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

Retrograde by Mari-anne Hof: from trombone quartet to quatre mains

Mari-anne Hof arranged her trombone quartet Retrograde for four hands, one piano duet. It was the first piece that was selected for sight reading at the Piano Soiree in San Francisco in May 2011.

As I cycled westbound from central Utrecht in the late afternoon, I passed by the annual Festival de Parade near the train station. It reminded me that exactly this time last year I had gone to see the premiere of a new opera with my composition classmate Mari-anne Hof. I had told her that I could get us both press tickets if she would translate my review into Dutch, hence published in Le Bon Journal: “Ricciotti Ensemble premieres Pinocchio in Love” in English, and De premiere van Pinocchio in love van het Ricciotti Ensemble in Dutch.

Mari-anne Hof created a 4-hand one piano duet out of her trombone quartet entitled Retrograde. She sent me the midi version to ask if it’s not too hard to sight read for the Call for Scores of Multi-hand Piano Duets project. It sounded easy, if played more slowly.

The score is nicely laid out and easy to read. There are rehearsal markings from A to K, which, in addition to the bar numbers in each system, make it easy when rehearsing with the other player. Given the 7 pages, it’s important to discuss which player will do the page turns. In fact, I’d like to request all composers to lay out their scores to enable performers to turn pages easily. Reading a piece is already challenging enough, without having to figure out the page turns.

Retrograde by Mari-anne Hof
Retrograde by Mari-anne Hof

Now compare the midi version below with the recording of my version with Brendan Kinsella.

Retrograde for 4 hands one piano by Mari-anne Hof – midi version

Ours was much slower though we did try to follow the metronome marking of quarter note = 130.

Retrograde for 4 hands one piano by Mari-anne Hof — recording of Anne Ku & Brendan Kinsella, Utrecht 4th July 2011

Retrograde was the first piece I selected for the sightreading workshop I conducted in San Francisco in May 2011. I thought I’d start with the easiest piece, but my judgment was wrong. It wasn’t so easy for the two sightreaders. One fell behind and played with just one hand while the other struggled to keep the rhythm going. I thought they would give up at some point, but they persisted. I can’t say it’s enjoyable to listen to people sightread when we are so used to polished performances of pieces we’ve studied.

What next? I would love to hear what the original trombone quartet sounded like! I should cycle by her house before I leave Holland for Hawaii next month!