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American Piano Quartet plans a big tribute to Paul Pollei

Published November 21, 2013 8:54 am

Music • American Piano Quartet will honor founder Paul Pollei's memory.
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Paul Pollei was a giant on the Utah music scene. The founder of the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, who died July 18 at age 77, was beloved for his outsized, gregarious personality and tireless championing of piano music.

So the piano quartet he founded will honor his memory this week with a concert on two of the biggest pianos in the world.

The American Piano Quartet — four pianists, eight hands, two pianos — will perform on two Fazioli 308 pianos, each of them 10 feet, 2 inches long. A typical concert grand is 9 feet long. Quartet member Scott Holden said in a news release that there are only 100 of these pianos in existence. Brigham Young University, where three of the quartet members are on the piano faculty, recently purchased one of them; another will be on loan from Utah piano dealer Rick Baldassin.

Saturday's performance at Brigham Young University "will literally be the only place on Earth that there are two of these models side by side — outside of the factory in Italy," Holden said. (A performance the night before, on Salt Lake City's Temple Square, will be played on standard pianos.)

Fellow quartet member Robin Hancock said in a phone interview that the extra foot of piano "adds a dimension of richness and warmth." The instrument also has four pedals rather than the customary three. The extra pedal can be used to shift the action closer to the strings, yielding "a refined, quieter sound" suitable for chamber music, Hancock said.

The program will include audience favorites such as Smetana's "The Moldau," Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 and Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Two-piano, eight-hands literature may be a novelty now, but Hancock said that during the 19th century, "if people wanted to learn the latest opera or symphony, they had to buy it in this form. That's how it was sold across Europe." People would get together to perform transcriptions of an opera such as "Carmen" or a Brahms symphony. But the art form faded away with the widespread availability of phonograph records.

Back in the 1980s, a student brought some eight-hands piano music to Pollei, sparking his interest. He soon became a leading advocate for the art form and hunted down as much of the literature as he could find.

Hancock was in the audience at the inaugural concert of the American Piano Quartet in October 1984. (Founding members were Pollei; Mack Wilberg, now music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; Ronald Staheli, director of the choral and conducting division at BYU; and Douglas Humpherys, who recently succeeded Pollei as head of the Bachauer foundation.) At that time, Hancock was a master's student, studying with Pollei; when he returned to BYU in 1995 after earning his doctorate at Boston University, he joined the quartet. Completing the current lineup are Jeffrey Shumway of BYU and Boise State University's Del Parkinson. —

Piano men

The American Piano Quartet will give a pair of public performances this week.

When • Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Where • Assembly Hall on Temple Square, Salt Lake City

Tickets • Free

When • Saturday, Nov. 23, 7:30 p.m.

Where • Madsen Recital Hall at Brigham Young University, Provo

Tickets • $6 at 801-422-2981 or byuarts.com/tickets