Ravel and eight hands

Last night, Melody and I went to a recital at the University of Washington which had two parts. The first was Robin McCabe playing Ravel, and the second was a set of pieces for eight hands and two pianos.

There weren't a lot of people at Meany Hall when we went to grab seats, so we got pretty good seats. We were to meet a couple friends, who arrived early enough for us to chat a bit before the lights turned down.

Knowing that McCabe would be playing Ravel's “Miroirs”, I took a look at the score the night before, but didn't get very far. Mostly I wasn't sure how it should sound, but also, Ravel is pretty tricky for me to sight read. McCabe did a great job of making it sound delicate. She had a lot of fun with the fourth movement, Alborada del gracioso (“Morning Song of the Jester"), letting the rhythm and the dynamic range of the piece tell the story.

During intermission, stage hands brought out another piano, arranging them so the players could see each other. They also brought out more piano benches; seems only one double-wide artist bench was available, so the other piano had two normal artist benches turned sideways (so the adjustment knobs were at the front and back). At home, since we only have one artist bench, we end up moving it over and using a folding chair when Melody and I play duets; it's a good thing the chair is close enough to the right height.

Ther were four pieces played during the second half, and McCabe participated in each of them. Three different students completed the quartet for the pieces, so everyone got a chance. A few of the pieces were familiar to most of the audience (the overture for Mozart's “Don Giovani”, a fantasy of works from Bizet's “Carmen”, and Sousa's æStars and Stripes Forever”.

During the second piece, Emanuel Chabrier's “España”, I suddenly heard a tambourine. I looked, and yes, all four players had both hands on the keyboards. I looked to the page turners, and indeed, one of them had picked it up and started playing. She put it down when it wasn't being used so she could turn pages, and the one time when a page turn came up while she was playing, one of the piano players turned the page. During the “Carmen” Fantasy, that page turner also used the tambourine, and had some pretty complex rhythms with it, and continued to turn pages even while she was adding percussion to the piece.

During “Stars and Stripes Forever”, one of the pianists suddenly stood while playing for a while, then sat back down. He did it again, smiled at the audience, and was marching while playing. Again he sat, and a while later McCabe stood and then started marching herself. Later, when both of them were marching and playing, some of the audience took that as a cue that they were supposed to clap to the beat, but were pretty timid in their clapping. Towards the end, all four players were marching, then the other nine pianists marched out from the wings, and the audience then was comfortable in clapping to the beat.

As I've written before, I have an odd fascination with page turners. The first three quartet pieces had a page turner for each piano, and they all had various comfort in doing so. Some were timid, some were very assertive (but loud), and a couple were quite good. One turner used an odd (to me) two-handed technique; she was on the right side of the artists, held the book with her right hand, and then turned the page with her left. Normally one would reach with the right hand and turn across, or use the left hand if on the left side of the artists.

This concert reminded me a bit of the Monster Concert which Mr. Voorhies played in when I was his student; there were eight pianos on the stage, and two people at each. I was the page turner for Mr. Voorhies' piano (I was on the right of the artists). It's a nerve-wracking job, since you both have to follow the music to know about when to turn the page, then watch for a nod to do the actual turn. However, if they don't nod, you need to turn right at the end of the page, which makes one even more nervous, since you definitely have to do it quickly. I do remember that the last piece was, like last night, “Stars and Stripes Forever”, but they didn't march.

Having enjoyed the evening, we chatted a bit more with our friends, and before too long, called it a night.