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.

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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

Conversations in the Garden: how good music travels

Conversations in the Garden is a new recording of a new 4 hands on 1 piano duet of John Bilotta, played and recorded by Anne Ku (primo) and Carol Ruiz Gandia (secundo) on a Steinway Grand model A in Utrecht, Netherlands. Listen.

Good music travels. In January 2011, I announced a “Call for Scores” from Maui. John Bilotta composed his new piano duet in San Francisco where I met him for the first time in May 2011. Carol Ruiz Gandia and I recorded it in Utrecht, Netherlands in August 2011.

Today, having just returned to Maui, I found that the recording Carol and I did of John Bilotta’s piano duet “Conversations in the Garden” has appeared on his youtube channel below. Forget trying to get a small mp3 version loaded on my website. This is much better. [Note: if you can’t see the video below, click on this link.]

This summer I asked Spanish pianist Carol Ruiz Gandia, who has performed many times in our Monument House Concert Series, to study a few piano duets from my Call for Scores of Multi-hand Duets, specifically to record them on my Steinway Grand (1909 New York Model A).

On a sunny Thursday morning (4th August 2011), Carol played the secundo (bass) and I the primo (treble) part of San Francisco-based composer John Bilotta’s “Conversations in the Garden.” We had chosen the parts a few days earlier and practised them for the purposes of recording. We recorded it on a ZOOM hand-held recorder in my home in Utrecht, Netherlands.

Carol is starting a new house concert series from her home in Tuinwijk part of Utrecht. Tuinwijk translates to “garden village.” We were at Utrecht Conservatory together, and it’s nice to continue our collaboration even after graduation. I will be writing more about her new concert series soon.

Conversations in the Garden by John Bilotta

Anne Ku introduces John Bilotta’s colourful piano duet to other pianists in Maui, San Francisco, and Utrecht, Netherlands.

Few duets out of the 42 I accepted in the Call for Scores for Multi-hand duets received the full mileage from Maui to Utrecht.

John Bilotta’s piano duet “Conversations in the Garden” was sightread in Maui, studied and performed in San Francisco in his presence, and sightread again in 3 places in Utrecht Netherlands. On its return journey to Maui, the duet will be recorded.

The title “Conversations in the Garden” evokes images of spring and the flowers in my garden. I missed it this year in Maui where there’s an everlasting summer. Luckily I am on the special mailing list of my artist friend from high school, Robby Judkins. Now based in Columbus, Georgia, Judkins captured my imagination well below.

"Spring Collection" 12x16 acrylic on canvas by Rob Judkins
"Spring Collection" 12x16 acrylic on canvas by Rob Judkins

In his new quatre-mains work, John Bilotta painted a nice image of the colours of conversations and what we expect in a garden. The duet meanders from an initial 3/4 time to 2/4 to 4/4 to 3/4 just as easily as it moves through different tonalities. Conversations are like that. You start with one subject but easily go off in tangents, returning now and then, sometimes overlapping different strands or themes. You never really stay focussed on one topic but stray off to others.

Well-written and laid out in parts, the 2.5 minute duet sounded better each time we played it, for each time we understood it better. The dynamics and other notational marks are intentionally and clearly indicated. This kind of detail makes performers feel secure that the composer knows what he is doing. To some degree, a work that looks final (i.e. ready to be published or already published) validates itself.

Conversations in the Garden piano duet by John Bilotta - PRIMO
Conversations in the Garden piano duet by John Bilotta - PRIMO

The pedal markings are noted in the secundo part.

Conversations in the Garden piano duet by John Bilotta - secundo
Conversations in the Garden piano duet by John Bilotta - secundo

John Bilotta provided the following programme notes to this wonderful work:

I have been working with the material for Conversations in the Garden for some time trying to find just the right form in which to present its musical ideas. Ultimately, I found that this four-hand arrangement best captured the tone, mood, and play of voices—in particular, the opportunity to space the musical lines vertically allowing the inner voices to be heard. Conversations is built from a simple motif and its transformations in an chromatically rich harmonic structure. It should be played with a quiet and graceful elegance, without excessive show, larger phrases swelling and subsiding in breezes and waves.

Confident that Chong Kee Tan, the organiser of the Piano Soiree in San Francisco in May 2011, would sightread and play this piece with me, I invited John Bilotta to the event. It was a pleasure to perform the duet in front of the composer.

John Bilotta, composer, and Anne Ku in San Francisco, May 2011
John Bilotta, composer, and Anne Ku in San Francisco, May 2011