Monday, August 26, 2013

From One to Eight Hands

This past weekend I went to a music festival in Staunton, Virginia to see a "Piano Extravaganza": a performance of eight different pieces by a mix of four pianists.

The first piece was “Prelude for the Left Hand” by Scriabin. Just as its title suggests, the pianist played it with only his left hand. The next piece, “Duet in G from Klavierbung III” by Bach, was written for two hands.  The piece was performed by two musicians, each using one hand. Next was a work for three hands, then four, working all the way up to eight hands--still with all the players sitting at the same piano. The different pieces spanned many genres and eras of music from Bach to Scriabin, German baroque to American Jazz.

My favorite piece to watch was “Piano Roll Blues” by David Liptak. Even though the piece requires seven hands, only three pianists sat on the bench. The fourth sat behind them, sometimes moving his hand in very dramatic ways to the music and at other times coming up behind the musicians to play notes over their shoulders.

The pianists not only used great technical skill to play the pieces, but also incorporated physical humor into the performances. Each work was filled with crazy hand motions, shoves, and careful attempts to gain more room on the bench. They even made the classical music funny. I loved to watch how the different pianists’ hands flew back and forth, often over the top of other players’ hands, in order to get to the next notes.