Davydov and Fanning return to the stage: Local duo celebrates 40 years performing

ADDISON COUNTY — Trust is perhaps nowhere more tangible than watching musicians perform together. Sure, the musicians trust their fingers to play the right notes and their voices to harmonize in tune, but it’s the trust between the musicians that’s something special. A quick glance, a knowing nod, a lean — these are the almost imperceptible moments when musicians are communicating and trusting that the others understand.
What are they saying? Who knows. Maybe it’s: “slow down, we’re rushing,” or “uh, let’s change this part a bit… follow me!” Whatever it is, it’s trust that everyone is on the same page.
Cellist Dieuwke Davydov and pianist Diana Fanning will celebrate their 40th year performing together with a concert this Sunday, Feb. 26, 4 p.m., at Mead Chapel, and — as you might suspect — they trust each other completely. What you might not know, is that they felt this special connection the very first time they played together back in September 1976.
Davydov, a native of Holland, studied cello at the Amsterdam Conservatory — for those in the know, her teacher was the legendary principal cellist of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Tibor de Machula. She won an international competition and came to New York to study with Leonard Rose at Juilliard.
“She was well on her way to living the intense life of a New York musician,” said Fanning, explaining the former life of her musical partner and friend. “She had recently auditioned for the New York Philharmonic and was among the four finalists, when her husband Sergei, who was teaching Russian Literature at Yale, was invited to teach at Middlebury. She followed her heart to Vermont — luckily for all us!”
Fanning, who graduated from Middlebury College in 1971, studied at the Paris Conservatory and returned to Vermont to teach piano lessons at the college and in the area. Fanning debuted her professional career as a concerto soloist with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra in 1970.
A mutual friend connected Davydov and Fanning and they met for an evening of playing trios with a violinist.
“As we played through pieces by Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert, it became increasingly clear that Dieuwke and I had an unusual musical bond,” said Fanning. “We were communicating with each other through the music as if we had already played together for years.”
That evening they decided to form a duo, and began preparing for their first concert together. In December 1976 the duo debuted at Mead Chapel.
At the time, though they were young, neither Fanning or Davydov were novice performers. With Fanning’s connections in Vermont and in Paris, and Davydov’s connections in Holland, the duo was able to plan concert tours almost immediately. They took their first tour to Europe in 1978.
“Right from the start, we found an unusual sympathy in each other’s approach to music and we felt that we were on the same wavelength musically,” said Fanning.
Fast forward 40 years, seven European tours and countless performances in the state and region, and what do you get? A very loyal following, a life-long friendship and a whole heck-of-a-lot-of trust.
“To play for 40 years in a duo with the same person is extremely rare and special,” said Davydov. “Our musical relationship has deepened into a complete trust of each other’s interpretation; a knowledge of the other’s preference of expression; and an ability to pick up on the minutest change in articulation and musical detail. We never play a passage in the same way twice, and are so in tune with each other that we can react immediately to the slightest changes.”
“We still find new and interesting details in every piece of music we perform, even in pieces that we have been playing for decades,” said Fanning. “Dieuwke plays with exquisite nuance and color and attention to detail, and I am continually inspired by her insight and imagination. We inspire each other to always go deeper into the meaning of the music and we still surprise each other. I feel fortunate to be playing alongside such a lovely artist, listening and responding and collaborating to bring to life some of the most beautiful music in the world. It is a rare privilege.
“I think the love and respect we have for each other shines through the music and colors everything we do as a duo,” added Fanning. “We trust and admire each other, and really listen to each other when we play and then respond to what we hear — just as in a conversation. It is endlessly interesting and meaningful to us. The original spark that we felt playing together for the first time is still there and is the basis for everything that came afterward.”
Coming up this Sunday afternoon, the duo’s 40th anniversary concert will be a little different from the one they first played in ‘76 (which they presented at their 30th anniversary concert.) The one exception: Brahms’ Sonata in E Minor. “It was the first major piece we performed together and was on our very first program,” said Davydov. “We included it for sentimental reasons.”
This year Davydov and Fanning will start with Beethoven’s Sonata in G Minor; followed by one of Chopin’s most beloved piano pieces, the Berceuse; then Hindemith’s Phantasiestück and Saint-Saëns’ Allegro Appassionato. After intermission, Fanning will play two Etudes by Debussy; then Davydov will join in for “Peace on Earth: A Hermit Thrush Singing in Deep Woods” by Randolph composer Kathy Wonson Eddy — a 1973 graduate of Middlebury College and organ student of Fanning’s husband Emory. The concert will end with Brahms’ E Minor Sonata.
The two Addison County residents always begin their tours with a first concert at Mead Chapel. The tour will then take them to Brandon Music on April 1; Saranac, N.Y. on April 9 and Stowe on May 17, before heading out to the Netherlands and France for their eighth European tour.
“We have a wonderful time traveling together,” said Fanning. “Performing concerts together on these trips is the icing on the cake. We feel so fortunate to be able to travel not only to big cities, but often to out-of-the way villages where we have a chance to get to know members of the audience, many of whom are now friends… Sometimes the concert venues are truly stunning; we have played in a medieval castle, in beautiful churches, in historic mansions. It is always wonderful and inspiring to perform in beautiful surroundings. To have the opportunity to play a program numerous times in many different places is very valuable, as our performances continue to evolve and deepen.”
“Our 8th tour in the Netherlands and France with four concerts in my native Holland, two in Paris and one in Burgundy is going to be a blast, as it always has been,” said Davydov. “We love to play for the audiences there, and by now many of our audience members have become friends. Some of the venues change every year, while in other places we have been asked to return for close to 40 years!”
But for all the wonderful parts of traveling, there is one thing that get’s under Davydov’s skin — and that’s traveling with her cello. “It is a nerve-wrecking business to get a seat for it on the plane, without it having a passport number or name,” she explained. “The computers just can’t deal with it.”
So before they hop across the pond, mark your calendars for this Sunday’s free anniversary concert at Middlebury’s Mead Chapel. Come and celebrate the duo’s 40 years of music, friendship and trust.
“Mead Chapel is a very sentimental place for us to play, since that is where we started our collaboration as musicians,” said Davydov. “It was the only concert venue in Middlebury for about the first 20 years that we played together… We love our home audience, which has been so faithful over all these years, and there is no feeling quite so wonderful as playing here for all of our dear friends.”
“Playing for an audience of friends and neighbors is the most wonderful feeling,” echoed Fanning. “It is very special for both of us… Mead Chapel has the most beautiful atmosphere and outstanding acoustics, and I love the piano. We look forward to this concert with all our hearts.”

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