The Dutch brothers are royal favourites and have collaborated with Sir Neville Marriner. Now they’re coming to Australia.

Dutch classical pianists Lucas and Arthur Jussen have been royal favourites for more than a decade – and the brothers are still only 23 and 20 respectively. They first played for the Dutch Royal Family in 2005, aged just 12 and eight, in the presence of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. On Wednesday November 2, they will perform with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House at a concert hosted by Queen Beatrix’s son and successor, His Majesty King Willem-Alexander and Her Majesty Queen Máxima. The one-off concert is hosted by the Dutch Royals to thank the Australian people for their hospitality during a five-day visit at the invitation of the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, Peter Cosgrove.

Brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen. Photo: supplied

It’s the first time the young pianists have been to Australia – “we’re very excited, I must say”, enthuses Lucas – but not their first time they have performed for the Royal couple. “We have been very lucky and honoured to have joined them a couple of years ago on their state visit to Poland. It was kind of the same thing,” says Lucas. “And we’ve played for them in the Netherlands on several occasions like birthdays or [other] celebrations.”

The blue-eyed, floppy blonde-haired duo are now regarded as national treasures in their homeland, and their international career is building nicely. They have performed with all the major Dutch orchestras as well as the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the London Chamber Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. Over the years, they have developed a repertoire of piano music for four hands including the Mozart piano concertos, the Beethoven piano sonatas, and works for one and two pianos by Poulenc, Ravel and Schubert. In 2010, they became the first Dutch artists to sign with prestigious classical label Deutsche Grammophon, for whom they have recorded a Beethoven album, a Schubert album and a disc of French music.

In October 2015, they released an album called Mozart Double Piano Concertos recorded with Sir Neville Marriner (his final CD before his death earlier this month) and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields – which was named by Gramophone UK in a recent list of the 50 greatest Mozart recordings. In Sydney, they will play Mozart’s Concerto No 10 in E Flat, K365 for two pianos and orchestra, as well as pieces for one piano by Adolfo Berio (grandfather of Luciano) and Igor Roma.

Asked about their choice of repertoire for Sydney, Lucas says: “In the classical music world, 23 and 20 years old is still quite young, but if there’s one piece that we really feel comfortable with, despite our young age, it must be this Mozart concerto. Of course, when we play somewhere abroad for the first time we really want to make a good impression, we want to do our best and we feel that piece is really suited for the occasion.”

“We thought the Mozart is a real known piece in the duo repertoire [and] it’s quite serious. [The concert] is also kind of a party for the people, so I think it has to be fun as well, so we will also play two pieces that are actually really fun,” adds Lucas. “The concert is, after all, a present from the Dutch Royal House to the Australian people or the Australian government, so the Mozart it’s very beautiful and it’s a wonderful piece. But we always like to add something small, like a little joke to it. Sometimes in classical music, the atmosphere can be a little bit tense and these two small pieces, they can we hope, break the atmosphere down much easier.”

Lucas and Arthur Jussen. Photo: supplied

The Jussen brothers were born into a musical family. Their father Paul Jussen is a timpani player with the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra in the Netherlands and their mother Christianne van Gelder is a flautist and teacher. “Music was always there and we often joined them when they had rehearsals or when there was a night concert,” says Lucas. “The hall where our father rehearses is very close to our house, so whenever there was a great soloist or a nice conductor we were free to come and listen. So we did many times. So there wasn’t really any escaping from it. And we’re happy about that.”

After winning young musical talent awards and doing well in piano competitions, the brothers studied in Portugal and Brazil in 2005 with master pianist Maria João Píres. Dutch teacher Jan Wijn then took them under his wing. Recently, Lucas studied with Menahem Pressler in the US and Dmitri Bashkirov in Madrid, while Arthur continued with Wijn at the Amsterdam Conservatory. “We still visit him often when we need help, when we need to prepare new pieces, and he’s a huge help, but we’re not anymore connected to an institute, like a real school,” says Lucas.  

Chatting about their career, the pair seem well-grounded and free of airs and graces. Sir Neville Marriner was certainly impressed when he collaborated with them on the Mozart recording. In a video for the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, he said: “You realise that this is not usual, this is not just two good pianists playing together: they sense each other’s most small, individual little bit of interpretation… These boys are so refreshing, musically and personally, of course. They are so likable and so open to any sort of musical suggestions you make… it’s a pleasure.”

In a very positive review of the CD, Gramophone wrote: “The cadenza in K365’s opening movement ends with a chromatic scale over three and a half octaves, split between the two pianos and I swear you can’t hear the join. Those moments where the two pianos toss a motif between each other sound for all the world like a single instrument. And each knows when to fine his tone down to pianissimo to let the other have his moment in the spotlight.” Arthur describes the review as “a big compliment for us. Of course, we always try to reach that goal, but it’s a big honour to have had that [said about us].”

They were both saddened by Sir Neville’s passing. “One and a half weeks before his death, we played with him in the Concertgebouw in the Netherlands and we had a drink afterwards and he was completely OK,” says Arthur. “He was 92 but he was fine. One week after, we heard that Sir Neville had passed away, so it was actually really strange. I mean, you can’t say when somebody is 92 that you don’t expect them to pass away, but one week before, he felt so young so actually it was quite a shock.”

“It was already a huge thing for us that he wanted to record with us that we could work with him that we could learn with him, but now looking back on the fact that it was his last recording and that we have these documents together with him that are going to be here forever, it’s an even bigger thing than it was already,” adds Lucas. “We feel really privileged that we were the last ones to record with him, and the process of the recording was such a joyful process. He’s a wonderful man full of positive energy. He’s not a conductor who wants to make his mark and show everybody how he wants everybody to play and if it doesn’t go that way then it’s no good at all. He gives you a lot of freedom in the way that you want to play and around that he kind of builds the orchestra, and I think he managed very well to merge everything together during that recording. It’s something that me and Arthur that we are really proud of in the end and really happy with. It has a nice spot in our bookshelf.”

Both men aim to have a life outside of music, and enjoy seeing friends and playing sport, particularly tennis, football and weightlifting to keep their bodies in shape. “We do what normal boys our age do,” says Arthur. “I mean music dominates but we do absolutely have a life besides that. [If we didn’t] I don’t think I would enjoy playing the piano much and I think I would be much less good in playing piano. If you live your life as broad as possible, it will inspire you to play music on a higher level.”

Asked if they aim to continue as a duo or would like to see their careers develop as soloists, Lucas says: “The preferable situation would be one where we play both together and separate. That’s actually going quite well especially in the Netherlands. We just had four weeks in which Arthur played a solo concerto, I played a solo concerto, we played a concerto together. And we like this very much. But we also realise in the end we are not the ones that decide where or when we can play. So, of course, we hope that it will keep developing in this way, but it’s also a big chance that it will not, that we may be only be known as a duo or that one will keep playing and the other one will not so much. It’s all possibilities. For now, we’re very lucky, and we hope that it will keep developing in this way.”

The Jussen brothers play with the Sydney Sypmony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House on Nov 2