“20,000 chords”: piano duo review

by Bob Park

There’s an old joke about the difference between jazz musicians and rock musicians. “A rock musician plays 3 chords for 20, 000 people. A jazz musician plays 20, 000 chords for 3 people.”

So, what happens if classical gets thrown in the mix? Turns out, the played those 20, 000 chords for over 200 people Friday night (November 10, 2017) at the Frank Venables Theatre—and we gave them a standing ovation.

The South Okanagan Concert Society’s first concert of the 2017/18 season was over-the-top wonderful. Both the Frank Venables Theatre’s lobby piano (a Petrof)  and the concert society’s stage piano (the Yamaha C3)  had a workout as never before. This high energy show  took us on a captivating tour of  familiar classical music themes infused with imaginative jazz twists and turns throughout. Every one of those “20,000 chords” brought us surprises and delight.

Having heard one of the pianists, internationally acclaimed Matt Herskowitz, perform solo in Oliver ten years ago—yes, on that dear old Steinway in that ageing school auditorium!— , I looked forward to this concert in which he was teaming up with another international great, jazz pianist John Roney . The rest of the audience had also clued in that this would be different—they didn’t all crowd to the one side to see a soloist’s hands on the piano keys. From all angles, it was such fun to watch these two world-class musicians constantly interact with each other as they explored the possibilities of those beloved classical themes fused with the rich harmonic language and creativity of jazz. The music of Bach, Debussy, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Beethoven was given new life as they re-interpreted it for us so masterfully, all the while referencing the spirit of the original.

As I listened to Matt and John pushing harmonic boundaries so effortlessly and with a smile, I wondered what those old masters would have thought of people tampering with their music. When you consider that these composers were either considered off the wall, avant garde or inveterate improvisers in their own time, I suspect they probably would have joined us in standing and shouting, “Bravo!”

In this entire program of excellence what really stood out for me was the Piano Cameleons’ performance  of Beethoven’s well-known “Pathetique” Sonata.

Besides playing the two first movements mentioned on the program, they  treated us to the “premiere in BC” of the third movement, which they had just finished working up. Watching them egg each other on, feeding off each other’s energy and enthusiasm, we witnessed Beethoven morphing into “All the Things You Are”, and then into “Blueberry Hill”, and then into something that sounded like the soundtrack to an Alfred Hitchcock horror movie! Wonderful stuff! Somewhere Beethoven and Fats Domino are smiling.

Music lovers in the South Okanagan: mark your calendars for January 19, 2018. Another duo, this one a 26-year old pianist and her 19-year old brother on the cello. Check out the Frank Venables website, for the Cheng2Duo and other future musical delights which the South Okanagan Concert Society has in store for the rest of the concert season.

Photo Credit: Alan Dean Photography

Comment