The annual “Pianissimo!” performances at the University of Montana are a numbers game for organizer Christopher Hahn. Take nine pianos and more than 25 pianists and create the most entertaining show possible.
As in shows past, Hahn has peppered the seventh annual program with classics and selections, all in unexpected arrangements.
They’ll play an original version of “Let It Go” from the animated Disney musical “Frozen,” that calls for five performers on one piano. Many of the players will be plucking or manipulating strings instead of playing the keys.
“It’s really something to behold,” he said.
They’re also tackling a performance of “Islamey,” which Hahn called “one of the hardest pieces in the piano repertoire.” This particular arrangement is for five pianos instead of solo piano. It “takes the original and pumps it full of steroids. Every pianist is just tearing up notes,” he said.
Also on the diverse program are Lady Gaga, the Piano Guys, Liszt and Rachamninoff. Naturally, it’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee.” And naturally, it’s on nine pianos.
“There’s something for everyone,” Hahn said. “If you don’t like it, wait five minutes.”
Well-known performers from the Missoula area will be on stage this year: Hahn and fellow UM faculty members Steven Hesla, Barbara Blegen and Nancy Cooper; Missoula Symphony Chorale director Dean Peterson; players from the community such as Scott Billadeau, Adrienne Dussault, Molly Morrison, Charlotte Kasl and more. John Engen will be on hand for Saturday’s concert, although he’ll provide comic relief in lieu of keyboard virtuosity.
The performances raise funds for the UM School of Music and its piano-related activities: a new piano scholarship, student trips to music conferences, and the Celebrate Piano series.
That program brings high-name artists to Missoula to work with students and perform for the public.
For instance, on Nov. 18 the duo of Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe will play concerts for area schoolchildren, in addition to a separate show for the public on the Nov. 19.
Hahn, an acclaimed pianist himself, called the two “unparalleled in the world.”
“There’s nothing they can’t play,” he said.
In fact, Hahn usually includes at least one of Anderson’s arrangements in “Pianissimo” every year, including that version of “Islamey.”
Find more information on the Celebrate Piano series page.