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ISSUE 121 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 11/2/2007

Professor pianists do the 'Monster Mash'

By Meg Granum
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 2, 2007

The much-anticipated "Monster Concert" began with a gecko leisurely strolling out on stage. Members of the St. Olaf piano faculty, dressed head to toe in outlandish costumes, appeared one by one all around Urness Recital Hall during community time on Thursday.

Featuring arrangements of some of the most well-known scary themes, this recital of four pianos and 16 hands was nothing short of highly entertaining and comedic with surprises at every turn of the page. Opening with "Sabre Dance" by Aram Khachaturian, the comic atmosphere began immediately when Director John Ferguson stopped the pianists after only a few measures because they were so uncoordinated and put headphones on which had been hidden away in a piano so that he would not have to hear the noise.

This was a mere preview of the concert's antics. Of course, with the stage inhabited by the Cat in the Hat, a giant chicken, a witch and a 20s flapper along with others, even a serious concert would have been made comical.

Despite the humorous atmosphere, the performance was excellent. The repertoire included such classics as Tchaikovsky's "Marche slave, Op. 31," Schubert's "Marche militaire in D Major" and Bach's "Harpsichord Concerto No. 1 in D Minor," featuring Catherine Rodland, artist in residence, as the harpsichord soloist. All of the pieces were perfectly suited for Halloween; the dark nature of the music drew in the audience and put everyone in a festive mood.

It is not often that one hears eight pianists all at once, much less eight pianists who are able to work with one another to create such seamless sounds. With so many different intertwining melodic lines, it is quite impressive that these faculty members were so well balanced. The harpsichord concerto was particularly impressive, since Rodland had to work hard to project over the four pianos.

The highlight of the performance was the concluding number, an arrangement by Mack Wilberg of themes from Bizet's "Carmen." Containing some of the most recognizable tunes from the opera, this arrangement was full of energy and vigor. But the most hilarious and entertaining bit of the performance were the antics of John Jensen, collaborative pianist, and Kent McWilliams, assistant professor of music.

Those seated in the balcony became suspicious as soon as the piece began. Instead of playing, or even paying attention to the music, Jensen, dressed in the full attire of Carmen, including bright red dress with fake breasts and matador hat, seductively gazed at the other pianists. The entire audience went wild as soon as he stood during the dance music, grabbing McWilliams, dressed as a giant chicken and began dancing across the stage in true Carmen fashion.

Adding to the energy of the performance was the amount of people who came out to witness the spectacle. Not only was there a multitude of students at the recital, but there were also other members of the St. Olaf faculty and members of the community, creating a standing room only crowd.

In October 2005, the "Monster Concert" premiered and was originally meant to be a one-time event, but after such enthusiastic response, the piano faculty decided to do it again this year.

McWilliams, who organized the recital, was very happy with the performance and is pleased that things came together so nicely.

"I love the fact that the piano faculty works together so well," McWilliams said, "and that we can combine forces to produce a very positive energy."

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