Multiple Pianists at Multiple Pianos Perform Multi-hand Works

April 19th, 2006 by Adam

graphicHave you ever seen a piano keyboard occupied by 20 fingers, or 30 or even 40 fingers, often competing for the same keys in split-second timing? It’s a monstrous feat, but performers in the 13th biennial Piano Monster Concert at Plymouth State University are up to the challenge.

Approximately 150 high school and adult pianists and their teachers will convene May 4 at Plymouth State for a day-long rehearsal and performance of multi-hand works for piano (with as many as eight hands per instrument) played on multiple pianos. The event also includes a digital keyboard orchestra. Performance time is 7:30 p.m. at the Silver Center for the Arts on Main Street in Plymouth.

Professor of Piano Carleen Graff, founder and director of the PSU Piano Monster Concerts, says pianists don’t traditionally get the chance to work with a conductor in an ensemble experience. The concept of Monster Concerts was popularized in the 19th century. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, an American composer born in 1829, is generally considered to be the creator of these “piano orchestras,” according to Graff. She brought the concept to Plymouth State in 1982. “This is a good way to share and showcase the resources of our regional University with musicians from throughout the New Hampshire,” Graff says.

Carlos Sabina, a PSU alumnus and former student of Dr. Graff’s, has begun programs for high school and junior high school students at the Bell Center in Concord, where he teaches.

The guest conductor for the 2006 PSU event will be Dr. Susan J. Avery, assistant professor of music education at Ithaca College in New York. She is the former director of vocal ensembles and music department chair at Waterloo (N.Y.) High School, where she taught for 24 years. Dr. Avery conducts elementary, junior and senior high school honors, All-County and area All-State choruses throughout New York.

The largest ensemble (36 musicians on 12 pianos) will perform March Promenade by Robert Vandall, who has conducted the Monster Festival summer camp version of the Monster at PSU.

The program will also include such works as Slavonic Dance No. 3 in F by Anton Dvorak, Palm Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin and Denes Agay, All-American Rag by Tom Stampfli, and a Monster Concert tradition, John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever. In addition to participating with their students, teachers will perform the Waltz from Faust, a piece for eight hands by Charles François Gounod.

Tickets for the Biennial Piano Monster Concert are $7-$5. free to PSU students at the Silver Center box office. Group rates are available. Call (603) 535-ARTS or visit the box office from noon – 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and one hour prior to performances.