Waltz for 4-hands, 1 piano by Schroeter

Schroeter’s Waltz for 4-hand, 1 piano is reminiscent of the romantic era, a piece that is easily sightreadable and playable after some cosmetic changes. Listen to an extract played and recorded by Anne Ku and Carol Ruiz Gandia in Utrecht, Netherlands. Note: This blog post has been taken down due to protests by the composer.

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Among the 42 piano duets by 30 composers submitted to my Call for Scores project is a delightful, easily accessible (readable, playable, and appreciable) quatre mains duet by Brazilian composer. This Los Angeles-based composer’s style is reminiscent of the romantic era familiar to many members of the piano club in San Francisco.

I noticed how easy it was to play this piece in Maui, San Francisco, Utrecht, and the Hague where I introduced this new work. There are many repeated and modulated sections. The secundo sets a firm pace.

Note @ 21 December 2011:

It is with great reluctance that I have decided to erase the rest of this blog post, remove the sample score and recording. I had spent quite some effort getting the music read, interpreted, and reviewed by enthusiastic pianists in Maui, San Francisco, Utrecht, and the Hague, culminating in a recording made with Carol Ruiz Gandia on my Steinway in Utrecht. However, the overwhelming number of protests, to the tune of 50 unpleasant spam e-mails from the composer, tells me that sometimes feedback and publicity is not appreciated.

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

Piano duet by Robert Pollock

Maui-based composer Robert Pollock’s “A Little Transition Music, Please” is exciting and engaging to play. Listen to the recording and judge for yourself.

One of the reasons for calling composers to submit sheet music for multi-hand piano duets (i.e. my Call for Scores) was that I got tired of the predominance of the existing repertoire for 4-hand one piano music that’s easily available in libraries and in music stores. I was sure there was more music than the quartre mains of the bygone 18th and 19th centuries. Back then, composers readily arranged piano versions of chamber music and even orchestral works. Some began with duets and then orchestrated them.

When I told Maui-based composer and pianist Robert Pollock about my Call for Scores, he immediately gave me his “A Little Transition Music, Please” — quatre mains written for the occasion of 21st November 2010 – MACC presents E&FA. Robert Pollock founded Ebb & Flow Arts after he moved to Maui from New Jersey. Most recently the foundation organised a “Battle of the Pianists” on 16th July 2011 in which my multi-hand duet “Three on One” (6 hands on one piano) was performed.

As I could not participate in the “Battle of the Pianists” because I would be physically on the other side of the world, namely in the Netherlands not Hawaii, I carried his piano duet across the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco to sightread it with Chong Kee Tan and across the Atlantic Ocean to Utrecht, Netherlands where I finally recorded it with Brendan Kinsella on my Steinway on 4th July 2011.

What emerged was a duet we all found to be exciting, engaging, and fun. Click to listen to the recording below.

A Little Transition Music by Robert Pollock, performed by Anne Ku and Brendan Kinsella

The secundo starts with what seems like an ostinato on the left hand, setting the scene, or rather the pace and the anticipation. The primo joins in the second beat of the third bar, like a conversation. In fact, the entire piece is a conversation that gets more and more charged and exciting. The secundo never stays still but keeps the momentum going.

A Little Transition Music, Please - duet for 4 hands, one piano by Robert Pollock
A Little Transition Music, Please - duet for 4 hands, one piano by Robert Pollock

Music that has been performed is obviously more ready to be sightread and played than untested sheet music. Let’s hope works like these find their way into mainstream quatre-mains repertoire.

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