Review: Saratovsky Brothers at the Venables

by Jan Nelson

In anticipation of Sergei and Nikolai Saratovsky’s piano duo concert in December, I was brought back to my own childhood piano concerts. Under the tutelage of Agnes Sutherland, I spent many years sharing the piano bench with friend and classmate Eryn Moore. Aggie repeatedly stressed how the success of a piano duet was reliant upon an implicit trust between the two performers, and how their unspoken communication and ability to share the joy of making music together was key to a good performance. Nikolai and Sergei have managed to put aside any sibling rivalries and have perfected this combination; a blind trust in the other’s ability to perform, a deep respect of the other’s skills, and a true sense of joy in sharing the stage together.

The Saratovsky brothers, originally hailing from Russia, are masters of their trade. Both display world-class technical skills, a deep sense of expression, a true understanding of the pieces they perform, and a great sense of humour to boot. Sergei, the more vocal and physically expressive of the duo (he definitely lets the audience know when a piece is finished!), guided the audience through a programme featuring some of the best piano duets written. From Mozart to Brahms to Gershwin, their performance tested the limits of the genre and shared with the audience the awesome advantage of having twice as many hands at the keyboard. Sergei enjoys a successful and award-filled career in Canada as a classical performer, having received a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of British Columbia where he studied with Canadian great Jane Coop.

I remember Coop’s performance in Oliver at a SOCS concert in the 1980s, before which she was kind enough to share a meal at my family’s dinner table. We had a few albums of her recordings to which we frequently listened, and as a budding performer myself, I noticed we had one piece of music in common. During her stay, I snuck off to the piano and played the piece in hopes of her noticing my hidden musical brilliance, but I failed to receive the fanfare my 12 or 13 year old brain expected. To be honest, she probably did not even notice my performance as she had a concert of her own to prepare for that evening, but now I was just as happy to have this connection with Sergei even before meeting him. But I digress…

Nikolai is the steady base of the duo, creating an amazing and expressive base for Sergei’s more dramatic performance. As they played, my mind wandered wondering how they managed to divide the tasks of their performance; Sergei dominated the microphone and played the more flowery treble while Nikolai was alloted the role of ‘support’ playing bass. How sibling dynamics must make this simple decision so much more difficult! To our surprise, after the intermission Nikolai appeared alone at the microphone only to apologize for his brother’s mindlessness in forgetting the sheet music for the next piece, offering a jab that only an older brother can. Nikolai then sat down in the treble position and showed us all how fantastic and expressive he could be.

There were some pieces in particular that stood out; their encore of Brahms’ No. 4 for four hands, the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky, the Fantasy in F Minor for Piano Four Hands by Schubert, and the Rhapsody in Blue for four hands was brilliant. But more than the awesome spectacle of witnessing these two world-class performers share their gift with the audience on our humble stage was the honour I felt in watching them perform in Oliver.  Having lived in many places around the world, some more ‘cosmopolitan’ than our small town, I am still in awe at the dedication the South Okanagan Concert Society has shown over many decades bringing some of the world’s most gifted performers to the Venables Auditorium. From the first concerts I experienced as a restless elementary school student, to the unforgettable performers I now have the pleasure of enjoying as a parent myself, we are so lucky to have this dedicated group of volunteers who work tirelessly to bring a little more joy to our small community.

The next SOCS presentation is the Remi Bolduc Jazz Ensemble, performing a tribute to jazz great Dave Brubeck. As an ex-saxophonist myself, I am looking forward to enjoying an evening with one of Canada’s best jazz sax performers on Friday, January 27th at the Frank Venables Theatre. The concert starts at 7:30pm, and tickets are available online ( and at the Venables Theatre box office on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10am to 3pm.