When pianist Alice Rybak decided that her days on the concert stage were over, it looked like the 25-year run of the piano duo Quattro Mani (Four Hands) had reached an end. Susan Grace, the other "two hands" of the duo, had to make her own decision.
"I wasn't ready to give up," said Grace, who also is the driving force behind the Colorado College Music Festival and artist-in-residence at CC. "I put way too much into this duo..."
A concert with the Austin Symphony was looming in the beginning of May last year, when the duo's management and record label, Bridge Records, suggested a New York-based pianist, Steven Beck, substitute for Rybak.
Grace wasn't sure what to expect. The new arranged "musical marriage," though, was an instant success. "The concert went well," Grace said. "We had a good time together and were able to hang out to together. So I sat on it for several weeks and then I called and said, 'what do you think?'"
Quattro Mani was remade.
Beck, 36, is a Juilliard graduate. He is in great demand in the New York concert scene and comes with a stellar reputation.
"I work very, very hard and I can learn very fast," said Beck, who is from Virginia. "I've played a lot of the standard repertoire by this time and I can digest things very quickly. I run around and play a zillion things and I work all day, every day."
The duo is a new commitment for the busy Beck, but he's excited by it. "There's a lot of two-piano music at the very highest level. A lot of the top composers of recent times have written two-piano pieces: there's a big Stravinsky piece, a Messiaen piece, a Boulez piece, a Stockhausen piece. There's a lot I want to get my hands on, and Sue is game. She's fun, we play well together."
"He's an incredible collaborator, added Grace. "I don't feel that we have to work at it quite so hard. Things are very natural."
Quattro Mani has presented many concerts in Colorado Springs over the last quarter-century. This Thursday will be the first time for local audiences to see what the Grace-and-Beck incarnation can do in an entire evening's concert. They'll perform Mozart as a tuneup for a performance of the composer's brilliant "Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra" at the summer festival in June and add music by Chopin and Saint-Sa?s in the first half of the concert.
The second half goes contemporary with music by summer festival pianist John Novacek and Michael Daugherty's "Lounge Lizards for Two Pianos and Two Percussion."
"It's got a lot of cocktail piano in it," Beck said. "It's a lot about lounge piano."
Intermezzo Series: "Piano and Percussion Extravaganza"
Who: Quattro Mani is Susan Grace and Steven Beck, pianos; John Kinzie, Michael Tetrault, percussion
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Packard Hall, Colorado College, 5 W. Cache La Poudre St.
Tickets: $20; 389-6000, ticketswest.com