The Contiguglia brothers were just 12 years old when Percy Grainger showed up on their doorstep. The Australian expat composer-pianist who had enjoyed a glittering career in the United States was playing a concert in their hometown of Auburn, New York, and was all too happy to share the stage with two talented youngsters.

In Townsville at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music this week to commemorate the 50 thanniversary of Grainger’s death, the twin pianists, now 74, have vivid recollections of that fateful day.

John’s eyes sparkle as he thinks back on the most formative experience of their lives. “He arrived in a very heavy tweed suit, big boots, no hat, no coat, in the wake of this ferocious snowstorm. He was a very handsome man and he seemed much taller than he really was.”

The distinguished guest made himself at home, preparing his own breakfast and addressing the young pianists’ mother as “mama.”

“He spent a whole day listening to us, talking to us, and writing out lists of two-piano pieces he felt we should investigate,” Richard continues. “He treated us as if we were already professional musicians and we were in awe...