When Güher and Süher Pekinel Take the Stage, Classical Piano Buffs Savor a Twin Turkish Delight

updated 03/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/16/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Like mirror images, identical twins Süher and Güher Pekinel sit facing each other at their twin pianos, playing the living daylights out of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Their four hands move as if controlled by one mind—phrasing immaculate, shadings miraculously coordinated, their timing seemingly telepathic. Were it not for the verve and sensitivity of their playing, the effect would be that of two identical, synchronized machines. Such precision is the quality that all classical duo pianists strive for and few achieve, and it has made the Pekinels one of the most accomplished teams in recent memory. In fact, there is just one out-of-tune note here. The Turkish-born twins insist—with almost one voice—that the secret of their success lies in frequent and strenuous discord.

Süher: "We disagree often. We fight over timing, coloring, the structure of a piece. It's the secret of our harmony when we perform together. It's like two poles coming together..."

Güher: "...like a sixth sense..."

Süher: "...an electrical impulse that we give to each other."

Hailed throughout Europe for such harmony for nearly a decade (one London critic called them "possibly the most intriguing piano duo before the public"), the Pekinel twins, 34, are only now gaining popular recognition in the U.S. Five weeks ago they brought a full house at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to its feet. "Impeccable," Susan Elliott of the Washington Post wrote of them. And on March 8 the twins are getting their best U.S. exposure yet with their debut at Carnegie Hall.

Unlike some twins, the 5'2", 100-lb. Pekinels abhor the perception that they are carbon copies. Offstage they always wear different clothing, keep separate apartments, one in Munich and one in Zurich, and think of themselves as distinctly different personalities. Süher, who seems the ebullient one, considers herself an introvert. Güher, who appears reserved, calls herself the impulsive one. Yet when the Pekinels feel strongly about something, their synchronism seems extrasensory. "Sometimes I feel I have to phone Süher," says Güher. "And almost always there's something wrong, some reason she wants to talk with me."

"It happens all the time," says Süher. "Last year I was in New York and Güher was in Europe, and I fell downstairs. I called the next day to tell her about it, and she had fallen that same morning."

It has been that way since their earliest years, living in Istanbul. "We almost read each other's mind," Süher says. "When she was sad, I was too, even if we were not together." They began piano lessons at age 5 under the tutelage of their mother, Müeyyet, who had given up a professional musical career when she married Salih Pekinel, a businessman. At 9, the girls made their debut with the Ankara Philharmonic and a year later traveled with their mother to study at the Paris Conservatory.

When they were 18, their music-making came to a clashing halt: They quit playing altogether. "I studied philosophy and Süher studied psychology," says Güher. "We were asking ourselves what we wanted from life, and what we were giving." Luckily, neither was happy away from a keyboard, and within two years they were giving concerts again. Rudolf Serkin invited them to be his pupils at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and although the twins were then intent on working as soloists, Serkin called them a "born duo." After graduating from Curtis, they completed master's degree studies at the Juilliard School in New York City and have been playing together ever since, giving at least 500 duo concerts.

Today, they say, their mutual empathy has just one big drawback: They sometimes expect their dates to read their minds. "It can be dangerous," Süher says, "because you are looking for a relationship that is the same as with your twin. You know what total harmony is, but you need to find a new kind of harmony."

Fluent in five languages, the twins return to Turkey each year for a concert in Istanbul or Ankara and keep their plaudits in perspective with the help of their widowed mother, their "most critical critic." They have put aside thoughts of soloing and now dream of elevating duo-pianism to new levels of communication and feeling. "We can do more through the strength of being twins and at the same time two real individuals," says Güher. Adds Süher: "I develop a new idea, and she knows already what I am doing. We used to try to figure it out. Now we just enjoy the moment."

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