Girl with the Hat Box for 3 hands, 1 piano by Freihofner

San Francisco-based composer Phil Freihofner’s arrangement of his wind quartet into a 3-hand piano work is delightful and fun. Anne Ku introduces this programmatic piece that has been tried by pianists in Maui, San Francisco, and Utrecht, Netherlands.

Advertisements

Subtitle: From quartet to trio to duet

This blog post concludes my review of all shortlisted works from the 42 multi-hand piano duets received from 30 composers in my Call for Scores project. After this, I will write and speak about the insights garnered from trying these duets with pianists from Maui to the Netherlands. “Trying” included first-level sightreading and making a decision about the difficulty, playability, readability, and potential for further study, performance, and recording. Some pieces received a proper performance-level debut. Others were attempted and discarded.

San Francisco-based composer and oboist Phil Freihofner brought his new “Girl with the Hat Box” score to the sightreading workshop and piano soiree in San Francisco in mid-May 2011. It was sightread twice, first by me and 2 others and second by 2 late comers who chose this piece over others in the binder.

In the preface of this 5-movement piece sprawled over 30 pages, he described the work as a “three hands” arrangement of his “Quartet #1 for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon.” I can already think of friends in the Netherlands who would readily request to play the original quartet. It’s a programmatic piece inspired by a Russian silent film Devushka s Korobkol which translates to “The Girl with the Hat Box.” The one page preface tells the story as plotted over the five movements.

Now, three-hand, one piano pieces are not the norm in piano duet music. The most prevalent form is quatre-mains, i.e. 4-hands on one piano. Three hands? The International Petrucci Library lists just a few on its 1 piano, 3-hand page. I think this scarcity of repertoire stems from a desire for pianists to play with both hands. Furthermore, pianists want to play constantly. Pianists are not like orchestral players who are used to counting empty bars.

Freihofner specifies that the work is intended for 3 pianists, each using one hand, at the same piano. It’s also possible to play on more than one piano. But he did not state that 2 pianists could play. I decided to try it with 2 other pianists in San Francisco and later just one pianist in the Netherlands. The effect was very different. I agree with the composer: it should be played by 3 pianists and not 2. Thus this multi-hand duet could be categorized as a trio.

Sadly I did not find an opportunity to record this while in the Netherlands. Hopefully this blog will inspire my peers in Hawaii to make it happen. It can easily be a nice multi-media project to accompany the first 14 minutes of that film from 1926, directed by Boris Barnet or part of some Russian festival. I know of a house concert producer in Virginia who has a captive audience in the Russian community. Having grown up next to Russian neighbours in Okinawa, I can see how this piece would work well in such a thematic event.

I extract a system from each of the five movements in an attempt to give my readers a feel for the piece.

Girl with the Hat Box: 1. Galop by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 1. Galop by Philip Freihofner

The second movement is a pleasant waltz with quarter note = 108. If only 2 pianists were to play, the second one should do the middle and bottom parts which form most of the accompaniment.

Girl with the Hat Box: 2. Waltz by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 2. Waltz by Philip Freihofner

Like the Galop which starts slowly (in a very short intro), the third movement quickens in the main part of the March.

Girl with the Hat Box: 3. March by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 3. March by Philip Freihofner

The fourth movement is a fugue, one of my favourites in piano duet playing. A fugue translates to a chase. Here the main character Natasha (the girl with the hat box) takes the train to Moscow where she meets a poor but handsome student.

Girl with the Hat Box: 4. Fugue by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 4. Fugue by Philip Freihofner

This five movement trio ends slightly more upbeat (quarter note = 126).

Girl with the Hat Box: 5. Coda by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 5. Coda by Philip Freihofner

When I tried this piece for the last time on this 3 month journey from Maui to the Netherlands, one pianist exclaimed, “May I please have this piece?” At first I was reluctant because the well-prepared, printed score was my only hardcopy, and one with my penciled markings. Then I remembered that this Dutch pianist had an established piano teaching practice for some 30 years and she usually never asked for music unless she liked it. This meant she would be enthusiastic in playing it and sharing with her students and other pianists. My reply?  “Here, take it. This would give me an excuse to meet the composer again, on my way back through San Francisco to Hawaii.”

On my return journey, I met with Phil Freihofner for breakfast on my layover in San Francisco Airport. He gave me a new version of the score, this time “dedicated to Anne Ku.” What an honor! I have five copies now. Who will I meet in this part of the world wanting to try this work with me?

For more information about the composer and his various arrangements and compositions, visit Phil Freihofner’s website at http://www.adonax.com.

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

Call for pianists: new multi-hand duets on one piano

A second attempt at getting pianists to sightread and study and perform new piano duets by living composers: 3rd July 2011 in Utrecht, Netherlands.

Several months ago, I posted a “Call for Scores” to composers to submit multi-hand duets that could be sightread on one piano. My blog was picked up by several composition newsletters and websites. Even Google was keen to let the world know about this quest. [Just google “multi-hand duets” and you’ll get the drift.]

Unfortunately, several things happened that prevented a full-scale sightreading competition.

  1. Most of the scores I accepted because they looked interesting to play turned out to be not easily sightreadable.
  2. The pianists that liked to play in a soiree preferred to play pieces they have studied for performance. Few such pianists would like to attend a sightreading event, much less be judged in a sightreading competition.
  3. Listening to work that is being sightread is not as enjoyable as listening to work that has been studied, rehearsed, and perfected for performance.

