Last autumn I asked Dutch composer Henk Alkema if he had any piano duets I could use for a sightreading master class before our duo concert in San Francisco in November 2010. He e-mailed me 7 duets, which he had written for his students in conducting class.
[I had taken his arrangement and conducting classes at Utrecht Conservatory several years back. We’d start with a duet and then split or allocate the lines to different instruments for conducting.]
My first impression was that the duets looked too easy. Most, save one, were written for 2 pianos. There was just one Steinway Grand at the loft apartment in San Francisco. But we never got around to trying his duet for 4-hands one piano.
During the 6 months I lived in Maui, I sightread some 42 new duets from my Call for Scores with Chicago-born Maui-based Karyn Sarring on electric keyboards at Maui College. To my surprise, Henk’s Piano Duet number 2 was a gem of a piece. While it looked too easy to attempt, the music in 5/4 time seemed to echo a familiarity that was refreshing. Sad yet soothing. Addictive.
On my return trip to the Netherlands, I introduced this duet to Chong Kee Tan, the founder and developer of the concert reservation and management system High Note Live. Once was not enough. We decided to practise it a few times to play at the Piano Soiree & Sightreading Workshop which Chong Kee had organised to lure me back to San Francisco.
With proper recording facilities here at the Monument House, I sightread the duet with Brendan Kinsella who had given a spectacular concert to standing ovations only days before — on the same Steinway Grand. Click below to hear the audio recording (mp3).
That same Friday 8th July, I introduced this duet to pianist Huub de Leeuw, who reacted in the same manner as others. “Let’s play it again.”
A few days ago, I finally tried the remaining 6 piano duets of Henk Alkema with pianist Liesbeth Spits on two pianos. They are all lovely. Some are playful and quirky like Poulenc. We agreed that we had to play them again. This Sunday we will sightread these duets together with others in my Call for Scores multi-hand duet collection with Huub and my friend Ahti from Helsinki.
Good duets are meant to be played and shared. A good piece of music travels like a virus.