We competed on March 20, 2021 in the US International Duo Piano Competition which is held every year at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.
We will compete again next year and have also formed a piano quartet of two pianos, eight hands and had our first rehearsal in mid April.
Jan and I played in the Adult Category. Every competitor receives a medal and a trophy as a result of qualifying to compete. We won 1st Place.
The competition focuses on youth, but there is an adult/amateur category. Last year, nobody competed in that category, and this year, Jan and I were the only competitors in that category. Receiving the first place trophy was really fun, but to be totally transparent, we were the only people in that particular class. My teacher did explain to me that the judges do not have to give a first place.
After we did the performance, we then re-did it with five cameras which was then edited by Loren Barnes who also filmed and edited my August recital and will do that again this coming August. The piece of music we played is “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens. It’s a story about the ghosts/skeletons that come out of the grave after the clock strikes 12, and dance, fall in love, and get more and more frenetic until the rooster crows at dawn, when they have to return to the grave. There are a number of YouTube recordings of this. It’s a very dramatic piece and a very challenging piece to play because there are so many different sections of it with a lot of octaves and big chords.
The editor and I worked on capturing what two piano music is about. If you watch this video, you will not only see double exposures but you will see triple exposures at moments and you will also see the reflection of our hands which is a bit ghostly as it should be.
Here are some things I learned from working on this piece for over a year. As in any creative endeavor, there is a point that you really want to make it your own and that means sometimes going against the dynamics of the composer or the tempo with which it is usually played. Jan and I went for the lyricism and we decided that we had ghosts instead of skeletons. You can actually see an animated version of this piece on YouTube which is fun. Creating a performance that is a bit different than how others perform this piece included a lot of discussion between Jan and I and the freedom to feel that we could make some different musical choices. Since I have been in the creative arts for over 50 years, I have learned a lot about feeling that freedom to think through the creative work I’m doing and to never have to do it the way it has been done before. At the same time, I take the intentions of the composer seriously and I always check with my teachers whether my alternatives are musically valid.
I did find performing in a ballroom at one of the great five-star resort hotels in the country threw me for a loop– more so than I would have expected. I have done so many lectures in front of many people that I expected the experience of giving seminars would somehow relate to doing this kind of performance – but it did not. I was actually disappointed in my performance until I watched the unedited version and then decided it was actually quite good. Supposedly my emotional response is not at all unusual. I had conversations with all three of my piano teachers about my reaction, and they were sympathetic, empathetic, and helped me understand what was going on. I have performed much smaller recitals and one of my teachers said that ordinarily, we would have been doing monthly recitals to prepare for this competition, but because of COVID, we couldn’t do that. We already have plans for various performances with neighbors, etc. leading up to my August 27th birthday recital this year, 2021, and to the January 8th, 2022 competition.
I was grateful for the opportunity to redo the piece for this film. I hope you enjoy the music, which I find extraordinary, and the editing as well.