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McCabe sisters

Robin, left, and Rachelle McCabe will perform Sunday afternoon at the Lasells Stewart Center on the Oregon State University campus. 

OK, McCabe sisters, now is a chance to air the dirty laundry.

Robin McCabe, blessed with perfect pitch, started playing the piano at an early age en route to a successful career in concerts and teaching.

Younger sister Rachelle wasn't sure at first she wanted to follow her sister: "Growing up," she said, "I was sure I didn't want to do the same thing" as Robin. But Rachelle also has enjoyed a successful career playing and teaching.

So, Robin, you must harbor some resentment about Rachelle following in your path, right? And, Rachelle, were there times when you felt condescended to by your sister?

Well, apparently not: "It's a joy to have a sister who's a fine musician," Robin said in a recent interview with The E. 

And Rachelle, interviewed separately in a vain attempt to give the sisters a chance to dish dirt on each other, echoed the thought: "I'm so looking forward to this," she said. "It's just so great to have her down here."

"This" is a relatively rare duo concert in Corvallis by the McCabe sisters, scheduled for Sunday at 4 p.m. "Here" is the Lasells Stewart Center, 875 SW 26th St. in Corvallis, on the Oregon State University campus. It's the first duo concert by the two in Corvallis for years.

Oh, Robin confesses, there were tense moments in the McCabe household as the young pianists worked on their music: "It got to be a competition about who would get to the best piano first" for practicing.

But, she said, "it was actually quite fun and fun for our parents."

Both McCabe sisters attended the University of Washington and then went on to advanced study at Juilliard in New York City. Robin earned her doctoral degree at Juilliard; Rachelle completed her doctorate at the University of Michigan.

Both have gone on to distinguished careers as performers and teachers, Rachelle at Oregon State University and Robin at the University of Washington.

They also have developed into sharp observers of each other's piano styles: Rachelle said Robin "was more extroverted for sure," especially earlier in their careers, but now she senses a more philosophical tone in her sister's playing. 

Rachelle, Robin said, "always had a very lyrical bent ... that has deepened over time." And more recently, Robin said, Rachelle has become "more astute, more keen" rhythmically. 

And when they perform together, they said, that familiarity with each other can produce moments that are magical: "I can hear what she's going to do at the end of phrases," Robin said.

Their two-piano performance Sunday offers a variety of opportunities for the sisters to show off that intuitive sense.

It opens with what Rachelle called "one of the pillars of the repertoire for two pianos," Johannes Brahms' "Variations on a Theme of Haydn." It's a piece that Rachelle called "gorgeous, just full of ringing bells."

Rounding out the first half is a performance of Leonard Bernstein's "Symphonic Dances from West Side Story," an appropriate choice for the 100th anniversary of Bernstein's birth. "This is like coming home again," Rachelle said — the "West Side Story" album was a favorite in the McCabe household. "It's just the best music ever."

In the second half, the sister will perform "Three Andalusian Dances" by Manuel Infante and will wrap up with what Robin called "a piece of apple pie" — a fantasy on favorite George Gershwin songs.

It's a program that offers a rich variety of textures and moods, Robin said, and that's one of the hallmarks she looks for when building performances.

And it also gives the McCabe sisters another chance to perform together. "We share the same language," Robin said.


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