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ISSUE 119 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/4/2005

Costumed pianists create holiday smash

By Nicole Zepper
Staff Writer

Friday, November 4, 2005

As Halloween season approaches each year, thoughts turn toward pumpkins, ghosts, witches and of course, piano concerts. St. Olaf music faculty chose to celebrate the haunted holiday season with the first ever “Monster Concert,” Thursday, Oct. 27, in Urness Recital Hall, featuring four pianos and eight pianists. The hour-long concert began at 11:30 a.m., so daylight kept the concert from getting too scary.

The capacity crowd watched as a mischievous monster moved up and down the aisles, interacting with a lucky few. Eight of St. Olaf’s most distinguished pianists and their page-turners took the stage, disguised as vampires, bees, chickens, pumpkins, little children, cats and turtles, among various other creatures.

This entrance met with an enthusiastic round of applause and even a few whistles as conductor Timothy Mahr (aka Dracula) cued the pianists to begin their first piece, a quick and fun tune, Katchaturian's “Sabre Dance.”

A softer piece by Mozart followed, and then “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 1” by Franz Liszt came next.

“It’s a delight to hear one person play it; to have eight people do it is sheer idiocy,” Mahr said. Nonetheless, the piece sounded a bit spooky at times, which led nicely into the next tune, “Hive,” composed by Professor of Music Justin Merritt.

Merritt was commissioned to write a Halloween piece for eight pianists especially for this concert. He wrote most of the piece this summer while living in a high-rise in China, but completed the piece in Northfield. Merritt said the song was inspired by a scary book about killer bees that he read when he was nine.

“Hive” employed several unorthodox piano techniques, such as plucking the strings inside the piano, body percussion, and slamming their keyboard lids shut. Probably the spookiest song of the concert, “Hive” managed to mimic the sound of insect wings. The last section of the piece, “Swarm,” conveyed a feeling of increasing doom.

David Viscoli next played a Rachmaninoff piano solo, which was beautiful and expressive, though not terribly scary. Then the entire group reemerged, still in costume, and performed “A Scott Joplin Rag Rhapsody.”

Their final piece was “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” during which a dignified turtle, Assistant Professor of Music Christopher Atzinger, stood up to perform his piccolo solo. By the end of the song, audience members clapped along with the lively music, ending in a standing ovation.

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