invested interest in each individual hand. Each of the four hands vacillates between soloing and joining with the others. McDonald’s work gains its beauty through its themes of solitary fragility and united strength, as told through the hands of its players.
To close the sound show of the evening, Auner and Stumpf had the opportunity to demonstrate their skills on another famous piece from the romantic period. The duo’s performance culminated with “Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56b” (1833-1897). Overall, the pair played side by side with breathtaking technical precision and artistry.
It should be noted that this concert was scheduled to take place on March 29, 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has been postponed indefinitely – until now. This strong showing, from both Auner and Stumpf and the music department, is a testament to the resilience of the Tufts music scene. His return is warmly welcomed, and if this gig was any indication, there are still great things to come from the Music Department.