Pianists Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax: Sharing their lives at the piano
I am enjoying a cappuccino, that borders perfection, at pianists’ Lucille Chung’s and Alessio Bax’ tasteful, un- cluttered and brand new address on New York’s Upper-Upper West side.Lucille’s organizational skills translate into the modernstreamlined, yet comfortable chic atmosphere, echoing Alessio’s Italian classy design heritage that takes a decisively leading voice when it comes to the kitchen as well as, to my delight, handling the professional grade cappuccino maker.
This generous space that the attractive young couple calls home, when in New York, holds two grand pianos. One in their study that for now doubles as a guestroom, for practicing and teaching; the other one in the living room, for practicing simultaneously or to entertain each other and guests who typically are music lovers or musicians as well.
Playing the piano is what both regard as central to their lives. That’s why they might as well spend time doing it together. Two young, successful musicians in their own right, they share the rest of their time together, between juggling the piano faculty at Dallas’ SMU and their increasingly busy performance and recording schedules. In great demand as soloists, they have found themselves increasingly performing as a duo as well.Not that they necessarily planned it that way. Even though it always seemed like a great idea and it had happened on occasion, their duo performances have only recently gained in volume, taking up about 20 percent of their time, which was previously engaged with their professional solo performances. And, the truth is, they enjoy spending this ‘quality time’ at the piano together.
Playing as a duo creates endless opportunities of preparing and performing wide ranging and well-rehearsed programs and finally offers them variety, by taking the music on the road to different venues they like to travel to, together. How much more romantic could it get?
Lucille describes the psychology of playing together: “It just needs to be at the right time, then we love to say yes, since we are a great team. There is total trust and…we think so much alike, we don’t even have to talk while rehearsing. We just know after a halt, where to come in again and how to communicate what we would like to happen. We think as a unit and that is advantageous for improving one’s security level within the repertoire. We feel free to take risks during performance and still are aware of the safety net, the complete support at the same time.”
And she is a musician with every fiber of her tiny frame that could have just as easily belonged to a dancer. A bundle of focus, she gives every performance the full range of its emotional message. Since her debut performance, aged 10, with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Charles Dutoit, and subsequently touring Asia with the Orchestra, music became the natural habitat for the Canadian born Chung, of Korean origin. At the piano she is herself, with complete ease and natural gestures, whether giving a private lesson or in a grand recital hall.
Her Mozart Disc renders a most vivid account of her intimate pianism full of playful imagination – a perfect match for Mozart.
And then it gets personal: Was it thanks to the music that this couple met? Could they have imagined being married to a non – musician and does it not sometimes become too much of a good thing?
What about if the mood is not that great, you just had a fight and have to perform together on stage? “First of all, we are not very confrontational,” says Alessio with this expression that makes me believe every word he says. “We ultimately look for harmony and that translates into the music as well.” “And we never have gone to sleep without having resolved a problem,” says Lucille. “On stage we perform as one, focused as in a solo performance. I have played concerts when I was sick and the audience would not have picked up on it.” And, with a little bit of a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, “I don’t mean to sound corny, but I do feel that people get drawn into it when we play together, our romantic relation comes through in our playing in a positive, harmonious way.”
It was not that easy at the time to keep up with the slow Internet connection and time constricted plans. “The movie: You’ve Got Mail comes to mind,” says Alessio when thinking back to those times of waiting at the computer. Yet, while the relationship became more and more important to them, it was still limited to friendship, both of them were still invested in other relationships at the time. Alessio came to Florence to perform a recital and they even went out together, with their respective others, for dinner. And then Lucille came to Dallas. Alessio had just broken up with his former girlfriend and Lucille, who had accompanied her boyfriend, a violinist, who was performing with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra…well, to make a long story short: Lucille left her heart in Dallas and Alessio, who was a bit clueless about Lucille’s affection, came back to Florence to have dinner at “Dante,” the same restaurant in which they had begun their friendship.
While still relatively young, the musical couple already has collected remarkable experiences throughout their melodic life, its travels and wide-ranging performances. Alessio draws on some of them in his blog: Alessio Bax…have piano, will travel (http://alessiobax.blogspot.com/)
“If there is something I’ve learnt from these various self-imposed musical “expeditions” of the last few years (two Trans-Siberian tours and three Canadian Prairies tours), this is precisely it. An invaluable lesson of what is REALLY important, in music, or life for that matter, and what at the end of the day our ultimate goal should be in music making. Beauty, simplicity, immediacy is what makes music so universal. I’ve been lucky to experience that feeling in some of the most remote corners of the globe and see first hand the amazing effect that music has on people. No matter how long we work on every single minuscule detail, we should never forget that gut feeling, that visceral emotion that inhabits great music and is able to touch every soul in the exact same way, regardless of geographical, religious or cultural differences.”
The key to their extraordinary partnership may just lay in the distinctiveness of their own individuality. Whether as solo performer or as a duo team, classical performance seldom gets more attractive. Their websites are: http://www.lucillechung.com/ and http://www.alessiobax.com/