Review BY CHRIS BAKER Special to The Post and Courier
A hundred fingers. Twenty arms. One piano. On Tuesday night at Memminger Auditorium, the Bowed Piano Ensemble took the stage to perform like a miniature orchestra.
“There’s no ensemble in the world like Bowed,” said resident conductor John Kennedy before the show.
Ten musicians hover over the exposed belly of a grand piano like a team of surgeons trying to patch up a patient. And with surgical precision they weave bows made of nylon fishing line along the strings of the piano.
But the bowed piano strings are only part of the performance. With guitar picks, percussion mallets and small wood blocks, the ensemble employs every part of the instrument.
Musicians politely elbow each other out of the way as they maneuver methodically around the Yamaha grand looking for access to its innards. The music they create possesses a depth far beyond the scope of any ordinary piano playing.
Stephen Scott, a professor of music at Colorado College, created the group in 1977, the same year as the first Spoleto Festival USA.
He composed an original piece for Tuesday night’s performance titled “1977: Music of Three Worlds” as a tribute to the ensemble and the festival.
The original piece closed the concert and was preceded by Scott’s 1981 composition “Rainbows,” as well as “Aurora Ficta,” “Azul” and “En su Isla.” Soprano Victoria Hansen raised hairs with her rousing vocals on the latter two pieces.
The syncopated rhythms and staccato coos of the second movement of “1977” generated the liveliest bit of the performance. But the dissonant tonality of the first four pieces fostered a tone so rich that you could easily forget you were listening to the guts of a piano rather than a full orchestra.
Tuesday night marked the second time the Bowed Ensemble performed at Spoleto; the first was in 2007.
“We wanted to create a new instrument out of an old and venerable instrument, the grand piano,” Scott told the audience.