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Five grand pianos equal crowd pleaser

October 11th, 2016Posted by admin

The Artist Series Concerts Piano Grand! delights audience both musically and emotionally.

 

Originally published in The Observer
Date: October 9, 2016
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist

It’s been done before. Carnegie Hall and Eugene List used to present Monster Concerts featuring a multitude of pianos with lots of grand hands playing great music, from Gottschalk to Grieg. But it’s rarely been done with such finesse and fun as the Piano Grand! concert that opened the Artist Series Concerts on Sunday afternoon to a packed crowd at the Sarasota Opera House.

Five Steinway concert grands were imported from New York City — one of them a model signed by Tony Bennett — and five super Sarasota pianists, Joseph Holt, Don Bryn, Andrew Lapp, Rich Ridenour and Jonathan Spivey, put their hands together for a scintillating concert, with personalized comments by Holt, for performances that brought down the house.

This is the kind of concert that could result in a lot of banging and clanging, but the music never got away from the controlled precision of these five fine musicians. In fact, with all the fun that was thrown at the audience, it was an amazingly understated, balanced performance that made us laugh but also touched us, musically and emotionally.

From a rousing rendition of the National Anthem arranged for a piano quintet to a charming arrangement of Mozart’s “Ah, vous dirai-je maman” (aka “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”), the programming and playing were top notch. Grieg’s famous “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from “Peer Gynt,” Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers,” from “The Nutcracker,” and the Gypsy Dance from Bizet’s “Carmen,” all began with nice, slow tempi that were later expanded into whirlwinds of sounds.

We had a chance to hear the pianists in duets and solos, as Bryn joined Holt for a sensitively played Slavonic Dance in E minor by Dvorak and Holt with Lapp in a stunning performance of Rachmaninov’s “Romance.” There was a wonderfully in sync rendition of the Brazileira from Milhaud’s “Scaramouche” and a jazzy, off-kilter tango (“Libertango”) played by Ridenour, joined by his wife, Stacey Ridenour.

“The Blue Danube” Waltz tinkled along with the grace of the great river and Joplin’s “Entertainer” was stylish and hilarious as the pianists played a game of musical pianos, changing seats mid-phrases.

There were the guaranteed crowd pleasers, too: “Stars and Stripes Forever,” Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance,” and a corn ball overture by von Suppe. But even those were played with both panache and restraint so you never had the feeling this was pure bombast.

If this is a sign of what’s to come for the Artist Series Concerts, we’ve got a lot to look forward to this season.

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