Only two more Wednesdays left in the school year, so we didn't feel we could let either slip by without a little Piano Hero. Tomorrow (April 28) will be a somewhat eclectic selection, though I suppose all the works were written in German-speaking lands within about a 50 year span. I guess I'm just admitting there's no official "theme" this week. However, it's all great music, maybe even less rehearsed than usual! (I've been pondering this quirky idea that "less rehearsed" might be considered a good thing in some contexts. In the meantime, students, don't try this at home! Well, that is, you should try sight-reading for pleasure at home, but rehearsing for upcoming concerts and juries is still considered a good thing.)
OK, so we'll open with Beethoven's stirring "Egmont" Overture, which just so happens to be what the Gordon Symphony Orchestra will be opening with this Saturday night at 7:30pm. A sneak preview, if you will. Come hear it in black-and-white form tomorrow, then return on Saturday for the technicolor version. You can also sample it here.
I'm particularly excited about what we'll play next. In fact, I'll just be playing Mozart's very famous little Sonata in C Major, K. 545, often known as the "Easy" Sonata. You know, the one that goes like this. However, it turns out that Edvard Grieg wrote his own slyly mischievous 2nd piano parts to this and several other Mozart sonatas. They cast a wonderfully different light on this very familiar music, in some cases just supporting the original piano with added sonority, and sometimes adding extra melodic ideas. Very charming, and let's just say that "slyly mischevious" is right up Nathan's alley.
We'll close with the rousing final movement of Mendelssohn's "Reformation" Symphony. Written to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, the symphony's finale is based on Martin Luther's great Reformation hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. So, like the Mozart/Grieg, this is music that builds on a pre-existing musical work. I guess that's kind of a theme.
A few reflections on yesterday's "Bach to the Future" Piano Hero can be found on my blog.
And, looking ahead, we'll pretty likely being hero-ing on the last two Wednesdays of the school year, April 28 and May 5. Programs TBA. Check back here for information or email me at MMmusing at gmail dot com to be put on the email list.
All previous Piano Hero events have been about tackling big orchestral works from the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 19th century, especially, pianist-composers were so dominant that even the largest symphonic canvases translate with a certain logic to 88 keys. This week, we look further back to the 18th century and the music of J.S. Bach, who never met anything like the modern piano. Bach was, of course, a great organist and harpsichordist, and his keyboard music is a cornerstone of the modern pianist's repertoire, but two pianos might seem like too much of a good thing for the graceful music of this Baroque giant.
However, an extra set of hands comes in quite handy when trying to manage some of Bach's most intricate creations, so we'll take advantage of the two-piano setup to help untangle the Brandenburg Concerto #3, which in its original form calls for nine separate string parts, and the magnificently austere 6-part Ricercare from The Musical Offering. Although Bach didn't write for ensembles anything like the size of a 19th century symphony orchestra, some of his organ works are just as big and bold in scope, so we'll be closing with a two-piano version of the grand Passacaglia in C Minor.
As always with Piano Hero, the pianists won't have rehearsed much ahead of time, so it will be interesting to see what contrapuntal traps Mr. Bach has in store for them. The doors will be open throughout, and listeners are free to come and go. We'll start at about 12:10 and end around 12:45.
The wait is over! Piano Hero 2010 finally debuts on Wednesday, March 31, at noon in Phillips Recital Hall (Gordon College, Wenham, MA). Michael Monroe and Nathan Skinner will be tackling 2-piano arrangements of two orchestral masterworks inspired by the Bard himself: Mendelssohn's Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream and Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet. You'll hear fairies scurrying, donkeys braying, families feuding, and love blooming - that's assuming our heroes can hit the right buttons as the scores go flying by. Shakespeare's all about the drama, after all.
[UPDATE2: We had an even bigger success with this at an Oct. 10, 2009 Homecoming event, with a much larger audience on hand. Read more about it here.]
[UPDATE: This was definitely our biggest success yet. We had a big audience, many of whom participated by popping paper bags as cannons. Works remarkably well! I'll write more about this soon and post some video highlights...]
Yes, we've found a secret code that allows us to jump all the way from Level 40 to Level 1,812. (Note, we've also skipped Level 6 & Levels 8-39.) This is the final Piano Hero of the semester, so something of a celebration is in order.
We'll leave it as an exercise for you to guess what the main course will be for Level 1,182. HINT: Bring noise-making devices. (No gunpowder, please.) There will be at least one appetizer (of the musical variety) as well. As always, the doors will be open, so you're free to stay for much or as little you wish.
Wednesday, May 6 at 12:20pm Phillips Recital Hall Gordon College Wenham, MA.
Piano Heroes ride again this Wednesday (4/22) with a two-piano version of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. I wish I had more time to write now, but I'll just say that this is my favorite of all the Beethoven "Nine" and maybe my favorite Beethoven, period. The last movement is wildly entertaining, and it should be quite a thrill ride as a sight-reading exercise.
[Yes, technically we're skipping Level 6, whatever that means. Let's pretend that we found a secret code that lets us skip a level.]
It was inevitable that Level 5 of Piano Hero would have to be that most famous of all symphonies - however, to make it all the more exciting, we'll be playing an arrangement for 2 pianos, 8 hands. Between us, Nathan and I only have 4 hands, so we'll be joined by two outstanding guests, Chaz Woodstock and Megan Muthersbaugh. And, to really make it exciting, we will have very little rehearsal time as a group. I haven't even looked at my part yet, come to think of it.
Anyway, it all takes place tomorrow (Wed) at 12:15 in Phillips Recital. As always, the doors will be open and people are free to come and go as they please. We'll be projecting the orchestral score if you like having something to look at - other than 4 desperate pianists hoping they don't get lost.
We're back this week, after a two-week hiatus, with Aaron Copland's wonderful arrangement for two pianos of music from his ballet, Billy the Kid. As an added bonus, we'll be taking on the famous "Hoedown" from Rodeo. If you don't know the "Hoedown" by name, you've probably heard it as used in the "Beef: It's What's For Dinner" commercials. But everyone loves it, even vegetarians.
We took last week off for Spring Break, and it turns out we'll be taking this week (3/18) off as well. The truth is, we met to rehearse a piece this morning and just didn't like the way it sounded on piano. If we're not enjoying, why make others come suffer along.
So, check back soon. Hopefully, Piano Hero will resume on Wednesday, March 25...