Ettenauer's 'Joy of Toy' Accents the Play In Piano Playing

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Who would think that six toy pianos, a music box and a classic Boesendorfer concert grand could produce music that was intriguing as well as amusing? Pianist Isabel Ettenauer did exactly that Tuesday in "The Joy of Toy" at the Austrian Embassy. Her toy instruments ranged in size from cigar box to piano bench dimensions.

Most of the night's music was written for Ettenauer herself. Six of the pieces were American premieres and seven date from the past five years. Already a professional pianist, Ettenauer was drawn into her toy phase in 2001, she said, by a consuming interest in American experimental music by such contemporary composers as John Cage and Henry Brant. And she has been making a splash in major performance venues ever since.

Ettenauer's excursion through nine toy pieces (sometimes joined by an altered grand, CDs and tape) sounded flagrantly out-of-tune and honky-tonk percussive -- resembling the varied sonic vocabulary of computer-processed music. Besides Cage's classic Suite for Toy Piano, other especially effective pieces included Joe Cutler's "La Maison de Fred" and Rob Smith's "Schroeder's Revenge," with its teasing snippets of Beethoven interrupted by savage crashing dissonances on an elfin keyboard.

-- Cecilia Porter


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