The sightreading competition of Sunday 15th May 2011 in San Francisco was rebranded as a sightreading workshop and piano soiree. Still, the rumour that some composers may come deterred some pianists to participate. As much as I wanted to broadcast to invite the 30 composers (and they in turn to extend the invitation to their friends, family, and fans), I had to refrain from doing so. In the end, just two composers who lived near the venue came to the event. [Visit the webpage for details about the 15th May piano soiree and feedback.]

Most of the duets did not get played. I still intend to write about those that did.

I carried the heavy binder from Hawaii to Holland, and along with it, the responsibility of getting pianists to look at the new works by living composers and try them.

At the end of June, two American pianists, Nathanael May and Brendan Kinsella, will come to the Netherlands to give concerts from our Monument House in Utrecht. Besides organising the house concerts of 1st July and 2nd July, I am calling pianists to look through my collection and choose pieces to study and perform for 3rd of July.

Details of the Sunday 3rd July 2011 concert is given on High Note Live, a new concert and audience management web application.

Gardens of the famous Dome Church in Utrecht, The Netherlands
Gardens of the famous Dome Church in Utrecht, The Netherlands

Multi-hand piano duets: many hands on one piano

Many hands playing on one piano is not a common phenomenon. On 15th May 2011 in San Francisco, pianists will gather to sight read multi-hand piano duets submitted by composers from a Call for Scores.

What do you do when you have many pianists all eager to play but there is only one piano?

Get them to play multi-hand duets. Most typical is two pianists on one piano, but there are also 3 hands on one piano up to 8 hands on one piano.

The International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) has volumes of sheet music you can download for free. The scores are categorised alphabetically by composer, instrumentation, and genre. The library continues to expand as contributors donate scanned or created copies of sheet music whose copyrights have expired.

In the category of multi-hand piano duet, only one 8-hand one piano duet is available for download at this time.

Bouillet’s Divertissement for 8 hands one piano (PDF) looks fabulously easy and fun.

Where else can you get multi-hand duets?

I don’t know anyone who has been collecting such duets for as long as I have been buying, borrowing, and writing music for many hands on one piano. After seeing how much the pianists of my sightreading workshop last November enjoyed playing new music they have never heard of or seen before, I decided to try a little experiment. I wanted to introduce new music to pianists who are so used to buying or borrowing music that have existed for hundreds of years. Where can you get new music?

From composers who have written music but not disseminated them.

From composers who have not yet written the music.

In short, ask composers to submit music for performers who are eager to play —- hence a CALL FOR SCORES.

On Sunday 15th May 2011 at a piano soiree in San Francisco (SOMA 10th Street), pianists will gather to sight read new duet music by living composers who have responded to the CALL FOR SCORES (deadline 5th April).

Curious about the music? Want to join the fun? Visit the invitation page at High Note Live for details and reservations.

Below: a party where 8 pianists played on two pianos in the Netherlands.

Steinway to Heaven Welcom Fest
Steinway to Heaven Welcom Fest

Call for scores: multi-hand piano duets for sightreading competition

To composers: Call for scores for multi-hand piano duets (many hands on one piano) for a sight-reading competition in San Francisco deadline 5 April 2011.

On Sunday 15th May 2011 at probably the first sightreading competition of its kind, pianists will attempt to read and play multi-hand piano duet music that they have not seen and played before. The location: a loft apartment in San Francisco with a Steinway grand piano.

On Chappell Piano. Photo: Jacqueline Stretton-Chang, London
On Chappell Piano. Photo: Jacqueline Stretton-Chang, London

What is a multi-hand piano duet?

The simplest is two hands. Next is 3 hands. The popular one is 2 pianists on one piano. The challenge is to write music for more than two pianists.

The composition should meet the following criteria:

  • readability & page-turnability
  • playability
  • repeatability: i.e. the pianists want to play it again or share it with others. There should be an element of fun, intrigue, challenge, or something that prevents one from dismissing it and putting it away on the shelf to be forgotten.
  • length: 2 to 5 minutes (this can be extended to 10 minutes at normal tempo indicated)
  • difficulty: allow players of different levels to play together

For an indication of the difficulty level, please visit a piano soiree that was held in the same place previously. This is a piano club that gets together regularly to have fun. We want to introduce music for several pianists to play together. Sight-reading levels of pianists are usually always lower than performance levels, i.e. the difficulty should be lower than the solo performance repertoire.

Deadline: 5 April 2011

Submission format: e-mail PDF

If your piece is selected, you will get the following benefits in kind:

  • interview & write-up on this blog
  • publicity of your music that was selected
  • feedback from the pianists

Please use the following LEAVE A REPLY form to express your intention to submit. You will get a reply with an e-mail address to submit your score to. Your comment will not be published.

PERSONAL NOTE:
I was first introduced to multi-hand piano duets at my Steinway Welcome Party in Bussum, Netherlands. There were many pianists and two pianos. 4 pianists on 2 pianos. 3 pianists on one piano. One can imagine the possibilities.

ADDENDUM @ 3 Feb 2011:

Please include a description of the piece, such as what inspired you, techniques and challenges, or anything unique about the piece. Provide a link to your website or biography. This blog will get updated and refined over time as questions arise.