HPM's "Houston Music Highlight" Series features performances that have local connections – whether spotlighting music by Houston composers, commercial recordings by Houston musicians, or performances by local or visiting artists recorded at Houston Public Media.
A Houstonian by way of Poland, violinist Dominika Dancewicz holds degrees from the Music Academy of Kraków and Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. She is also a founding member of the Axiom Quartet.
An alumnus of the University of Houston's Moores School of Music and the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, pianist Donald Doucet is currently Faculty Accompanist/Organist at Houston's St. John's School and Organist at Sugar Land Baptist Church.
Together, they are The Dancewicz-Doucet Duo, performing chamber music from every era, as well as jazz and pop. Since 2014 they have presented a recital series at the University of St. Thomas, and now they are releasing their debut album – officially out January 27, 2018.
Edward Elgar's Violin Sonata is the centerpiece of the self-titled CD, which also includes sonatas by Mozart and Debussy. To celebrate their new album, the duo present a free CD Release Concert, entitled The Story, on January 27 at 7:30pm in UST's Cullen Hall.
Meet The Dancewicz-Doucet Duo and hear tracks from their new album, below:
How did you two meet? Could you tell me briefly how the duo formed and developed?
Donald: I'm on the faculty at St. John's School. Dominika is often hired by the school when a violinist is needed for musical and choir performances. In February of 2013 during a break in rehearsing, I overheard Dominika practicing the Scherzo movement from Beethoven's Op. 59, No. 1 string quartet. That led to my attending that performance by the Axiom Quartet (Dominika is a violinist with Axiom), and I was blown away, and not only by her high level of musicianship. It was obvious from her playing that certain musical concepts were as important to her as they were to me, such as the use of color and a sense of phrasing to create long musical lines with the ability to build phrases over many measures. That led to my suggesting we form a professional partnership, and we haven't stopped since.
Dominika: When he called me, proposing to meet and read a couple of sonatas together, I jumped at the opportunity! It may seem surprising, but it is not easy to find a partner who would be committed to regular, hard-working rehearsals, to planning concerts, and who is willing to bear some expenses related to hall rentals, purchasing music, not to mention recording and CD producing costs. I feel exceptionally lucky every single day.
How would you describe your artistic chemistry?
Donald: Since we were already in agreement on key musical principles before we started, the rehearsal process has always been amazingly easy and cordial while allowing us to do the detailed work necessary to perform music of this caliber. It also helps that for the most part we have the same taste in music. We also think it important to sometimes perform pieces that deal with uncomfortable subjects, so we deal honestly with both life and death, peace and war, love and loss, and so on.
Dominika: Right from the start, we found that there were essentially no disagreements about the musical or artistic concepts in our thinking. I cannot recall any major discussion that would require convincing each other of an idea. We just feel it together. That being said, we are obviously very different people, and as such we learn from each other every time we make music together. I am a very passionate and animated player, Donald is more reserved, but I think we balance each other really well.
Congratulations on this debut CD – how does it feel to have your first CD out there? How long has this album been in the making, and what did you learn in the process?
Donald: Thanks! After all the hard work involved, it will be very satisfying to have that piece of plastic in our hands! The genesis of the album comes from our concerts in June of 2014, where we first paired the Mozart and Debussy. We loved that pairing so much that we decided to feature it on the CD. Recording started on the Elgar Sonata in June of 2016; Mozart and Debussy followed in Spring of 2017. We were very lucky that at that time Wire Road Studios had a magnificent Steinway D available in the main studio, and that Andy Bradley (the engineer extraordinaire) was available to record our efforts. The process took longer than we anticipated. We didn't realize that the presence of many "takes" would present choices we never usually think of when we just rehearse/perform. There were many listening and editing sessions before all was done.
Dominika: Thank you, we are very excited! I definitely learned that recording is a completely different "animal" than performing, much more taxing and self-conscious. In the end I think every performing artist should also record. It makes you listen to yourself in a much more scrutinizing way, which in effect ends up raising your bar to a whole new level. We had a fairly easy time recording, but as Donald has mentioned we produced a whole lot of takes, which then had to be carefully listened to and evaluated. It was a very long process, but what we discovered in the end is that our interpretations (particularly of the Elgar and Debussy) were strong and very unique, and we are definitely very proud of them.
