Praised by The New York Times for their "beautifully understated playing," pianists Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia regularly collaborate as DUO STEPHANIE & SAAR in performances of both two-piano and four-hand repertoire, spanning the centuries from the Baroque era to the music of our own time.
During the 2015-16 season, the Duo has celebrated the 90th birthday of György Kurtág with a tour program entitled “Hommage à J.S.B.”, featuring the composer’s Játékok alongside selections from Bach’s The Art of the Fugue. Other notable programs include the daring four-hand transcription of Beethoven’s Quartet #9 in C, part of the Duo’s ongoing project to perform and record the complete cycle of the master’s string quartets.
Recent seasons have included the Duo’s performances in New York City, among them The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the cutting-edge (le) poisson rouge, the Cornelia Street Café, the Cervantes Institute, Queens College’s LeFrak Concert Hall and Symphony Space. Throughout the United States, they have also been presented by Chicago’s Dame Myra Hess Memorial and PianoForte Salon concert series, Washington, DC’s Smithsonian American Arts Museum and Friends of Music at Dumbarton Oaks, Maryland’s Gordon Center for Performing Arts, New Jersey’s Kean University and Texas Wesleyan University. In Miami, the Duo has given special concerts for the Murray Dranoff International Two Piano Foundation and appeared with the New World Symphony Percussion Consort. The artists have also been guest soloists with Switzerland’s Musikkreis Horgen and Regensdorf Chamber Orchestra and the Czech Republic’s Pilsen Radio Symphony Orchestra and at the Sarajevo Chamber Music Festival. They take special pride in a recital performed at the residence of the United States Ambassador in Berlin, Germany.
DUO Stephanie & Saar has been heard in live broadcasts on Chicago’s WFMT-FM, New York City’s WNYC and WQXR, Washington, DC’s WETA and Baltimore’s WBJC. On CD, the artists have three albums released on New Focus Recordings: "Bach Crossings," transcriptions for Piano Four Hands by György Kurtág, Franz Xaver Gleichauf and Max Reger, "Beethoven Dialogues," rarely heard transcriptions of three early string quartets for Piano Four Hands by Hugo Ulrich and Robert Wittmann, and, released in the spring of 2017, Bach’s The Art of Fugue.
DUO Stephanie & Saar are the artistic directors of “Makrokosmos Project,” a new music festival in Portland, dedicated to American music and performances by Oregon-based performers and composers. The 2015 inaugural festival featured standing-room performances of George Crumb’s Makrokosmos I & II as well music by Kenji Bunch and David Crumb. Oregon Arts Watch stated, “It was one of 2015's peak Oregon musical moments.” The Duo’s deep commitment to new music, has resulted in premieres of scores by Martin Bejerano, Philippe Bodin, Matt van Brink, Hywel Davies, Jay Anthony Gach, Paul Hefner, Henry Martin, Dana Richardson and Andrew Rudin.
While pursuing graduate studies at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia were inspired by Leon Fleisher to explore the Beethoven string quartets in a duo piano setting. Saar Ahuvia, a native of Israel, studied at the Tel Aviv Academy and Switzerland’s Schaufhausen Conservatory before coming to the United States to pursue a Graduate Performance Diploma with Leon Fleisher at the Peabody Institute. Stephanie Ho, of Taiwanese descent, grew up in Portland, Oregon before earning degrees from Oberlin College and Northwestern University. She received a Graduate Performance Diploma from the Peabody Institute, under the direction of Julian Martin. Stephanie and Saar, who are married to each other, reside in New York City.
Concerto #2 in C for 2 Pianos & Strings, BWV 1061
Concerto for 2 Pianos & Orchestra, H. 292
Concerto #10 in E-flat for 2 Pianos & Orchestra, K. 365
Carnival of the Animals
Concerto for 2 Pianos, Four Hands & Chamber Orchestra
J.S. BACH: THE ART OF FUGUE
New Focus Recordings: FCR181
String Quartet in F, Op. 18, #1
New Focus Recordings: FCR147
Transcriptions for Piano Four Hands by György Kurták, Franz Xaver Gleichauf and Max Reger
New Focus Recordings: FCR124
Messiaen: Amen du désir from Visions de l’Amen
Of course, this being Le Poisson Rouge, the married pair played five works by Bach, with one Frescobaldi piece tossed in, as arranged for four-hand piano by Gyorgy Kurtag. Mr. Kurtag’s arrangements, filtered through his contemporary sensibility, emerge as riveting transformation of the originals. The duo gave beautifully understated performances.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Bach Crossings = Bach Transcriptions for Piano Four Hands by KURTAG, GLEICHAUF, and REGER
In his piano transcriptions of music from the cantatas and organ works of J.S. Bach, Kurtág engages the music with persuasiveness and a controlled sense of voicing that is simply not found among other such arrangements. I like the recording very much–natural piano sound, soft, vibrant, and played with a lot of style. The pieces, mostly chorale preludes, are stunningly rendered and beautifully conceived. I have seldom heard such fine arrangements, hinting at the true Baroque world that is Bach while at the same time peppering the music with a dose of modern sensibility that soothes the soul in a remarkable way. I can’t imagine that anyone, Bach purist or modernist, would object to such persuasive playing.
Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia performed the solo parts in the Concerto for Two Pianos by Bohuslav Martinu. With precise technical and artistic consistency they conveyed the peculiar uniqueness of the music in a masterful way. The characterized the different elements exquisitely, from the compactness of the first movement with its almost constant simultaneity to the individually shaped solo sections in the second movement.
WINTERTHURER LANDBOTE (Switzerland)
Bach Crossings, a first release for DUO Stephanie and Saar on New Focus Recordings, is a crossing of paths, crossing of minds and inspirations. The music of Johann Sebastian Bach is recast and given new light by one of the most creative living composers of our time, György Kurtág, and one who is obsessed by Bach. In addition to being drop dead gorgeous, if totally anachronistic, these performances and arrangements explain what ‘voicing’ is in Bach (i.e., how to hear the voice with the melody among all the other notes), setting off the high radiant in Bach. Here is voicing in practice rather than just in theory: the sound is both modern and grand, strange yet familiar, just the thing for jaded Bachians. At the end the Duo throw in two Kurtág arrangements of Frescobaldi at his most delectable.
THE HUFFINGTON POST
The rapport between Ho and Ahuvia was readily apparent throughout their portion of the program; their music-making placed added value on elegance and subtlety.
THE BALTIMORE SUN
It is clear from the precision and elegant phrasing on this disc [Bach Crossings] that this is a tight partnership between two pianists who developed an implicit understanding of each other’s musicality. The articulation is clear and bright, and the pianists capture the lively spirit of the dance-like sections with character and class, evoking joyful images of tankard-swilling, pot-bellied revellers. The playing is well balanced between the two parts and there is a strong overall sense of musical line, with the lilting interactions and echoes finely balanced.
INTERNATIONAL PIANO MAGAZINE
Duo Stephanie and Saar show versatility in Dranoff Foundation program [headline]
Duo Stephanie and Saar traversed a menu of -jazz-infused works with fine technique and musicality. Still, it’s clear that the husband-and-wife team of Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia are classicists at heart and their strongest performances were in music of Chopin and Beethoven. The piano sound was clear and immediate, the tone rounded and warm.
SOUTH FLORIDA CLASSICAL REVIEW
Saturday brought four absorbing lectures in a row. The third was a recital in disguise: an elegant performance by Stephanie & Saar of contemporary composer Gyötgy Kurtág’s transcriptions of J.S. Bach’s music, indeed their entire recently released CD, Bach Crossings. The duo showed a real feel for this repertory. Lines sang out clearly, and pedaling was always perfectly judged. The performance was visually fascinating as well: Kurtág created them for himself and his wife, and their multiple and extreme hand crossings are obviously designed for a couple who like each other very much.
OREGON ARTS WATCH
Stephanie & Saar’s concert was an example of festival programming that brought innovation, new works and new approaches to the Sarajevo concert scene. This was an opportunity for the audience to be a part of the latest current in new music performance practice, at its world’s highest level. ‘Out of the Box’ materialized here in its ideal edition. Bravo, Stephanie & Saar!
ALL CLASSICAL PORTLAND (OR)
Roger O. Doyle Performance Studio
Beethoven/Ulrich/Wittmann: String Quartet in f, Op. 95
MAKROKOSMOS PROJECT 2
Blue Sky Gallery (Portland, OR)
Glass: Four Movements for Two Pianos
MAKROKOSMOS PROJECT EUGENE (OR)
Oveissi & Co.
Glass: Four Movements for Two Pianos
LEWIS & CLARK COLLEGE DEPARTMENT OF MUSIC (Portland, OR)
Lewis & Clark Orchestra
J.S. Bach: Concerto #2 for Two Pianos
DRANOFF INTERNATIONAL 2 PIANO FOUNDATION
Private Event (Miami, FL)
Glass: 4 Movements for 2 Pianos
AN DIE MUSIK (Baltimore)
J.S. Bach: The Art of Fugue (selections)
CROCKER ART MUSEUM (Sacramento, CA)