The Twin Pianos

Talk of the Towne
The Twin Pianos

In the 12 years that John Dieball held the popular Orange County Classic Jazz Festival in Costa Mesa that lured lovers of ragtime jazz from across the globe, one event in particular, the twin piano concert, drew standing room crowds.

“We’d have 1,200 people packed into the Hilton’s ballroom,” says Dieball, an Orange resident and chairman and CEO of Jadtec Security Services in Orange, who ran the annual four-day festival with Connie and Larry Baker, from 1999 to 2011.

Given the popularity of the twin piano concert, Dieball decided to bring the excitement of the event back to Orange County this April at the Renée & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

A Concert of Twin Pianos will feature American Jeff Barnhart and Louis Mazetier of France, two of only 20 pianists in the world accomplished at Harlem Stride Piano, a music style evolved from ragtime that originated in Harlem during World War I. This will be the first time the duo plays together at the Segerstrom Concert Hall and the seventh time they’ve played in a twin piano concert together.

One of the few times you’ll see two pianos played during the same concert, twin piano performances showcase the work of two pianists, who play the same tunes simultaneously and often respond to one another through the music.

“Watch a twin piano concert between Barnhart and Mazetier, and you might think that the musicians rehearsed for hours, yet the truth is that they often play something they’ve never played before,” says Bruce M. Gast, who has run jazz concerts in New Jersey for the last 25 years.

“There is no sheet music up there, and they don’t talk to one another or hold up signs,” says Gast. “They communicate by glancing at one another, and they often challenge each other, which adds to the fun. It’s also a visual delight for those in the front row, because their fingers move so swiftly over the keys.”

The performances are engaging, because the audience hears the music and enjoys the interplay between the pianists, adds Don Jones, publisher of The American Rag, a tabloid-sized newspaper covering ragtime and traditional jazz from the 1890s to the 1950s. “Neither pianist has any idea of what the other will do, so there are a lot of delightful surprises.”

To add to the caliber of the concert, Barnhart and Mazetier will play on two matching 9-foot Hamburg Steinway grand pianos. The fact that they are playing on matching pianos is significant, because they must be tuned to mirror one another.

Given that the Stride music features tunes from nearly a century ago, the twin piano concert offers an opportunity for everyone. “For those who grew up in that era, this is a rare chance to hear the music,” says Jones, “and for younger people it’s an opportunity to experience music like they’ve never heard before.”

A Concert with Twin Pianos will be held April 7th at 2 pm at the Renée & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. For ticket information, visit scfta.org, Onstage/Jazz. Or their box office is open 7 days a week 10am to 6pm (714) 556-2787. Tickets are $20-$40-$69.

Published in the April 2013 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Julie Bawden-Davis, Photograph provided by Jadtec Security

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