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.

Advertisements

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

In Maui, what next?

A week after Anne Ku arrived in Maui, for the fourth time in her life, she is taking stock and taking it easy. There is much to do.

My fellow blogger Susan introduced the idea of placeholder blog posts to manage her readers’ expectations. Here’s a to-do list for myself and a preview of what is to come.

The last 2.5 months in Holland have been spent on house concerts, duo performances, video and audio recordings, piano sightreading sessions in Utrecht and Den Haag, yoga, hosting & entertaining visitors, dinner invitations, and getting the Monument House rented out so that I can be free of worry in Maui while Robert pursues his graduate diploma with full force and focus in Boston. There is still some outstanding to follow up, such as uploading pianist Nathanael May‘s programme to the Monument House Concert Series website and blogging / uploading of the home recordings of piano duets and piano solos.

On Saturday 13th August 2011, I left the Netherlands by way of a 5-hour layover in Chicago where I met the conductor and composer Kim Diehnelt. We had corresponded briefly via Facebook. I performed her Impromptu for solo piano and liked it. I will write something about my recording of it in an upcoming blog.

Next stop was overnight in San Francisco Airport where I met two composers who had submitted duets to my Call for Scores. I had earlier blogged about Loren Jones’ The Secret Door but had not yet met him in person. I will also write about Phil Freihofner and two other composers whose duets I’ve recorded with Utrecht-based Spanish pianist Carol Ruiz Gandia.

It has been a week since I arrived on Maui. The tropical climate agrees with me: no hayfever, no long sleeves, no jackets or gloves or socks. This Pacific island reminds me of my childhood in Asia. Without the need to prepare and anticipate for uncertain weather, I have more time at my disposal. I am free to go indoors and out without having to consider what to wear. And definitely I prefer papaya, pineapple, mango, and guava to apples and bananas.

I have much to write (blogs, abstracts for upcoming conferences, courses, etc) and read (Julia Cameron’s “The Vein of Gold” and Angela Beeching’s “Beyond Talent,” to name a few). Most importantly, I want to quickly get settled and equipped so that my life can continue as smoothly as before.

I am literally on the other side of the world from where I was a week ago. Whether I turn east or west, Holland is on the other side. So are my friends.

Ladies Night in Utrecht: seafood dinner with rose wine. Photo: Susan Raddatz
Ladies Night in Utrecht, 4 August 2011: seafood dinner with rose wine. Photo: Susan Raddatz

Piano duets of Loren Jones

The three piano duets of San Francisco-based composer Loren Jones are a delight to play although not immediately sight-readable. Nevertheless they are worth studying for a performance.

For my Call for Scores of Multi-hand piano duets, I received three piano duets from Loren Jones, a composer based in San Francisco. Unfortunately we didn’t get to try them at the Piano Soiree cum Sightreading Workshop in San Francisco in May 2011.

“The Man with Four Hands” (2005) was his first piano 4 hands piece, written for his CD “Woodward’s Gardens.”

“The Secret Door” (2007) originally written for someone else but not performed until 2010 by the piano duet ZOFO.

“The Mt Eyhan Gabriel Caves” is Loren Jones’ newest duet, recently premiered by two teenage brothers in The San Francisco Composers Orchestra in June 2011.

When Karyn Sarring and I sightread “The Mt Eyhan Gabriel Caves” in April 2011 on electric pianos at the University of Hawaii Maui College, we thought it would fit well as a good first piece in the second half of a concert to welcome the audience back. We loved the nice colours, kind of jazzy.

We found “Man with 4 Hands” satisfying, steady, and well-written. The small 32nd notes in upwards arpeggiated motion seemed hard at first, kind of like being the first to swim on a cloudy day. Once you dive into the cold water, it acclimatises to your body temperature and you realise it’s not that bad. Perhaps a larger font would make it easier to read. Readability helps playability. In bar 23, we assumed that the sixteenth notes in 6/8 time equaled the sixteenth notes in the previous bars in 4/4 time.

Initially we were intimidated by the 358 bars of “The Secret Door” which spanned 25 pages and lasted over 7 minutes. Nevertheless I was so curious that I had to try it with Brendan Kinsella in my home in Utrecht, Netherlands. It was not exactly sightreading for we had to figure out the pattern of the 16th notes beforehand.

The Secret Door piano duet by Loren Jones
The Secret Door piano duet by Loren Jones

We managed to record the first 50 measures. The rest, we concluded, we had to study to give it the sound it deserved.

Extract from The Secret Door piano duet by Loren Jones, sightread by Brendan Kinsella & Anne Ku

It’s exhilarating to play passages that are pianistically fun. Look at the way the left and right hands follow each other, and the way the primo and secundo dance around each other, as if the sequences are nested within each other. The right hand (RH) follows the left (LH). The primo follows the secundo. This is “Ocean” tempo marked fast with quarter note = 152.

The next section is a waltz “Flying with the birds” — very programmatic — as our curiosity begs the question, “when will we get to the secret door?”

Indeed these three duets lead me to look for an opportunity to study and record them in Maui (where I’m destined next) and meet the composer in San Francisco (before I land in Maui).