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Multi-Piano Extravaganza At The Cole

Published: March 1, 2015

The Bob Cole Conservatory of Music hosts the 10th anniversary of its Multi-Piano Extravaganza Benefit Concert on Saturday, April 11, at 4 p.m. in the Gerald R. Daniel Recital Hall.

A spring tradition at the Cole Conservatory, the Multi-Piano Extravaganza continues to delight its audience in an afternoon of musical celebration. The entire piano faculty performs such tuneful favorites as last year’s “Caprice espagnole” by Gottschalk and Camille Saint-Saens’ Bacchanale from “Samson and Delilah” for one through six pianos. All proceeds from this event will benefit the Keyboard Foundation which provides scholarships for talented piano students.

This year’s performers will include faculty members Chizuko Asada, Valentina Gottlieb, Craig Richey, Mark Uranker, Althea Waites and series organizer Shun-Lin Chou, along with award winning Cole Conservatory piano students and alumni.

“Every time we do this, people come to enjoy an afternoon of collaborative music making when the entire piano faculty gets together,” said Chou, a member of the university since 2003. “It is rare to have six faculty members perform together. We’re excited about a performance before an appreciative audience.”

While admission is $10 to $15, potential donors will enter for free. “The 10th anniversary will have more pianos for a larger-than-usual audience,” Chou said. “Those interested in participating may call me at 562/743-4655.”

The funds raised by the performance will support the conservatory’s keyboard studies program.

“There are about 30 undergraduate and graduate piano performance majors who are a dedicated bunch and among the hardest-working students on campus,” Chou said. “To highlight student achievement, student performers always are mixed in with the faculty performers. This year, there will be eight pianos played, not by eight pianists, but by 16, who will present Rossini’s `Overture to Semiramide’ which was originally arranged as a multi-hand piece for a gala event attended by the Emperor of Austria-Hungary.”

One of the biggest challenges of the extravaganza is moving five pianos into the Daniel Recital Hall for a total of eight. “We have to juggle the pianos that move on wheels with those that don’t,” Chou explained. “Those must have their legs removed so they can be taken away. We can’t keep them there for very long, either. But even more difficult is arranging rehearsal for all the performing faculty members. We’re all professional performers. We all know how to prepare our parts ahead of time. But the logistics of getting faculty members together can be difficult. We dedicate ourselves to making this commitment.”

But there are advantages to extravaganzas too, one being performances like these make the faculty more cohesive.

“It is easy for individual faculty members to retreat to their separate corners and hide there,” said Chou. “But to interact in such an intimate way professionally, sharing one instrument and one pedal, makes for close proximity. The piano is one of only a very few instruments where there can be more than one player.”

The conservatory has the necessary experience with group performances.

“We’ve gotten the hang of trying to get a multi-piano work together in a short period of time,” said Chou. “Luckily, we have a piano lab with a dozen electronic keyboards. It may not be the same configuration or sound but it helps. It’s always a festive celebration. Every year, we work hard to come up with different ideas and surprises.”

The selection process for compositions is rigorous. “There is not a lot of standard repertoire for this kind of performance,” he said. “Usually, when you get beyond two pianos, the effect you get is more of a spectacle and celebration than a musical necessity. We use a lot of arrangements. For example, I transcribed a work titled `Polka and Fugue’ for four pianos played by eight hands. Sometimes one piano plays while the others are resting. Sometimes they all play together, much like an orchestra.”

The most important thing about a performance like this is the meeting of the minds. “A couple of years ago, faculty member Valentina Gottlieb discovered a piece composed by one of Bach’s children that choreographed six hands in such a way that they had to work hard not to get tangled,” he recalled. “Then our videographer set up the camera on the ceiling of the Daniel Recital Hall so that the audience could see the choreography as the performance was going on.”

Concerts like these are one reason students enroll at the Cole Conservatory since program supporters allow for scholarships which are very important for recruitment.

“Top students may audition here or a couple of schools on the East Coast,” said Chou. “We even have students who enroll here over USC or they come here after they acquire a degree from USC.”

Chou believes the Multi-Piano Extravaganza underlines the conservatory’s clear and strong focus on performance.

“This is a conservatory setting. Go to the practice rooms on any given day and listen,” he said. “Feel the camaraderie and atmosphere. Let potential students be a Cole Conservatory student for one day and, oftentimes, they are hooked.”