Celebrating PRIDE, Benefiting Ukraine Medical Care and Furthering the Cause of Hand Size Equality for Pianists

By Hannah Reimann

“At a time of chaos, beauty comes forward.”

~Ben Casara, one of ten guest vocalists at the June 25th concert

The ninth and final day of the Second International Stretto Piano Festival, celebrated many things. First, as a premiere online gathering of over 30 solo and collaborative pianists from five continents playing only on pianos with narrower-than-standard-size piano keys, the festival is making its mark as a lightning bolt for change. Musicians may now know that they have a choice of key size and that key size does matter!

Stretto pianos are more about equality than music, but music is the driving force and the beautiful result. Any hand can be comfortable playing a piano and anyone can reach octaves, ninths and even tenths. All the pianos played for The Stretto Piano Festival have keys that are narrower than conventional ones and are comfortable for small and medium-sized hands. The uncanny solidarity and camaraderie crossing oceans and time zones is making a difference. Stretto Piano Concerts are now a year-round phenomenon with nonprofit status, a growing following and major fundraising effort.

Secondly, the PRIDE Cabaret on June 25th featured pianist extraordinaire and MC, Steve Sandberg with a stellar cast of ten vocalists. Sandberg hand-picked the local NYC talent for this event: Mary Foster Conklin, Erli Perez, Aimee Allen, Andrea Wolper, Jane Aquilina, Michelle Shocked, Ben Casara, Vicki Burns, Lauren Lee and Liz Rowell.

Pianist and vocalist, Hannah Reimann, creator of the International Stretto Piano Festival and Stretto Piano Concerts after performing “Thaw,” by Clemens Rating on June 18th, 2022 which she premiered in 2021, a one-movement piece about the transition from Winter to Spring. This piece was the inspiration for the festival. Photo Credit: Morgen Purcell.

Each singer shared his or her heartfelt rendition of torch songs and ballads with tie-ins to the political changes we now face. In many cases, they simply entertained with full hearts and minds, reflecting on their life experiences, including those from the very first PRIDE parade, the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and, now, facing the new crises regarding Roe vs. Wade and gun laws. Interspersed between the songs were Sandberg’s virtuosic solo renditions of his “World Jazz Music.” He plays everything from JS Bach to contemporary Jazz standards, improvising on all the selections; he is a veritable musical magician. There are always surprises and an uncanny feel of devotion as he follows the singers, matching and enhancing their tone and moods.

Lauren Lee created her own lyrics to Chick Corea’s Windows. Jane Aquilina’s over-the-top version of Que Sera Sera, Mary Foster Conklin’s suggestion that we “live in the moment” with Andre Previn’s Just For Now, Andrea Wolper’s touching Why Aren’t You Laughing? (by Bobby Casanova) were just a few of the songs that added to the magic of the event.

Michelle Shocked closed the program with her quiet, a cappella Ballad of Penny Evans, in the voice of a Vietnam war veteran’s 21-year-old widow, followed by an all-out jam with Sandberg. The steady roar of applause and cheers from the audience assured us that this was just the beginning of multi-genre events using great pianos, plus talent from NYC and abroad.

Among the 30+ soloists we were privileged to hear perform were acclaimed Swedish pianist and composer Roland Pöntinen (another Ukraine fundraiser on June 21), Stretto Festival Co-Artistic Director, Carol Leone’s fantastic collaborative show of the music of Debussy with her colleagues in Dallas, Texas, and Chinese pianist Ran Feng, who recorded her concert in the USA and is now in Beijing. She wishes to bring Stretto Concerts to China, an exciting new development. There is much to celebrate.

All of the concerts remain online to experience for as little as $5 in case you want to hear the recorded livestream of in-person concerts and a large variety of pre-recorded broadcasts including the two Ukraine fundraisers.

To make a tax-deductible donation towards our dedicated concert hall and year-round Stretto Piano Concerts:

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FROM LEFT: Pianist and composer Steve Sandberg with vocalists Erli Perez, Aimee Allen, Mary Foster Conklin, Andrea Wolper, Jane Aquilina, Michelle Shocked, Ben Casara, Vicki Burns and Lauren Lee. Not pictured: Liz Rowell. Photo by Jan Goldstoff.
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