Wineke: Naughton sisters shine at MSO

Naughton Sisters

MADISON, Wis. — There’s a real temptation to describe Christina and Michelle Naughton — professional pianists who grew up in Madison and received their musical start playing with our youth concerts — as local kids doing well for themselves.

That is, of course, true. But the local angle can detract from the deserved fame the two have earned since they began their professional careers as piano duos in 2010.

We will come back to that. First,  the two dazzled the Madison Symphony Orchestra audiences over the weekend as they sat opposite one another on concert grand pianos and played Max Bruch’s “Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra.”

It’s not easy. Pianos tend to be solo instruments and playing them in such a way as to make them seem one takes more musical skill than most pianists can muster.

The sisters, identical twins who were first instructed in piano at age four by their mother, handed off lead parts to one another with abandon, blended in with the efforts of conductor John DeMain and the MSO, and, overall, seemed to be having a marvelous time.

This was the third concert of the orchestra’s 2022-23 season, and my guess is that, when the season ends, I will consider this the best overall offering of the year.

It began with “Danzon No. 2,” a lively piece by Mexican composer Arturo Marquez and ended with Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” symphony. The pieces were quite different but shared a rhythmic joy that seemed pretty toe-tapping for a symphony.

Despite what I just said about “joy,” Tchaikovsky’s symphony, performed for the first time just nine days before he died – possibly of suicide – is basically a tribute to immense sorrow. It ends not with a bang but a whisper.

But, the music is thrilling and will capture your attention from the first note to the last.

Now, back to the Naughton sisters. They played their first adult Madison concert here in 2012 and returned in 2016. They each earned undergraduate degrees from the Curtis Institute and master’s degrees from Julliard.

They have been featured with orchestras in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, Atlanta, St. Louis, the Royal Scottish Philharmonic, and the Netherlands Philharmonic – really quite a few major orchestras around the world.

But, they did grow up here and we’re glad to see them back home.