Classical pianists Duo Jatekok are ready to rock Rammstein's San Antonio crowd

Not many piano duos have faced such a literal baptism under fire: making a stateside debut opening for a rock band's pyrotechnics-heavy stadium tour.

click to enlarge Rammstein commissioned Duo Jatekok to arrange some of its songs for piano, and the acts have played together in Europe for more than 10 years. - Courtesy Photo / Duo Jatekok
Courtesy Photo / Duo Jatekok
Rammstein commissioned Duo Jatekok to arrange some of its songs for piano, and the acts have played together in Europe for more than 10 years.

Mention the legendary German band Rammstein, and certain things spring to mind: the clang and pounding of metallic industrial music, live shows with scorching pyrotechnics and an almost gleeful attempt to shock and offend.

Classical music, though? Eh, not so much.

So why the hell would Rammstein bring along Duo Jatekok — a pair of classical pianists — to its Saturday, Sept. 17 show at the Alamodome?

As it turns out, Rammstein commissioned Duo Jatekok to arrange some of its songs for piano, and the acts have played together in Europe for more than 10 years. The recordings of the arrangements — an album titled Duo Jatekok Plays Rammstein — dropped earlier this year. Now, the pianists are opening shows on the raucous band's North American tour.

Don't accuse Rammstein of failing to challenge an audience.

"It's our first time playing in the USA," Adélaïde Panaget said from the duo's home base in France. She and her musical partner Naïri Badal spoke to the Current via Zoom prior to the tour.

To be sure, not many piano duos have faced such a literal baptism under fire: making a stateside debut opening for a rock band's pyrotechnics-heavy stadium tour. While Duo Jatekok will appear with Rammstein in Los Angeles and Mexico City, the San Antonio show will be its first U.S. gig.

That said, Duo Jatekok isn't new to stadium shows or to sharing a stage with Rammstein. Indeed, the pianists have performed with the headliner multiple times in Germany.

"It's their [home turf], so they are really supported by their audience," Badal said. "It's family. In the United States they have something to prove and need to make a connection."

Getting familiar

Duo Jatekok's collaboration with the metal act didn't happen overnight. They were introduced via mutual friends and a French producer who worked with Rammstein in the past. Neither of the pianists were metal fans beforehand.

"We had to get familiar with the music of Rammstein, to get inspired, to write for two pianos," Badal said, explaining the effort that went into the arrangements. "We [frequently] chose the ballads. They fit very well on piano."

For her part, Panaget is enthusiastic about the duo's arrangement of "Ausländer," which she praised for its high energy level.

But don't expect Duo Jatekok's San Antonio set to be a career-spanning sampling of Rammstein's greatest hits. The pianists coordinate their setlist with the headliner to avoid repetition, and Rammstein also asked the duo to avoid its newer songs.

"We had to choose the songs we like," Badal said. "And, of course, we had to include their famous songs. But we also had to choose music that fits on piano. It's not easy to transcribe the strength and energy of metal on piano."

Going electric

Duo Jatekok had to overcome other challenges as well. While the album was recorded on acoustic pianos, the pair had to switch to electric instruments for tours. Weather and travel factors necessitated the change.

"It's frustrating for us to do this on an electronic keyboard," Panaget said. "We are really classical musicians, so it's uncommon for us to play these kinds of instruments." However, "in a stadium the sound is really different. It's hard for the sound engineer. With two grand pianos, it would be impossible."

The two musicians said they want to return to the U.S. for a full tour highlighting their classical material. They have also discussed a future collaboration with jazz pianist and master improviser Brad Mehldau.

"We want to make bridges between [different genres]," Badal said.

But, for now, it's all Rammstein. And what should fans primed for distorted riffs, angry vocals and explosions expect from the two classical musicians?

"We are the calm before the tempest," Badal said with a laugh. "The fans get into the music slowly, the show begins and 'poof!' It fits quite well."

$19.50-$144, 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 17, Alamodome, 100 Montana St., (210) 207-3663, alamodome.com.

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