Two pianos, four pianists, eight hands!

A special two-piano festival for jazz and classical music lovers!

By Roland Graham

The Master Piano Recital Series is hosting a mini festival of two-piano duo performances on November 25 and 26 at Southminster United Church.
The notion of a “piano recital” universally evokes images of solitary figures – the performer, but also the composer and even the lonely late-night piano tuner – toiling in solitude to generate spectacular and otherwise unattainable results.

The piano may be the quintessential solo instrument, offering not only a unique range of dynamics and timbres among instruments, but also claiming the largest and most impressive body of solo repertoire, especially if music for the piano’s precursors is thrown in. Only the pipe organ can compete, but the pipe organ is restricted in terms of where it is found and who can play it.

And yet there abounds music for two pianos, both in classical repertoire through the centuries and as an accepted performance approach in classical and contemporary genres. Many composers, from Mozart to Bartok and beyond, wrote splendid pieces for two pianos, aiming to achieve a more symphonic or multi-layered musical outcome than a soloist could achieve with one piano alone. Lots of two-piano pieces are quite spectacular, offering in performance the added dynamism of having two performers to follow.

At one time, especially before recording technology was widely available, two-piano arrangements offered a means of exploring and reproducing music for other, often much larger ensembles, in more intimate settings. Either for entertainment or study or as an excuse for social interaction, two-piano compositions and arrangements have always been around to aid access to music and music appreciation.

It’s also hard to think of two pianos and not imagine the duelling “stride” pianists of the 1920s and 30s, showing off their chops in elaborate musical dialogues that smacked more of contest than collaboration, at least as I imagine it. There was the monumental occasion where Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock recorded their celebrated duo album together in 1978.

In Ottawa today, we are blessed with many excellent pianists and several established duos as well. And so, it is timely for the Master Piano Recital Series to offer its first-ever pairing of pianos and pianists in this November’s mini duo festival.

The mini festival kicks off on Saturday, November 25 with a Latin/Cuban duo comprising Havana-born pianist, composer and band-leader Miguel De Armas and Canadian multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Deniz Lim-Sersan leading a journey to the heart of Cuban and jazz music. Their diverse and complementing talents will take you on a trip like no other, blending elements of Latin, Afro-Cuban and world music and more along the way.

On Sunday, November 26, Duo Octavian, made up of virtuoso Ottawa-born classical pianists Carson Becke and Suren Barry, explores musical narrative, playing works by Ravel – the tender Mother Goose suite and the apocalyptic La Valse – and Gershwin (Porgy and Bess). Becke and Barry are energetic and engaging performers who love speaking to their audiences and drawing their listeners into their musical world.

Find details of both concerts and obtain tickets on (search Master Piano Recital Series + Two Piano Festival).

Roland Graham is artistic director of the Master Piano Recital Series held at Southminster United Church.

Photo: Duo Octavian, made up of virtuoso Ottawa-born classical pianists Carson Becke and Suren Barry

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