February 25 Musicale - Delightful Duets

Pam Martin and Kristi Helfen collaborated on a very informative musicale presentation about the art of playing piano four-hand duets, and then they collaborated on a beautiful example of such playing with Ottorino Resphigi's "Ancient Airs and Dances". The 16 virtual attendees were fascinated by Pam and Kristi's deep knowledge of piano duet technique and their obvious enjoyment of playing together.


Pam began by stating that "two on one piano" involves a set of skills all its own. Each player is generally limited to half of the keyboard - but not always, since the repertoire often requires extensive cross-over into the partner's territory. Choreography is definitely needed!


In the Martin/Helfen duo, Pam is almost always Primo player. She is in charge of page turns, which is now facilitated by use of a bluetooth foot pedal (right foot, since Pam is not doing any other pedaling). Kristi is Secondo, which means she is responsible for all three piano pedals. The partners make pedal notations together, experimenting with different depths of pedal and considering the need for sensitivity to each part. They also coordinate page turns, occasionally writing in the first few notes after a page turn so that the flow is uninterrupted.


Both partners practice their individual parts while sitting where they will be when they join forces. As anyone has learned in playing duets, the shift from always sitting in front of middle C to sitting lower or higher on the keyboard can be disconcerting.


Pam and Kristi shared many tips and suggestions for effective duo playing. "Who starts?" - the one with more notes at the beginning will generally count off and start. "What if you want to alter the score to facilitate ease of playing?" - make these decisions together, notate them on the score, make sure you're not altering the feel of the composer's score. "What if it makes more sense for one partner to play a phrase written in the other's part of the score?" - do it, since some composers are not as pianistic as others.


When encountering difficult sections - rhythmically, placement of notes, general sense of how it should sound - the partners highly recommend counting out loud together (perhaps with a metronome) and even taking it apart measure-by-measure. They demonstrated this with a very complicated passage from Kapustin.


After their most interesting discussion, punctuated with numerous questions from the participants, Pam and Kristi played 4 movements from Respighi's "Ancient Airs and Dances". Varying in tempo and feeling, they presented a beautiful coda to the morning musicale.

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