Goldenburg Duo Celebrates 35th Anniversary

Brother and sister musicians William and Susan Goldenberg will share their love of music in a series of free spring concerts in KC.

Their fans are hooked on the Goldenberg duo’s twice-yearly concerts at venues around Kansas City. “Quirky, heartfelt and endearing,” is how regular Venne-Richard Londré describes the one-hour free performances featuring pianist William Goldenberg, distinguished professor and chair of the piano department at Northern Illinois University, and his sister, violinist Susan Goldenberg, a longtime member of the Kansas City Symphony.

This year, the siblings celebrate their 35th anniversary of performing as the Goldenberg Duo, and a history of concerts that have taken them to countries around the world.

But every fall and spring, the two give a program in Kansas City, appearing at venues such as William Jewell College, UMKC’s Diastole Scholars’ Center, Avila University’s Chapel, area libraries and other accessible spots.

Accessible is a key attribute of the Goldenberg Duo’s performances. The free concerts never last more than an hour, and the program is always varied. A typical set list includes a mix of short works by classical composers such as Beethoven and Brahms; a splash of jazz—William has a fondness for Oscar Petersen—and folk-inspired compositions from Spain, Hungary, China and Japan.

And it’s a treat when the two indulge in Susan Goldenberg’s favorite Klezmer music, brought to the U.S. by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

Gayle Levy, associate professor of French and director of the Honors College at UMKC, has been booking annual performances by the Goldenberg Duo for the Alliance Francais and the University’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, for more than a decade.

“They are really special,” Levy says. “It’s such a warm, intimate way to interact with amazing music, and they are both such talented performers.”

Whether the venue is UMKC’s Grant Hall, where Levy has scheduled the Goldenberg Duo for March 8, or another local spot, the program always includes brief remarks from Susan about the composer’s biography and the distinctive aspects of the piece to be performed.

We learn, for instance, that Ottorino Respighi “introduced Russian color to Italian music,” and that the Spanish composer Enrique Granados died trying to save his wife when they were traveling on a ship sunk by a German U-boat.

Audiences are also treated to demonstrations by Susan of special techniques, like pizzicato, which involves plucking the violin strings with a finger, and the production of the eerie, high-pitched tones called harmonics.

Levy finds such personal touches captivating. “Susan has such a friendly, warm stage presence,” she said. “I feel like we’re sitting around a fire listening to the two of them perform. Their concerts have the quality of a salon.”

In addition to fine musicianship, the two put a lot of effort into choosing works to perform. Susan regularly seeks out scores in UMKC’s music/media library; she also writes transcriptions for violin, including a Manuel de Falla piece written for voice.

A favorite selection is a work called Romance, composed specially for the Goldenberg Duo by Bolivian composer Paul Leslie Guerra, who was impressed when he heard them perform in Paris.

The brother and sister’s collaboration has taken them to capital cities around the world—Beijing, Budapest, Oslo, Vienna, Prague—and of course they work in stops at museums and monuments dedicated to their favorite composers.

But the duo’s love of Edvard Grieg and Antonin Dvorak isn’t exclusive. Works by George Gershwin and Duke Ellington regularly factor into their performance mix, and when the Royals are doing well, audiences have come to expect a rousing finale.

Last October, the two rocked St. James Catholic Church with a Take Me Out to the Ball Game sing-along in the annual “Music on Troost” series, co-sponsored by St. Mark’s Hope and Peace Lutheran Church.

“My favorite thing is that they play with joy,” says Pastor Donna Simon of St. Mark’s. “People have the idea that musicians are dour. Susan and Bill are anything but. People should come.”

Free March concerts by the Goldenberg Duo

Music by Respighi, Albeniz, Chaminade, Beethoven, Granados, Ravel, Brahms.

Tuesday, March 8, 7:30 p.m., UMKC Grant Hall, 5227 Holmes. For more information, 816-235-2900 or www.conservatory.umkc.edu.

Monday, March 14, noon, JCCC-Ruel Joyce Series, Carlsen Center Recital Hall, Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Blvd. Overland Park,  For more information, 913-469-8500 or www.jccc.edu.

Tuesday, March 15, 12:10 pm, University of Saint Mary, Walnut Room, 4100 S. 4th St., Leavenworth. For more information, 800-752-7043 or www.stmary.edu.

Tuesday, March 15, 7 p.m., Kansas City Kansas Public Library, 625 Minnesota Ave., Kansas City, Kan. For more information, 913-551-3280 or www.kckpl.lib.ks.us.

Wednesday, March 16, 2 p.m., Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont, Lawrence, Kan. For more information, 785-843-3833 or www.lawrence.lib.ks.us.

Friday, March 18, 12:10 p.m., Westport Presbyterian Church-Brown Bag Series, 201 Westport Rd. (pending church reopening; alternate location: Immanuel Lutheran, 1700 Westport Rd.) For more information, 816-931-3833 or www.wcakc.org.

Above: The Goldenberg Duo, Susan Goldenberg on violin and William Goldenberg on piano, performed last fall in Forbis Recital Hall at William Jewell College. Photo by Jim Barcus.

Alice Thorson

Alice Thorson is the editor of KC Studio. She has written about the visual arts for numerous publications locally and nationally.

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