We chose the name “Orfeo Duo” for our first public concert when we were 12 and 9 years old. Orpheus’s lyre had made mountains dance, and we were still swooning from the movie Black Orpheus and its bossa nova score. The concert was at a winery on a lake in upstate New York, surrounded by vines and an immense blue sky, like the Greek islands. We played Handel, Chopin, and Stravinsky. The concert’s hosts had been worried about the Stravinsky: would it be too modern? We assured them playfully that the music was not by Igor Stravinsky but his grandfather, Ivan. Since then, our lives have continued to be inspired by a faith in the power of music to move mountains and an openness to all kinds of music and people.

We are now known for playing from memory and for performances of rare spontaneity and integration. Our mission is to encourage and inspire people of all ages and backgrounds through music-making that expresses the breath of life.

We have appeared throughout the Americas as well as in Europe. In New York City, which we’ve made our home, we’ve performed in venues ranging from the tiny East Village club Tonic to Carnegie Hall. We have performed on respected series such as the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series in Chicago and Trinity Church Concerts on Wall Street, at numerous colleges and universities, and in Italy as guests of Mrs. Bice Horszowski.

music stand

We’ve toured Latin America as Artistic Ambassadors for the United States, performing and giving masterclasses in El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Curacao and the Bahamas.

We have recordings on the VAI Audio, Marquis Classics, Vienna Modern Masters, and Unacorda labels and are featured on Tzadik. For our recording of the Schumann sonatas we used a wonderful 1846 Streicher piano from the Frederick Collection and Vita’s 1765 Carcassi violin with gut strings. We are currently recording the complete Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano on the Fredericks’ 1805-1810 Katholnig piano.

piano keys

Over the years we’ve explored many different musical interests together. Our repertoire ranges from Bach to music by young composers from our neighborhood, including the complete sonatas of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms as well as our own arrangements of songs and arias. Our interpretations are colored by exploration of historical performance practices and kindled by a spirit of improvisation.

Ishmael and Fairy kids
Ishmael Wallace

Our work is all about openness and collaboration. We love to work with a wide variety of wonderful singers and instrumentalists. A major focus of ours is supporting and closely collaborating with composers and encouraging creativity wherever we find it.

In 2003 we began a project called What a Neighborhood! to celebrate the creative spirit in our neighborhood, greater West Harlem, primarily by performing the music of living local composers and encouraging all of our neighbors to try composing. What a Neighborhood! programs are modeled after nineteenth-century concert programs, with a lot of variety, many singers, unexpected arrangements, and a warm, intimate, salon-like atmosphere.

In addition to performing and making recordings, we also love to teach, experiencing it as another form of connection with music and our neighbors on this planet. We bring to our teaching a deep respect for the creative spirit in all people. We love to create experiences in which people can support each other in exploring music. Forms in which these have flowered include workshops on improvisation, composition, chamber music, and Baroque style for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.

We continue to learn from each other in our work together as the Orfeo Duo, but we also find inspiration in working with others.

Vita playing
Vita Wallace

Vita is a member of Anima, ARTEK, the Dryden Ensemble, and Foundling Baroque Orchestra and Women’s Advocacy Project. In these groups Vita plays music of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries on a Baroque violin with replicas of early bows. She won the Felix Salzer Award at the Mannes College of Music, where she studied with Felix Galimir.

Ishmael enjoys collaborating with a wide variety of musicians, especially singers. He is an active vocal coach. He is also a composer of opera, cantatas, and many art songs. His cantata The West Harlem Christ, celebrating West Harlem’s poor in their own words, was commissioned by Continental Harmony and premiered in 2006.

Ishmael, a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and Mannes College, studied piano with Richard Goode and composition with David Loeb, Robert Cuckson, and Steven Stucky.

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