Graduate students Yaoyue Huang and Scott Sherman have performed and competed as a piano duo since they arrived at CCM in 2015. Recently their teamwork led them to take third place at the prestigious International Piano Duo Association’s 20th Piano Duo Competition in Tokyo — they were the only duo from the U.S. to advance that far in the competition.
Compromise is the ultimate challenge when working with another musician, Huang says, and the duo’s ability to work well together has contributed greatly to their success. Huang and Sherman met in 2011 during their time as undergraduates at Michigan State University, and their musical connection quickly grew into a closer relationship. The piano-playing couple hadn’t given much thought to forming their own piano duo before coming to CCM, but professors Soyeon Kate Lee and Sandra Rivers encouraged them to channel their abilities and connection into their new specialty.
“Forming a duo with a loved one is a double-edged sword,” Sherman says. “Our rehearsals are always so raw, and at times we can be so brutally honest. It really tests your mental strength. But, if a duo can come out through the intensity and find a natural ebb and flow, it will be a successful partnership in the end.”
The duo traveled to the competition in Tokyo with financial support from the Office of the Dean. The International Piano Duo Association’s performance competition occurs every three years, with a composition competition and a gap year in between. It’s open to pianists of all ages and consists of three rounds. This year, 13 duos were accepted into the finals, and Huang and Sherman were the only duo from the U.S. who advanced that far in the competition. As third prize winners, the duo won 100,000 yen, which is the equivalent of $900.
One requirement of the competition is that the players perform the winning piece from the previous composition competition. This year, that piece was Oliver Kolb’s Three Epigrams for four hands. A video of their performance is on the competition’s YouTube page:
“Pianists are so fortunate to have an almost limitless library of music, and yet so many of us find difficulty incorporating lesser-known works or pieces that require a new way of thought,” Sherman says. “I believe it is a dangerous road to only understand and play one dialect of music.”
Not only did they receive a top prize at the competition in Tokyo, but Huang and Sherman also took second place in the Ohio International Duo Piano Competition with an award of $500. With all of their recent success, it should come as no surprise that Huang and Sherman will compete again in January at the finals of the United States International Duo Piano Competition.
The duo thanks professors Lee and Rivers, “who have been so supportive of our efforts to step out into the music world.” They both study piano with Lee and receive duo coaching from Rivers.
“The piano department here always has great interest in supporting all of its students and creating so many diverse opportunities that truly make a difference down the road,” Huang and Sherman said.
Story by CCM graduate student Alexandra Doyle