Photo by Phillip Nangle
For pianists, much of this journey is undertaken alone. So it was a treat to recently witness some pianistic collaboration par excellence. Sisters Katia and Marielle Labèque performed Martinu's Concerto for two pianos and orchestra with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in London earlier this year. Two-piano concerti are rarely programmed, in part due to the logistics involved, but also, one suspects, because the idiom is not considered mainstream, and therefore is not a guaranteed crowd pleaser. (Perhaps surprising, given that there is a significant number of works in the portfolio, by notable composers, see: Poulenc, Stravinsky, Mendelssohn.)
The Labèques approached Martinu's distinctive rarity with energy and verve; bookending the eerie slow movement with frenetic allegros. The blocks of colour tend to cloud individual voicing, but it was thrilling to hear this thick piano texture against the whirr of the orchestra.
In Manchester, pianists grappled with a different sort of musical teamwork, as 16 students gathered to perform Ticcatoccatina for 32 hands composed by Tom Harrold. The cosy performance – sponsored by International Piano – was an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest number of pianists playing the same instrument simultaneously, and was held in aid of the Royal Northern College of Music’s campaign to transform its 40-year-old concert hall into a sparkling new venue. Happily, under the watchful eyes of IP’s Murray McLachlan, the group successfully beat the current record set by 15 musicians in France back in 2004.
None of the pianists involved ever imagined playing with 15 others – at one keyboard. But when faced with a repertoire that is as deep as it is broad, that’s the sort of thing that can happen. Happy exploring.