A Guinness World Record with 12 pianists

Nihad Allam, Sunday 2 Jan 2011

How many performing pianists can one see in a lifetime? How many can you see at a time, playing on the same piano? On 1 January, the Cairo Opera House audience witnessed a remarkable event: The 12 Pianists

12 pianists

Fantasy, creativity, humour and musical talents made this unique concert a refreshing and energising start to the New Year.

On Saturday, 1 January, the audience at Cairo Opera House witnessed a remarkable event: The 12 Pianists. The concert will be repeated in Alexandria on 3 January.

Performing Albert Lavignac’s “Galop March” transcription by Christoph Sischka, all twelve at one piano, was how they accomplished the Guinness world record of “the highest number of pianists at one piano”, in 2002.

Four pianists sat on the floor, legs stretched under the piano, the other eight stood behind them and they all began to play. But their positions were constantly changing: some stepping backwards to take some air, a lady slipping and crawling under the piano to get out of the crowd then charging at the piano, gently pushing the others aside. All pianists made some trips around the four pianos on the stage, formed a queue, alternating and relaying the playing, which remained uninterrupted and even, in both tempo and temper. They finally took their initial position to end the piece. Their relaxed dynamics was not only amusing, it also matched and enhanced the French composer’s March.

But let’s go back to the beginning of the concert. It started traditionally (no dynamics) with the oldest piece, Czerny’s lyrical Quator Concertant op. 230 for four pianos, eight hands, based on the famous opera melodies of the time. This was a thoughtful tribute to the neglected, although talented and prolific, Austrian composer Carl Czerny.  He is mostly known today for his piano exercises books, but it’s worth noting that he was Beethoven’s pupil and Liszt’s only teacher!

The second piece was Khatchaturian’s energetic Sabre Dance, for two pianos, eight hands; followed by two beautiful tangos by Thomas Turek, a member of the 12 Pianists. The first, Thermal Tango, held a contrast between a soft melody played on the piano keyboard and rather aggressive rhythmic sounds obtained by plucking and strumming the piano strings, with a spatula like device (1 piano, 8 hands). The second tango, Bolero, was more classical, with a clear tango rhythm (2 pianos, 12 hands).

Alexander Yossifov’s Danza Archaiqua, for 2 pianos and 24 hands, though not all 24 hands were playing on the keyboard. Half of them were plucking the strings inside the piano or tapping on the piano body with small hammers.

The second part of the concert began with Lavignac’s Galop March, followed by a transcription for 3 pianos of the eternal Paganini’s Variations. Liszt transcribing it to one piano was the first of over thirty composers who handled the theme, deservedly called “the tune that drove composers wild”.

Next, performed on 4 pianos, another tango by Werner Genuit based on Schumann’s piano concerto, a sensitive “(no) love song” by Turek.

Then it was time for a world premiere: “Shourouk”, composed and transcribed by Daniel Schnyder, evoking the splendour of a sunrise in an oriental style melody, thus making sense of its premiere in Egypt.

To perform excerpts from Mussorgsky’s impressive “Pictures of an Exhibition”, a charming lady, among the six pianists stepping onto the stage, was carrying with dignity, two cleaning brushes which she put cautiously on the floor beside her. The brushes were not used to dust the piano, but to disguise the sound of the piano during the piece for special effects.

Jerome Kern’s “Smoke in your Eyes”, 4 pianos and 8 hands, was a real delight.  The final piece of the programme was a transcription for 4 pianos, 16 hands, of Ravel’s famous Bolero. It was an abridged arrangement of the original 18 repetitions (to the third, approximately). However, the crescendo was sustained, visually and audibly, beginning with one pianist on the stage and gradually joined by seven others.

Closing the recital, the 12 Pianists indulged the mesmerised audience by playing again the “Galop March”. This ensemble of gifted musicians was founded by Christoph Sischka, a professor at Freiburg University of Music. The other members are lecturers at music universities, composers and world-wide performers from Germany, Japan, Russia and Egypt, with Dina El-Leisy, who did her country proud.


The concert in Alexandria will take place on 3 January at the Alexandria Opera House (Sayed Darwish Theater) at 8 pm.

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