Canyons by Thomas Osborne

Tonight we 4 pianists premiere a new 4 piano work by Thomas Osborne, assistant professor of composition and theory at University of Hawaii Manoa. It will be the highlight of a program of works for 2 and 4 pianos by 6 pianists in celebration of French Independence Day and John Cage’s 100th birthday on Maui.

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We six pianists first met on Sunday 4th March 2012 in Ruth Murata’s Maui Music Conservatory. Ebb & Flow Arts had commissioned a new piece for 4 pianos. As time marched on, we got anxious if we’d get the score in time to study individually and then rehearse as a group.

As with all new music, the approach is to first scan it, assess the difficulty and amount of time required to study it. We’d identify the challenging areas and spend more time studying them than the rest. We’d use a metronome to ensure we keep to a steady beat.

When we got together to rehearse on subsequent Sunday afternoons, we’d notice that the music for 4 pianos was quite different from the single score we were given to study. After studying Milhaud’s Paris, Busby’s Four!, Depue’s 16 Pawns, and two piano works, we learned towards the end of May, that Honolulu-based composer Thomas Osborne’s new work was ready.

When I first looked at “Canyons” I didn’t know what to make of it. The mp3 recording sounded extremely exciting though. I was willing to give it a chance. I became one of the pianists committed to studying it for premiere on 14th July. Robert Pollock, the founder and director of Ebb & Flow Arts, planned for us three pianists to rehearse and the last 3 rehearsals with the composer as the 4th pianist.

“Canyons” plays on the term canons. It uses imitation and terraced dynamics to produce the kind of echo effect you can hear in a canyon. The first pianist to play is Piano 4 — loud. The next pianist — Piano 3 — is slightly less loud. These dynamic levels are to be kept throughout the piece.

Canyons by Thomas Osborne, page 1
Canyons by Thomas Osborne, page 1

Robert Pollock and I discussed this and other works on Kaoi Radio recently.

Here’s the 25 minute audio clip.

Tonight’s concert is FREE — and expected to draw a standing-room only audience. My only regret is that we get to perform each piece just once — tonight.

Piano Synergy! Concert, 14th July 2012 at 7:30 pm at the Maui Music Conservatory, 2nd floor of the very centrally located Queen Ka’ahumanu Shopping Mall in Kahului, on Maui, Hawaii. We begin with a work of John Cage and end with Darius Milhaud’s Paris.

The highlight of the evening will surely be Thomas Osborne’s “Canyons.”

Canyons by Thomas Osborne bars 84 to 87
Canyons by Thomas Osborne bars 84 to 87

Piano synergy: music for many hands on many pianos

As preparation for her next concert of many hands on many pianos on 14th July 2012 in Maui, Anne Ku discovers other interpretations on the Internet.

In preparation for my next concert in mid-July on Maui, I decided to check out performances of the selected works on the Internet. The interpretations are much faster, crisper, and cleaner. It’s really hard to play fast, crisp, and clean —– that is, with many pianists on many different pianos.

Darius Milhaud’s Paris: Suite for 4 pianos spans different arrondissemont of Paris. I try to remember the Paris I know but I only remember Montmartre, L’ile Saint-Louis, and the Eiffel Tower from the 6 movements. I could not find a video clip of this fantastic work against the different scenes of Paris though the 2 on Youtube are sufficiently interesting. This piece is by far the most demanding of our entire 1.5 hour program.

Next, I looked for Gerald Busby’s Four! a statement for 4 pianos. Instead, I found Plucked — 15 hands on one piano. It’s a most remarkable and funny piece. If you have time to watch it, do enjoy the performance art.

Another 4 piano 8 hand piece is Wallace DePue’s 16 Pawns. It’s a short and fast one page work. No videos on the Internet. No background description. Perhaps we can get our own recording at the concert.

We will be playing two multi-hand pieces by Robert Pollock, founder and artistic director of Ebb & Flow Arts, the non-profit organization that is putting together this concert of Sunday 14th July 2012. The titles reveal just how many pianists and pianos. Five for Four. Three for Six. Answer: Five pianists on 4 pianos. Three pianos for Six hands.

I finally get to play a work of Morton Feldman, a composer I have heard much about but never studied. His “Piece for 4 Pianos” is interesting in that all pianists have the same score. It’s up to each pianist to decide when to play each note. Everything is soft. The result? a kind of rippling, echoey effect. Watch the meditative result below.

John Cage’s “Music for Piano” is another aleatory piece (one which the composer instructs the performer to decide on duration or other aspects of the composition). We each chose two consecutive pages from the album. It’s prepared piano at its best, though it would take about 30 minutes to prepare. We each have a bag of black rubber and white felt objects to insert between the strings of the piano for those notes we need to mute. The result? Texture that we’d otherwise not hear. Again, we decide when and how long to play each note. Last time we had agreed on the piece to last 7 minutes, but some of us were too fast and others too slow. It does take some practice to get 4 pianists to end at the same time.

Below is one interpretation of John Cage’s “Music for Piano”

Sadly there is not enough music for many pianos. Ebb & Flow Arts commissioned composer Thomas Osborne to write one for us. The mp3 version of his “Canyons” for four pianos is very powerful. I will try playing it today.

Luckily there is plenty of fun pieces for two pianos and even two pianists on one piano. As 14th July is Bastille Day, we decided to choose works of French composers. Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite; Faure’s Dolly Suite; and Debussy’s Petite Suite.

I am so glad to be able to participate this time. Last year my multi-hands on one piano work “Three on One” was performed in the Battle of the Pianists concert in Maui while I was in Utrecht. Ironically, rehearsing these multi-hand, multi-piano works with other pianists just makes me miss sightreading chamber music with string and wind players even more!

Free concert – no reservation required. Get there early — last year was standing room only!

PIANO SYNERGY FREE CONCERT

Sunday 14 July 2012

7:30 pm

Maui Music Conservatory
Queen Ka’ahumanu Mall (upstairs) 
Kahului, Maui, Hawaii

Pianists (alphabetical order): Lotus Dancer, Anne Ku, Peiling Lin, Ruth Murata, Robert Pollock, Beatrice Scorby

Ebb and Flow Arts North South East West Festival of New Music
Ebb and Flow Arts North South East West Festival of New Music