Ten grand pianos, each played by a masterful musician. Seattle’s magnificent Benaroya Hall played host to this rare and wonderfully executed event, May 12, 2012, for a capacity audience. The Ten Grands concert was the brainchild of pianist Michael Allen Harrison, founder of The Snowman Foundation. Each year, the proceeds from the Ten Grands fundraising concert—this was the fifth Seattle show to date—benefits the foundation, which is devoted to providing music education for children and young adults.
The annual concert features a diverse line-up of artists, each bringing a different style to the show. The concert opened with the entire group taking turns interpreting the simplest of tunes, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Of course, this so-called beginner’s piece didn’t sound so simple in the hands of the assembled musicians. Each pianist offered his or her own unique take on the number, ranging from understated (Ten Grands veteran Barbara Roberts) to sly (Seattle-native David Lanz, working in a quote from “When You Wish Upon a Star”) to raucous (Toronto-based Michael Kaeshammer).
Following this virtuosic display of musicianship, the first act of the three hour concert featured solo performances by seven of the 10 players (the remaining three were spotlighted in Act II). Lanz kicked off the solos with a warm version of George Harrison’s classic “Here Comes the Sun.” Another highlight was William Chapman Nyaho’s passionate rendition of the African-American spiritual “Wade in the Water.” Among the quieter solos, Janice Scroggins delivered a delicate reading of “The Lord’s Prayer.” Much rowdier, but no less effective, was Kaeshammer’s boisterous take on “St. Louis Blues,” played as a tribute to Louis Armstrong. Mac Potts brought down the house with a pop medley that included Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You” and Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” (Potts sang on the latter).
The second act brought more variety, beginning with solos by a group of very talented children, the Washington Music Educator’s Association State Winners. Michael Allen Harrison accompanied some of these youngsters, generously allowing an initially flustered French hornist a second shot at her solo (she received a hearty round of applause following her second take). Group performances by the headlining pianists alternated with additional solo pieces. Dr. Nyaho was joined by Yelena Balabanova for a duet on Rachmaninoff’s “Suite No. 2 Opus 17.” Tom Grant offered an easy-going piano and vocal nod to the Great American Songbook with “The Way You Look Tonight.”
The three-part “Patriotic Tribute” featured collaborative performances in varying styles. Harrison and Lanz duetted on a “heavy mellow” version of “America the Beautiful.” Scroggins, Kaeshammer, and Potts delivered a rousing jazz reading of “God Bless America,” with Potts soloing with his back to the piano at one point (which must be seen to be believed). John Philip Sousa was paid tribute to with a quartet arrangement of “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Headliners JJ Guo (who dazzled earlier with his solo reading of Franz Liszt’s “La Campenella”) and Barbara Roberts were joined by guests Emily Brother and Caitlyn Koester.
All 10 pianists joined forces for the grand finale of a West Side Story medley, featuring excerpts from Leonard Bernstein’s famed score. The medley concluded with “Somewhere,” with guest vocalists Siena Miller and Jimmy Wilcox sharing Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics. A hearty standing ovation followed, well deserved not only for all the performers involved in Ten Grands, but for the overall efforts of The Snowman Foundation.
For more information about the foundation, including the opportunity to donate to their cause of making music education accessible to all young people, please visit their website. A CD featuring a selection by each of the 10 headlining performers, Ten Grands Seattle Vol. 5, is also available, with proceeds also benefiting The Snowman Foundation.