Why did you choose these three pieces?
Donald: Mainly because we love all three, but also because we wanted our first CD to demonstrate a variety of styles.
Dominika: Well, I have to say Donald was the main engine behind The Duo getting to know the Elgar Sonata in the first place, and then he was intensely pushing for us to record it! The diversity of styles, colors, emotional intensity, and composer personalities is quite nice, I think.
Why do you love the Elgar Violin Sonata?
Donald: Elgar is my favorite composer! This is music of intense feelings and grand gestures. Elgar has always been accused of "wearing his heart on his sleeve," but that's what I love so much about him.
Dominika: As a very passionate player, I love the Sonata's sweeping grandeur and drama. It definitely belongs to the Romantic idiom, even though composed in 1918. Elgar wrote it while struggling with his own failing health and the loss of two of his dear friends. The anguish and the drama are definitely there, but it is also full of masculine strength and optimism. Just a powerful piece.
Listen to The Dancewicz-Doucet Duo perform the Elgar Violin Sonata: 3rd movement:
Why do you love the Mozart Sonata, K. 454?
Donald: Oh my, it's Mozart! – one of the greatest composers of all time, easily in the top five. His music is particularly difficult because his writing style is so transparent, there's literally nowhere to hide if you're not on top of your game while performing it. This particular sonata is unique in that it was written for a touring musician named Regina Strinasacchi, and Mozart obviously had high regard for her playing. The sonata he wrote for her treats both instruments as equals, unusual for the time.
Dominika: This was definitely emotionally the most difficult piece for me, because it doesn't carry any obvious "over the top" drama (which I love, perhaps my Slavic nature has something to do with it!). I agree with Donald, it is a very challenging piece to record, but what I enjoy the most about it is the rolling sense of pure vitality and joy. I also enjoy knowing it was written for a female Italian violin virtuoso, which was highly unusual in Mozart's time.
Listen to The Dancewicz-Doucet Duo perform the Mozart Sonata, K.454: 3rd movement:
Why do you love the Debussy Violin Sonata?
Donald: Like Mozart, Debussy's writing style is very transparent, but the possibilities for color are endless. I don't think any of our performances of this piece have been the same.
Dominika: I absolutely love the Debussy Sonata! The multiplicity of colors and possibilities! The whirling energy, the sensuality of gestures and melodies, the unpredictability of harmonies! I actually remember once saying to Donald that one of the phrases we were practicing in the Finale was downright obscene! I still stand by it. And I still love it!
Listen to The Dancewicz-Doucet Duo perform the Debussy Violin Sonata: 1st movement:
What's next for the duo?
Both: We've discussed several possibilities for a follow-up album, but right now we are focusing on our performing obligations, which are increasing, both locally and regionally. Locally we have a number of outreach concerts in the works for schools and hospitals, and we remain committed to our regular concert series at the University of St. Thomas. Outside our Houston engagements we have two performances in the Dallas/Fort Worth area (Open Classical Artist Series) in May, and in September we will be making our debut at the Cave Without a Name in Boerne, Texas. We are also scheduled to perform at the Classical Music Institute Concert Series in San Antonio in March of 2019. More recitals are in the works, and we are hoping the CD will advance our presence on concert stages in Houston and beyond.
What would people be surprised to know about each of you? Any fun facts to share?
Donald: I love organic vegetable gardening. It's wonderful to put seeds in healthy soil and watch it turn into delicious, nutritious food!
Dominika: I'm a vegetarian, so I'm happy to take advantage of Donald's gardening skills! I've also published a poetry book, many years ago back in Poland. I haven't been writing for many years, but I miss it. I discovered that being caught between two languages (Polish and English) it's hard for me to fully commit to writing in either. I love to read! I love to travel, eat well, and discover beauty in the world with my boyfriend who is an indie singer-song writer based in Dallas/Fort Worth.