Piano students showcase monstrous talent

While it's no secret that piano recitals don't typically invoke strong excitement in an audience, Sunday's Monster Piano Concert performers had a few tricks up their sleeves that enthused the audience in Wadsworth Auditorium.

Freshman Emi Okada and sophomores Sarah DeMarco and Louis Lohraseb, all piano majors, joined professor Amy Stanley and piano pedagogy minors senior Douglas Weber and junior Kimberly Sturman for the thrilling exhibition.

The performance featured an unconventional technique: multiple piano parts. The many variations on this theme included two pianists on one piano, two pianists on two different pianos and, for the spectacular finale, four pianists on two pianos.

"It's incorporating so many people," Lohraseb said.

The concert opened with Stanley's solo performance of Claude Debussy's Prelude from "Pour le Piano." Although the piece was fast-paced, Stanley held her ground and delivered a clean, precise rendition with the fervor expected from someone of her caliber.

Next, Stanley remained onstage to perform a duet with Okada – Johannes Brahms' "Hungarian Dances," for four hands – on the same piano. Despite being the youngest performer, Okada exhibited impressive technicality and exuded effortlessness.

Stanley then performed Mozart's overture from "The Marriage of Figaro" as part of a trio with Weber and Sturman. For the first time in the performance, the second grand piano was utilized, and to great effect. Although they are not piano majors, Weber and Sturman showed their proficiency.

The next selection was a masterful duet between Okada and Stanley: Camille Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre," Opus 40. The two alternated on opposite pianos, trading cadences and melodies that produced a dissonant, space-filling sound.

Lohraseb joined Stanley for the next selection, which was Sergei Rachmaninoff's Suite No. 2, Opus 17. Lohraseb played through the three movements of the suite with feverish intensity, which exploded during the stormy final movement, "Tarantella."

"The final piece is crazy," Okada said – and indeed it was. Lohraseb's own arrangement of themes from Guiseppe Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera" was an infinitely complex, multi-emotional explosion. Played by Lohraseb, Stanley, Okada and DeMarco on two pianos, the sheer bravado of the piece proved the talent of the ensemble once and for all.

With the intensity of their performance, the participants of the Monster Piano Concert showed that Geneseo's piano department is a monstrous force to behold.

The performers asserted that the sheer difficulty of the pieces in the recital was reason for its name. "A lot of these pieces are a monster to play, DeMarco said. "The Rachmininoff suite is incredibly difficult."

Lohraseb concurred that the meat of the concert lied in its exponential growth.  "[We] progress from one person on one piano to eight hands on two pianos."

The pianists themselves were a diverse group. Stanley is a distinguished professional; she received her doctorate from the Eastman School of Music and is currently associate professor of music and coordinator of keyboard studies at Geneseo.

Okada hails from Tsukuba City, Ibaraki prefecture in Japan and DeMarco, who also majors in psychology, is from Rochester, N.Y. Lohraseb, a composer himself, has studied under the tutelage of various musical experts. Weber is a physics major from Buffalo, N.Y. and Sturman, a childhood special education major, is from Hartsdale, N.Y.

However different their stories may be, everyone in the group has one thing in common: his love for piano.

"I think we all kind of grew up with it," DeMarco said.