Stretto Festival 2023 Hails Innovation, Offers Choice of Key Size for Pianists

A Global Celebration July 15 – 23, 2023

By Hannah Reimann

The David Amram Band: Kevin Twigg, Don Miller, David Amram & Adam Amram at Engelman Recital Hall, Baruch Performing Artis Center on July 22, 2023. Photo credit: Hannah Reimann

The Closing Celebration of live concerts for the Third International Stretto Piano Festival included two virtuoso pianists, Ran Feng from China and Yoshiko Kline from Japan, sharing the performance of David Amram’s Sonata for Piano (1960). The Sonata is being re-introduced to new players and audiences by Stretto Piano Concerts, the festival, colleagues and supporters of Amram. A new recording by the excellent Thomas Weaver will be released in Fall 2023. Influenced greatly by the composer’s love of Jazz, the three movements weave together flowingly with rhythmic crispness and emotive melodic motifs, sometimes requiring the performer to share complicated passages between hands, crossing the keyboard with gymnastic playfulness. The theme of the last movement is memorable, moving, and sublime. 

Before the Amram section of the concert, Ms. Feng played an exuberant and commanding program of Lizst’s Müllerlieder von Franz Schubert  and the Brahms Sonata No. 1 in C Major, Opus 1. There were two pianos on stage and she played on a grand piano that has a 5.9-inch octave measurement rather than the conventional 6.5-inch octave conventional piano. After the Amram Sonata for Piano, the David Amram Band took the stage and brought the house down. Amram played the piano with 6.5-inch octave piano keys.

This was the first live event in a major city in nearly 100 years where pianists were offered a choice of piano key size — the invention prevents and helps cure injuries, offers comfort and freedom of expression, creates equity and inclusion, and creates beautiful music. A growing number of pianists with small and medium-sized hands prefer to play repertoire that requires stretching and extending their hands and fingers using a Stretto instrument.

The 2023 Stretto Piano Festival was the most well-attended in its three year history since its inception in 2021 when it was a series of online concerts that created community, crossing international borders via cyberspace, attracting over 400 people to play and view concerts. In 2023, more than 10,000 online audience viewers experienced 27 concerts with over 35 artists from five continents. All the concerts can be heard online via YouTube or Facebook anytime. Search for Stretto Piano Concerts on both platforms.

Other live highlights included Roger Lord, a brilliant entertainer and scholar of new piano music from New Brunswick, Canada who traveled the world collecting pieces and experiences. This gives his playing a great range of colors and styles, a sense of adventure and international panache. He performed works by 11 composers including his own arrangement of a Gershwin medley. Julia Furlan joined Lord on the stage, playing “Tea for Two” for as a four-hands encore. 

The great Christopher O’Riley was heard on NPR’s From the Top for decades and the internationally- known soloist and chamber musician has always got another innovative project up his sleeve, from Berlioz to Radiohead. He traveled from Los Angeles to play in NYC for Stretto 2023 to present the world premiere of his Virtually Tempered Clavier Book 1. This innovative event celebrating 300 years JS Bach’s complete Well Tempered Clavier, was performed on a Casio Privia electronic instrument. Sophisticated sound reproduction of fortepianos, harpsichords, various grand pianos etc. — a different sound and different temperament for each of the 24 preludes and fugues of Book 1 — are possibly more faithful to the original than playing one modern piano. O’Riley will play Book 2 and Radiohead at The Kennedy Center in November 2023. 

Stretto 2023 also presented live concerts by Steve Sandberg, Luiz Simas, Anna Arazi, a Music Lovers concert, a children’s concert and one by yours truly. Online concerts included Carol Leone, Tina Chong, Eliana Yi, Jocelyn Ho and many more. 

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