Four-handed (keyboard) massage

Pianists Ran Dank and Soyeon Kate Lee at Dayton Art Institute

By CC Hutten

Photo: Pianists Soyeon Kate Lee and Ran Dank will present their first Vanguard Concerts performance as a married couple; photo: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

The Vanguard Concert series at the Dayton Art Institute is the only chamber music series in the United States to have lasted over 50 years.

On Saturday, March 15, at 8 p.m., the Dayton Art Institute is bringing in yet another top-tier act –  piano duo Ran Dank and Soyeon Kate Lee. The recently-married couple will perform pieces from Brahms’ Opus 39 waltzes, as well as Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, The Rite of Spring – scored for four hands on a single keyboard.

“The audience can expect some fireworks,” said George Houk, who has written the concert programs for the Vanguard Concerts since its genesis in 1962. Houk has also authored a book on the history of the Vanguard music series in honor of its 50th anniversary, called “Innocent Impresarios.”

Lee, the first-prize winner of the 2010 Naumburg International Piano Competition, earned her bachelor’s, master’s and artist diploma degrees at the Julliard School, while also wining every award granted to a pianist. According to her official website,, she is frequently hailed by The New York Times and The Washington Post as a rich, lively artist with a stunning performance.

Dank first came to Vanguard Concerts in 2010, after a harsh winter of few musical performances at the Dayton Art Institute, due to inclement weather. He began studying piano when he was seven years old, graduated from Tel Aviv University with a bachelor’s degree and earned his master’s degree from the Julliard School. There, he studied with pianists with “Vanguard credentials” and international fame, such as Emanuel Ax and Joseph Kalichstein.

As a young piano prodigy from Israel with a Young Concert Artists International prize, Dank stole the show with his talent and initiative, and will continue to do so at the Dayton Art Institute for years to come.

Dank and Lee, both in their early 30s, have performed at the Dayton Art Institute a number of times, but this show will be the first with  Vanguard Concerts as a married couple.

The concert opens with Dank and Lee performing Brahms’ Opus 39 waltzes.

“Brahms was a German composer of the second half of the 19th century, whose waltzes are, you might say, ‘easy listening’ compared to the music yet to come in this program,” Houk said.

Following the waltzes, Lee will be playing two compositions by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin: “Nocturn for the left hand,” and “Impromptu in B-flat minor,” as well as the ballet music for Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” transcribed for piano by Guido Agosti. Next, Dank will play four Chopin pieces and close the first portion of the program with Mendelssohn’s well-known “Wedding March.”

“It’s his tribute to Soyeon Kate Lee, who became his wife only a couple of months ago,” Houk said.

After the intermission, the two will play the whole score of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, The Rite of Spring, scored for four hands on one keyboard.

“The real fireworks piece will be The Rite of Spring,” Houk said. “It turned the world upside down, because it was hardly considered music back then.”

Full of dissonance and banging chords, Stravinsky’s piece is famous for being incredibly challenging to play.

“Stravinsky arranged this four-hands version, although the original performance of that ballet, in Paris just one-hundred years ago, featured a full orchestra,” Houk said. “The work was considered so avant-garde, so dissonant, that critics assailed it, the audience shouted curses and started fistfights and it was considered the work of a madman. Now, it’s almost a standard.”

The Vanguard Concerts prides itself in bringing top artists to the Dayton area. Almost every artist featured has won top awards and is sought after to perform all over the world.

“[We’re] looking for vanguard ensembles that are lively and more imaginative because the people who started this are old,” Houk said. “I’d like to see a lot of younger faces.”

When Young Concert Artists – an organization that searches the world to discover rising talents headed for the top – partnered with Vanguard Concerts, the program began approaching local schools like Oakwood and Fairmont High Schools to try to appeal to a younger audience. Young Concert Artists performed mini-concerts and demonstrations at the schools in order to try to raise interest in chamber music.

“[We] want chamber music to be universal,” Houk said.

A typical Vanguard Concert season is put together by series founder Elana Bolling, and usually includes a string quartet, a number of piano soloists, a violin soloist accompanied by a pianist and, often, a large ensemble performance.

“We are preparing for next season as we speak,” Houk said. “Arrangements have to be made with touring artists well enough in advance, to make sure we don’t have a program during other events competing for a very limited audience.”

The Vanguard Concert series presents Ran Dank and Soyeon Kate Lee Saturday, March 15 at 8 p.m. at the Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North. For tickets or more information, please call 937.223.4278 or visit


Reach DCP freelance writer CC Hutten at

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Reach DCP freelance writer CC Hutten at

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