UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
The UWRF Piano Ensemble is open to piano majors and minors, as well as non-majors with previous piano experience. Piano ensemble occurs in the spring semester. Students work together in duets, duos, or larger keyboard ensembles – in the past we have even performed pieces for up to six pianos. Student groups are coached weekly by UWRF piano faculty Dr. Ivan Konev and Dr. Gail Olszewski. At the end of the semester, all participating students perform in the Piano Ensemble Concert, on our two fabulous 9-foot Steinway concert-grand pianos.
The Piano Ensemble class has been in existence for over 30 years. When it began, students played their recital in North Hall Auditorium on one 7-foot Steinway and an ancient 6-foot Mason & Hamlin, which had to be brought over for the concert. The sounds of the two pianos certainly did not match, but the students had a wonderful time performing in spite of this. When the Fine Arts Building was built in 1973, the Music Department proudly acquired the two 9-foot Steinways. William Abbott and Carolyn Britton picked them out at the Steinway factory in New York - and had a memorable lunch with John Steinway, himself! Over the years, students have performed almost all the standard repertoire for two pianos and many piano duets as well. Instructors Ivan Konev and Gail Olszewski have tried to limit the choice of pieces to those originally written for the medium or occasionally an arrangement made by the composer. Works for as many as four pianos, notably the Paris Suite by Milhaud, and works for two pianos and four players, such as the Rondo by Smetana, have appeared on the program. Other outstanding performances were of La Valse by Ravel, En Blanc et Noir by Debussy, works originally for two harpsichords by Mattheson and Pasquini, and new works in manuscript, notably the Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues by the American avant-garde composer, Frederic Rzewski.
UWRF alumni often comment that their participation in Piano Ensemble class was among their most memorable experiences as students. In 2003, one of those alumni made a remarkable gift to the music department. Mary Ella Jerome, through the Mary Ella Jerome Foundation, granted the funds to keep our concert grands in like-new condition. With her support and the dedicated efforts of the late Michael Drost (maintained by Three River Piano Service, Brian Drost), not only have the pianos been restored, but climate-controlled housing for each piano has been provided as well. The Music Department acquired an additional Steinway 7-foot grand through the generous gift of the estate of Wayne Tyler, former member of the English Department. This beautiful rosewood piano is housed in Ivan Konev's studio.