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

The Heartbeat Duet by Michael Christopher Churchyard

Michael Christopher Churchyard’s The Heartbeat Duet has parts of different difficulty levels, allowing players with different sightreading and playing levels to play together. Even so — and even with the slow tempo — players need to count well and play in sync.

The previous piano duets I have introduced and reviewed here on Concertblog from the multi-hand duet call for scores were written for pianists with equal sightreading and playing ability. In fact, it is one of the challenges of finding someone else with the same ability level as you to reach that “flow” in playing. Otherwise, as mentioned in the previous blog post, it is frustrating for both players. The more advanced player has to slow down or stop (get interrupted) while the less advanced player struggles to keep up, sometimes with just one hand.

“The Heartbeat Duet” by Michael Christopher Churchyard  is an example of a duet in which one part is more difficult than the other. The primo has to play octaval chords in a rhythmic pattern that is more challenging than the secundo part which is predictability repetitive. Appropriately titled, the work sounds like heart beats.

The Heartbeat Duet for 4 hands 1 piano by Michael Christopher Churchyard
The Heartbeat Duet for 4 hands 1 piano by Michael Christopher Churchyard

Churchyard writes:
Shortly after discovering your contest for multi-hand piano duets, I found myself interested in the possibility of uniting the pianists emotionally through a repetitive, droning, and melodically emotional soundscape. As both players create this sound within an intimate and personal atmosphere with only one another and the audience, there is a level of attachment and kinship formed between the performers. ‘The Heartbeat Duet’ proceeds with this concept; a bass pedal on C, together with repetitive chordal implications continuously sounded at strict intervals which frequently displace the notated meter, is symbolic of a heartbeat throughout the score. The second pianist responds with expressive melodies always developed in close accordance with previously established melodic material.

‘The Heartbeat Duet’ is minimalistic, and appropriate for pianists of moderate technical ability; the score instead focuses on precise melodic and rhythmic performance and expressive interpretation.

Having tried many fast pieces, Brendan Kinsella and I decided to slow down to a heart beat of this duet. The Lento (quarter note = 60) forced us to count carefully. Even so, you can hear that we were not quite together in the beginning. Dynamically it’s marked pianissimo and piano up to bar 14 and mezzo forte thereafter. I would have preferred a crescendo to the end, somewhat like John Carollo’s “Completely Clothed in Sound” for three players.

Listen below for an extract — sightread by Brendan and me on Monday 4th July 2011 – and recorded on the 1909 New York Steinway Grand at the Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands.

The Heartbeat Duet by Michael Christopher Churchyard