It isn’t every day that the sphere of an indie rock lifer with an impressive string of records on the venerable (and proudly abrasive) Touch & Go label intersects with the world of a globally renowned pianist on the classical concert hall circuit. So let’s celebrate that convergence while we can.
Shannon Wright has been releasing music since 1991, doing so from her Atlanta home base since 1999. She’s one of those artists who for whatever reason has found a warmer reception in Europe than in her home country, and as a result has channeled her recent energy toward the overseas market.
Backstage after a 2014 performance in Switzerland, Wright was feeling weary of touring’s toll and wondering out loud whether the time had come to hang it up. Enter Katia Labeque, who with her sister Marielle comprises an internationally acclaimed piano duo with a discography stretching back to 1969. “She’s a total punk rocker at heart,” Wright gushes about Katia, whose stature is such that Philip Glass wrote a 2015 concerto specifically for the duo.
Katia also happens to be a big Shannon Wright fan. Although the two had never met prior to that night in Switzerland, “she wouldn’t have any of it,” Wright says of her talk of quitting. On the spot, Labeque offered use of her recording studio in the heart of Rome at the end of Wright’s tour, as a respite to help recharge her creative batteries. “It was supposed to be a no-pressure situation,” but Wright admits to being “super-intimidated” by the stately setting and the pair of rare Steinway pianos.
After a couple of days, however, Wright began sketching out the songs that would become her newly released tenth album, Division. Although she’s more frequently associated with a slow-burn brand of guitar tension, Wright has rotated to keyboards regularly throughout her career. Therefore, the relatively austere Division isn’t such a departure. It also opens with a razor-edged title track that was the last song she wrote for the collection, dispelling any notion she’s done with the guitar.
Division also features ethereal electronic touches added during follow-up recording sessions at Wright’s Atlanta home, as well as cello contributed by David Chalmin, Labeque’s longtime boyfriend who produced the album and will accompany Wright as part of her trio for a European tour. She’s plotting a select number of springtime shows in the US, where she tends to perform as half of a duo flanked only by a drummer.
Katia and Marielle Labeque will perform on February 26 at the Schwartz Center as part of the Arts at Emory series. Their Sunday afternoon program will include Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” for two pianos as well as works from Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Shannon Wright will not be in attendance – she’ll be in Europe, performing her own latest works from “Division” and no doubt sending warm thoughts to Labeque for her random act of artistic kindness.