Birds of a Feather by Chip Michael

Musicians that don’t live together can still play together. Check out the symphony by Chip Michael.

Birds of a Feather by Chip Michael

How do you get musicians to play a symphony when they don’t live together?

Ask composer Chip Michael.

Piano duets from Hawaii to Holland

Summary of the “Call for Scores: multi-hand piano duets” project from January to September 2011 with links to reviews of selected individual works by living composers.

Call for Scores of Multi-hand Piano Duets

This was an experimental project to get living composers to submit interesting duets for pianists to play and to get feedback from the pianists on readability, playability, and more.

The first round of sightreading took place in Maui: over 3 separate sessions, Karyn Sarring and Anne Ku sightread the 42 duets accepted. This set was short-listed and some sent to Chong Kee Tan, organiser of the mid-May event in San Francisco to get interest. As a result of feedback, it was decided not to have a sightreading competition but a sightreading workshop with piano soiree instead. The event was not publicised to composers because some pianists expressed reservation in sightreading new works in front of them. In spite of this, two Bay Area composers attended.

To get more pianists to play, Anne Ku took the printed PDF sheet music to the Netherlands to interest pianists to try the music with her. The following pianists (by first name only) in chronological order attempted the duets: Tom, Thera, Brendan, Ahti, Huub, Liesbeth, Carol, and Bart. Anne Ku recorded several extracts of sightreading with Texas-based Brendan Kinsella in early July and 3 studied pieces with Utrecht-based Carol Ruiz Gandia in early August 2011.

Chronology from 31st January 2011 onwards:

REVIEWS OF SELECTED DUETS ## = sample score ** = mp3 or video recording

Steinway Grand used in recordings of multi-hand piano duets
Steinway Grand Model A 188 (1909 New York) at the Monument House, Utrecht, Netherlands used in recording of multi-hand piano duets

Constant, perpetual, everlasting piano duet by Chip Michael

Chip Michael’s piano duet Amaranthinesque starts softly with a persistence that causes the listener to anticipate eagerly for more.

The 21-page piano duet “Amaranthinesque” begins with the primo repeating 90 high E’s (i.e. 7 bars of a set of 4 triplets of the single high E note in the right hand) before descending to the first rehearsal mark shown below. The left hand also begins pianissimo but in a single minor third and gradually breaks into a two-voice melody taken over by the secundo in bar 10.

Amaranthinesque piano duet (page 2) by Chip Michael
Amaranthinesque piano duet (page 2) by Chip Michael

This opening of repeated notes gives it a constancy and persistence, like something that won’t go away yet preludes something else to come. The composer, Colorado-based Chip Michael, writes, “I rather think that’s what music should be, enjoyable to play – particularly this piece.  Fun, yet challenging.”

I was intrigued by this piece but also realised that the page turns might be problematic without a third person at our disposal. Chip Michael had already specified the need for a page turner in his first e-mail to me. Luckly Brendan Kinsella, who sightread and recorded the duet with me, knew the trick to turning pages and playing at the same time. He gently folded the loose sheets vertically in half. Playing the secundo part allowed him to multi-task as page turner.

Due to the sheer length of this work, we were not able to record it in its entirety for this blog post. Click below to get an idea of this duet.

Amaranthinesque by Chip Michael – extract recorded by Anne Ku and Brendan Kinsella

When I later played the secundo part, it felt like a different piece. I daresay that the part you choose in a duet very much determines the experience you have. I would suggest players switch parts just for the fun of it — and for variety’s sake.

The duet develops with repetitive triplets appearing in different places — an overarching theme of persistence, constancy, and permanence. 155 bars and many voices later, it slows down to a majestic B minor chord.

Amaranthinesque by Chip Michael - the ending
Amaranthinesque by Chip Michael - the ending

Chip Michael also sent several solo piano pieces I’m eager to try out — just as soon as I clear my backlog of duets from my Call for Scores project to review.

Chip Michael’s programme notes:
Amaranthus, collectively known as amaranth, is a cosmopolitan genus of herbs particularly easy to grow and considered a symbol of indigenous culture.  Rich in protein, amaranth is a great source of nutrition avoiding the gluten issues of wheat.  It also grows in a broad variety of climates making it an ideal crop.

However, European interests and American corporate farming has made global harvesting and distribution of amaranth fiscally undesirable.  This piece takes its attitude from the plant, constant, perpetual, everlasting.