Above and featured images  : four-hands piano performers ZOFO.

Piano duet artists Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi (ZOFO) made their Musica Viva and Australian debut with a unique and entertaining project. ZOFO commissioned fifteen new pieces for the piano four hands repertoire. In the sprawling yet slick multimedia presentation in the form of a medley of new works, ZOFO brought to life the fifteen musical responses of composers about the globe to a chosen artwork from their culture.

The resulting work, ZOFOMOMA, is varied and eclectic. As well as being an active anthology of music from living composers, it is a fine meditation on the possibilities of piano sound,, particularly the piano four hands sound. The juxtaposition of fifteen different cultures and countries in the swoop of one concert with no interval is an important one.

The delight of composers in searching for an appropriate piece of  modern art from their country and their passion in freely reacting musically to it for this project is obvious.

The comissioned composers relish in the chance to write for twenty fingers at the keyboard when the pianistic team is as athletic, unified, dramatic and able to welcome new effects as the global superstars ZOFO.

Eva-Maria and Keisuke present a visually stunning, highly physical performance at the keyboard. It is also a timbral and textural offering of much depth.

In this concert has the piano is situated below a large screen for projection of the artworks as the commissions are played.

The choreography of the piano duetists beside and around each other in every manner imaginable is quite amazing to watch. They comfortably blend their personal space, intertwining hands, arms and bodies as they unite on the same keyboard to deliver the new compositions.

This stage action and music resulting from composers exploiting the skills of this team is a truly inspiring excursion into painting with twenty-finger keyboard-orchestra colour.

ZOFO’s transitional walks between pieces to ponder the concert progress, the art just exhibited on screen  cleanse the visual and aural palette. The meanderings are as important as the featured works here. The promenades are just as well executed by the pair, whose stage presence and evocative flair is as successful as it is innate.

These interludes in the event structure have music for ten fingers only. At these times, different variations of a fragment from Mussorgsky’s famous ‘Promenade’ from Pictures at an Exhibition help one of the pianists shift from primo to secondo or treble to bass keyboard position and vice versa.

These nicely accompanied segues across the stage are unexpected at first. However, when ZOFO’s style of interlude here manipulates the well-known music the promenade music and routine becomes an anticipated part of the presented itself, prior to the next assault on a new duet work and each new cultural shift in the art and new music from fifteen different countries.

The fifteen works presented with their new ‘pictures at at exhibition’ music and artwork pairs were greatly varied. Throughout all segments of  this event, the consistency of mood or atmosphere and effective keyboard writing which the twenty fingers tackle see the duo move as the one super-pianist.

The individual pieces are joyously different and are played with stunning sensitivity and virtuosity by the ZOFO musical machine.

Australian composer and Musica Viva Artistic Director Carl Vine composed the second piece in the sequence. This is an impressive showcase for piano duet. The exciting work has a painting from 1985 by Australian artist James Gleeson as its inspiration.

This piece, like many in the work, demands much of a piano duet on a technical and interpretative level to successfully draw it together. The duets written by Japan’s Kenji Oh and China’s Lei Liang were
highlights of the peaceful and calmer evocative end of the broad musical spectrum.

Above : ‘Sacred Peaks of Chichibu at Spring Dawn’ (1928) by Japanese artist Yokoyama Taikan, which inspired the piece by Japanese composer Kenji Oh.

These pieces, as individual as all of the fifteen, are performed with as much respect for their uniqueness as all commissioned works. They are based on nature and the artworks’  images of landscape use modern musical ecclecticism in the creation.

Notable amongst these two works are extended string techniques that see ZOFO just as comfortable inside the piano, plucking strings and dropping soft objects on them as they always are interlocked and working with great physicality at the keyboard proper.

Stamping, shouting and being accompanied taped sound are demanded of the pair at other times, and these interesting additions to keyboard playing are capably and confidently delivered.

Extracts of ZOFOMOMA can be viewed online in some of its multifaceted multimedia glory. However, the chance to experience this series of totally newly commissioned music and superior four-hands piano virtuosity live is an unforgettable one.

For this opportunity we must thank Musica Viva for bringing such artists and their innovative concert format to Australia.