Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Piano Grand IIIArtists Series Concerts of Sarasota
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Suds

Joseph Holt, Andrew Lapp, Jonathan Spivey,
Thomas Purviance, and Don Bryn

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Piano Grand began in 2016 as sort of a lark: five male pianists playing at five Steinway 14-foot Concert Grand Pianos shipped in from New York City especially for the event. It proved so popular that Piano Grand II was inevitable, with some of the same pianists and some new faces. This year we arrived at Piano Grand III, presented October 6 with five local female pianists added to the five men, most of whom returned from last year. (Our genial host Dr. Joseph Holt told us the stage won't accommodate any more pianos due to weight.) One hundred fingers flying over 440 keys, although not all were in use for each number.

Our 10 keyboard artists, in alphabetical order were Genevieve Beauchamp, Don Bryn, Dr. Joseph Holt (Artistic Director for Artist Series Concerts), Andrew Lapp, Tom Purviance, Avis Romm, Lee Dougherty Ross (Director for Competitions and Outreach for Artist Series Concerts), Jonathan Spivey (principal piano for Sarasota Orchestra), Milana Strezeva, and Aza Torshkoeva.

Four of the performers led things off as the audience stood for "The Star-Spangled Banner." The same four rotated positions for the Allegro from W.A. Mozart's perennial "Eine Kleine Nachmusick," which inspired a Broadway musical of its own, or at least the title, A Little Night Music. Positions and artists changed as six of our pianists traversed what is probably the most well-known symphonic movement of all time, Beethoven's fifth in C minor (da da da daaaa). It was played at a breakneck tempo, one I wouldn't be comfortable with if the whole work were being performed.

The concert continued with different pianists taking us on a cruise down the Danube River for Johann Strauss' famous waltz suite, "The Blue Danube" waltz. To end the first half of the concert, we were whisked to another part of Europe for Emmanuel Chabrier's (French composers and Spanish music almost always a match made in heaven) "España." Around the middle, the pianos were joined by the world's only castanet soloist, who has settled in Sarasota, Carmen de Vicente. My only relationship to castanets had been to try and make a few operatic Carmens make a little noise with them for the act two seduction scene. I had no idea they could add so much percussive resonance in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing, and let me tell you, Ms. De Vicente sure does. Intermission!

The second half offered a little lighter fare. Andrew Lapp and Avis Romm, offered Richard Rodgers' "The Carousel Waltz." A couple more of our artists joined on stage for "Malagueña" by Ernesto Lecuona, built only on C# major and D major chords, again assisted by Ms. De Vicente.

Joseph Holt stitched together a tribute to American ragtime that was rollicking fun and musically well thought out, with all 10 artists participating for the first time. Featured toward the end of this was the evergreen "Kitten on the Keys." For Leonard Bernstein's centennial celebration, Dr. Holt arranged the Candide overture for all those fingers and keys. It was interesting to hear little snippets that I had not noticed before, and the entire score of the piece is one of my favorites.

Again, for all our artists, and with audience participation, Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." Instead of cannons, various sections of the audience popped air-filled bags, and believe it or not, it was a fine substitute for the real thing.

Encore time brought us John Phillip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever." Andrew Lapp and Joseph Holt were seated at the two pianos closest to the audience and they each drew the famous piccolo parts with their endless trills, no mean feat way up on the piano keyboard where the keys do not play smoothly.

A fun afternoon was had by an almost full house (only a few scattered empty seats downstairs and though I could not see who was in the balcony, based on bags popping, there was a substantial number), where the Opera House seats a little over 1000. Piano Grand III proved to be one of Artist Series of Sarasota's most popular events; most performances play to much smaller audiences. Dr. Holt suggested that Piano Grand IV is likely to be programmed around holiday fare next year, which seems like a perfect idea.

Piano Grand III was presented October 6, 2018, by Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota at Sarasota Opera, 61 N. Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota FL. For more information, please visit