SCHENECTADY — Piano Battle on Sunday afternoon at Proctors was as much an entertainment as it was Music Appreciation 101.
As conceived by pianist Andreas Kern and Paul Cibis with the assistance of the Empire State Youth Orchestra and its music director Helen Cha-Pyo, the two pianists competed as to who was the best. Each played a selection and the audience voted by holding up cards — one side white (Kern dressed all in white) or black (Cibis dressed all in black). Brian Austin served as master of ceremony.
The show, which had seven rounds of voting and no intermission, was generally fast-paced with the pianists in high gear with quips and a lot of interaction with ESYO members, all of whom seemed comfortable getting into the act. The audience was equally enthusiastic with each vote a sea of cards held high.
Initially, the show began only with the pianists. The reward for each “winner” was to add a group of musicians, who trooped out on stage when summoned. For the first round, Cibis played Chopin’s fiery and dramatic “Fantaisie Impromptu”; Kern followed with Scriabin’s stormy and passionate Etude in D-sharp minor. Both showed fluid and brilliant techniques and strong musicality. The audience chose Kern.
He asked for the violin section to play a Mozart Divertimento with him. Cibis played an arrangement of the love music from Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde.” Cibis won that one.
Both players requested the brass and the bass sections to join them and each pianist asked the players questions, which were as much educational as curious: Is the bass bow longer than a violin bow? (Yes.) What does it mean to be a first violinist? (We have more experience.)
Cibis then launched into Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” with the brass; Kern followed with Sibelius’s “The Swan of Tuonela” with the strings. Kern won that. Then the rest of the orchestra came out and performed two different arrangements of a charming waltz by Shostakovich, first with Cibis and then with Kern at another tempo.
Things bogged down a bit when Cibis and Kern competed as to who could conduct the orchestra best. (The orchestra voted for Cibis.) A mystery encounter the two hatched up allowed them to leave the stage to “gather evidence.” In their absence the ESYO, now under Cha-Pyo performed the fast section from Rossini’s “Overture to William Tell,” Saint Saens’ “Danse Macabre,” and the “Bacchanale” from Saint Saens’ “Samson and Delilah.” These performances went swimmingly.
The guys made it back on stage and with the orchestra performed an arrangement of some of the favorite tunes from “Star Wars.”