Canyons by Thomas Osborne

Tonight we 4 pianists premiere a new 4 piano work by Thomas Osborne, assistant professor of composition and theory at University of Hawaii Manoa. It will be the highlight of a program of works for 2 and 4 pianos by 6 pianists in celebration of French Independence Day and John Cage’s 100th birthday on Maui.

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We six pianists first met on Sunday 4th March 2012 in Ruth Murata’s Maui Music Conservatory. Ebb & Flow Arts had commissioned a new piece for 4 pianos. As time marched on, we got anxious if we’d get the score in time to study individually and then rehearse as a group.

As with all new music, the approach is to first scan it, assess the difficulty and amount of time required to study it. We’d identify the challenging areas and spend more time studying them than the rest. We’d use a metronome to ensure we keep to a steady beat.

When we got together to rehearse on subsequent Sunday afternoons, we’d notice that the music for 4 pianos was quite different from the single score we were given to study. After studying Milhaud’s Paris, Busby’s Four!, Depue’s 16 Pawns, and two piano works, we learned towards the end of May, that Honolulu-based composer Thomas Osborne’s new work was ready.

When I first looked at “Canyons” I didn’t know what to make of it. The mp3 recording sounded extremely exciting though. I was willing to give it a chance. I became one of the pianists committed to studying it for premiere on 14th July. Robert Pollock, the founder and director of Ebb & Flow Arts, planned for us three pianists to rehearse and the last 3 rehearsals with the composer as the 4th pianist.

“Canyons” plays on the term canons. It uses imitation and terraced dynamics to produce the kind of echo effect you can hear in a canyon. The first pianist to play is Piano 4 — loud. The next pianist — Piano 3 — is slightly less loud. These dynamic levels are to be kept throughout the piece.

Canyons by Thomas Osborne, page 1
Canyons by Thomas Osborne, page 1

Robert Pollock and I discussed this and other works on Kaoi Radio recently.

Here’s the 25 minute audio clip.

Tonight’s concert is FREE — and expected to draw a standing-room only audience. My only regret is that we get to perform each piece just once — tonight.

Piano Synergy! Concert, 14th July 2012 at 7:30 pm at the Maui Music Conservatory, 2nd floor of the very centrally located Queen Ka’ahumanu Shopping Mall in Kahului, on Maui, Hawaii. We begin with a work of John Cage and end with Darius Milhaud’s Paris.

The highlight of the evening will surely be Thomas Osborne’s “Canyons.”

Canyons by Thomas Osborne bars 84 to 87
Canyons by Thomas Osborne bars 84 to 87

House concert for your friends

Many friends have expressed great enthusiasm about coming to our concerts, if we’re ever in their neck of the woods. We will have to go to where our friends are, otherwise they may never see us in concert. Our friends know their cities and neighbourhoods better than we do. Before we can plan a trip to go there, we need to know if a concert can be scheduled. I ask our friends to consider the following decision making points.

Many friends have expressed great enthusiasm about coming to our concerts, if we’re ever in their neck of the woods. The saying, “if Mohammed can’t come to the mountains, …” echoes in my mind. We will have to go to where our friends are, otherwise they may never see us in concert.

In this Internet age, it’s easy to listen to music and watch videos online. But live music cannot be experienced online.

We traveled to Maui in December 2007 to see my mother and my sister who had never seen us in concert. We gave a free concert so they could come with their friends. On the way, we stopped in Houston and gave two house concerts and an hour interview and live performance on Houston Public Radio.

We’re about to do it again.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in Amsterdam, 2004. Photo: Serge van Empelen
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in Amsterdam, 2004. Photo: Serge van Empelen

Just how will this work?

Our friends know their cities and neighbourhoods better than we do. Before we can plan a trip to go there, we need to know if a concert can be scheduled. What are the chances of getting a concert at a particular location in a particular period?

I ask our friends to consider the following decision making points.

Abdicate (get someone else to do it). Do you know a concert producer in your area? Could you sound out if there’s an interest in organising a concert for us, so that you can attend — and invite your friends and family?

Concerts can take place in all sorts of locations. The most obvious is a concert hall with a regular series of concerts. However, these may require longer lead times to arrange. Other possibilities include schools, hospitals, nursing homes, psychiatric clinics, libraries, churches, museums, theatres, art galleries, music stores, hotels, cafes, and restaurants. Again, the easiest is to find the ones where previous concerts have already taken place.

Take control. Do you have a piano in your home or in a place where you can get access to? Would you consider organising a house concert?

If you plan to produce a concert, you probably want to know how you can cover your costs and pay the musicians.

Dutch treat: in the Netherlands, it’s okay to charge people (including your friends and family) to come to a concert that you’ve organised. You want to cover your costs as well as pay the musicians, just as you would caterers and other service providers to make an event happen.

Some hosts prefer to absorb all the costs (as I did in London when I was working full-time and wanted to entertain my friends.)

US gift: in the US, where philanthropy is high, it’s common for a sponsor, such as the concert host, to bear the cost to pay the musicians. It can be a dinner party for his/her friends with live concert. It’s also accepted in the house concert circuit to charge the listeners.

In addition, musicians who have CDs or merchandise can sell them to top up their earnings as well as to promote themselves.

The videos at PianoKey, an organisation founded by the pianist Kimball Gallagher who is giving 88 concerts in the 50 states, describe the hows and whys of salon culture, the so-called house concert. Another pianist, Adam Tendler, had successfully played in all 50 states. He started his tour without having booked all 88 concerts. Surely all these venues with pianos are candidate locations!

So far, we have received invitations of accommodation in the following locations in the USA: Boston, Woodstock (NY), Washington DC, Verno Beach (FL), Houston, Phoenix, Denver, Davis (CA), and Maui. We have received offer of concert opportunities in Connecticut, Houston, and Phoenix.

The deadline is looming. We have to make our travel arrangements soon. Which comes first? The concert or the plane ticket?