“American Piano Duo” Concert Review

On Friday, February 26, 2010 I attended the “Dancing With The Stars” American Piano Duo (Del Parkinson and Jeffrey Shumway) concert. The concert was at 7:30 in the Morrison Center, in the same room we have class in. These two pianist were both born and raised in Idaho but didn’t meet until a piano competition. They studied together at Julliard, and formed The American Piano Duo in 1984. They have released a CD, and have been playing together since then.

One of the reasons I decided to go to this concert was because I have already met Del Parkinson, who I was referred to by my old piano teacher in Seattle. I also did a job shadow with Parkinson about a year ago, so I was excited to see him play and catch up with him. I arrived for the concert, which turned out to be free, at 7:00pm. The concert sold out by 7:30, and by the time everyone filled in, only 2 seats were empty. There were mostly seniors in the audience, but I saw a few other students there as well. On the stage there were 2 pianos, one 9-foot and one 7-foot piano.

At 7:30pm the two pianists came onto the stage. They were both dressed in white bowties and really cool caped tuxedos. They also had 2 female page turners. They went straight into their first piece, which was “Danzon Cubano” by Aaron Copland. This piece didn’t sound very challenging, but sounded very contemporary and used a lot of polyphony and grace notes. Some parts actually sounded like the pianos weren’t synchronized, but I figured that it was just the way the music was written.

After the first piece, Parkinson got up and cracked a few “old person” jokes, which made the majority of the audience laugh, seeing as they were all “old people”. Parkinson mentioned that it was Chopin’s 200th anniversary today, which I thought was interesting, because that day I had just started learning Chopin’s Scherzo no.1 for piano. He also talked about an experience he had when studying abroad in London that had something to do with Chopin. Shumway also mentioned that he and Parkinson would be trading pianos each time the piano piece changed, because he figured that “it would be easier than making the audience switch seats every time the piece changed” (laughter).

The second piece they played was a group of 3 movements by Arthur Benjamin. These three movements sounded very similar to each other, all three sporting a homophonic texture. Both pianos occasionally switched from harmony to melody, probably to keep it “fair”. The third selection was two pieces by Samuel Barber, a Tango and “Galop”.  I thought that this arrangement was very beautiful. The fourth selection was very loud and had a very fast tempo, with lots of trills and cool chromatic scales.

After this, there was an intermission for about 10 minutes. The pianists and page-turners left the stage, and about 5 minutes later, a lady from the Steinway foundation invited the audience to join them after the concert to see the new piano that was just donated to the Morrison Center from Steinway.

The concert continued with “Cinderella’s Waltz” by Prokofieff. It had a very bold strong tone. The next piece, widely known from The Nutcracker, was “Waltz of the Flowers” by Tchaikovsky. I recognized the piece right away, but I thought it was a great two-piano arrangement.

For the last piece, Shumway talked about post-WWI in Vienna and its influence on music composition. The last piece was “La Valse” by Maurice Ravel. It was in triple meter, and started with a dark, march-like rhythm. It then went to the major mode with lots of arpeggios and cadenzas. It went back to the minor mode, and then back yet again to the major mode. It ended with a flourish of piano and was definitely my favorite of the concert.

They then left the stage, and everyone applauded and stood up, encouraging the pianists to play an encore. For the encore, they played a song by Gershwin, but I failed to hear what the name of it was. It was just a slow, emotionally touching piece.

After the concert, I went to see the new piano, an upright Steinway. I was hoping that Parkinson would be there, but he wasn’t, so I went back to the concert hall and out the lower exit, where he was talking with a line of “fans”. I waited until they left, then talked with him for 10 minutes or so and caught up. I told him the pieces I was learning and he said to keep in touch. I also got to meet Jeffrey Shumway.

Overall, I really enjoyed the concert and thought that the pianists did a great job interpreting the music. I might even look in to learning some of the pieces they played.