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This Symphony violinist has played in Kansas City for 40 years, but her side gig is global

Susan McSpadden
Violinist Susan Goldenberg and pianist William Goldenberg started formal music training when they were six or seven years old.

Violinist Susan Goldenberg and her brother, pianist William Goldenberg, have played in concert halls and nursing homes around the globe. And she's played for the Kansas City Symphony long enough to know exactly what it needs in a new music director.

Anyone who’s been to a performance of the Kansas City Symphony in the last 40 years might have noticed Susan Goldenberg. She’s the petite violinist with a big sound — and a big smile — who has been playing with the orchestra since the days it was known as the Kansas City Philharmonic.

All that time, Goldenberg has also had a side gig, playing in a duo with her brother William, a pianist, performing everywhere from concert halls and theaters to libraries and nursing homes.

It’s an enterprise that’s taken them all over the world.

“We’ve been to England and Paris, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Eastern Europe, Nova Scotia, Japan, China,” Susan says. “So that’s how we travel. We are very grateful.”

William and Susan Goldenberg at the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, around 1980.
Courtesy of William Goldenberg
William and Susan Goldenberg at the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, around 1980.

For the past 20 years, she says, they’ve tried to go somewhere new.

“We pick areas we haven’t been, and then I try to make contacts,” Susan explains. “I don’t know anyone, but I spend quite a bit of time contacting museums, universities — anyone who has a series, like churches. And I email all around and send our little clips and sure enough, a couple will answer and if we get enough that’ll kind of make it worthwhile, we schedule a two week trip in the summer.”

They’ve been making music together since they were kids growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. The two started formal music training when they were about six or seven, Susan remembers, but their first musical influence was their mother, a pianist and lover of classical and jazz music.

"Baby Billy" William Goldenberg at the piano.
Courtesy of William Goldenberg
"Baby Billy" William Goldenberg at the piano.

Susan was drawn to the violin early on, but William, who is now chair of the piano department at Northern Illinois University, has always felt a connection to the piano.

“Every day I wake up — I’m almost 72 now — and the first time every day when I sit down at the piano and hear the sound coming out of the instrument, even just sitting and improvising to warm up, I love the sound,” William says. “It’s like eating!”

In college — William at Julliard and Susan at Yale — they honed their duo sound and concept through a mutual love of Beethoven’s Sonata for violin and piano No.7 in C minor Op.30 No.2.

They’ve since performed that piece at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C., among other places.

For a brother and sister working together professionally, they’re not inclined toward disagreements and rivalry.

“We get along very well, unlike some siblings I think," William says. "But we don't argue about repertoire. We chose our music according to what we love to play.”

Having played under several music directors and countless guest conductors, Susan has definite ideas about the qualities she’d like to see in the successor to Michael Stern, who departs as the Kansas City Symphony’s music director at the end of next season.

“Someone that listens really well,” she says. “A musical messenger I would say, someone that can kind of engulf everyone. It’s a fine line and once they start conducting, you just get a feel right away. So, a wonderful leader, an enthusiastic dedicated person you know that has a lot of passion. You know, any flavor – just someone that we can all love,” she adds with a laugh.

After all, Susan and William Goldenberg know what it takes to be musical messengers.

Brooke Knoll is the digital audience specialist and afternoon host for Classical KC. You can reach her at brooke@classicalkc.org.
Sam Wisman is a Senior Producer for 91.9 Classical KC and a backup announcer for KCUR 89.3. Email him at samwisman@classicalkc.org.
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