Most people who take piano lessons never become concert pianists, but for nearly 20 years the American Grands event has given pianists of every age and skill level the opportunity to feel like they are.
The 19th annual iteration of the event is taking place in the form of three separate performances Jan. 25 at the Elgin Community College Arts Center’s Blizzard Theatre.
American Grands gathers pianists from around the area to play an eclectic collection of pieces ranging from classical works to modern pop music.
The event is directed by ECC music faculty member Larry Dieffenbach and is sponsored by Cordogan’s Pianoland in Geneva, which has provided and maintained the 12 grand pianos used in the event since its inception. In all, more than 460 pianists will take part in the event.
“It’s inspiring to see pianists of all ages come together to perform as a group and celebrate their love of this instrument,” Dieffenbach said. “We have literally hundreds of performers play at these concerts, and most of our pieces feature 24 pianists, two per piano, on stage playing together. This year we’re playing with that format a bit and we’ll be doing a piece that features 36 players on stage at once, three per piano. It’s a truly amazing thing to witness.”
The selection of music those pianists will be playing will be a veritable sampler of musical styles. In addition to classical works by composers including Handel and Beethoven, American Grands also will feature more contemporary works.
Perhaps the most unusual of these will be the “Lady Gaga Fugue,” arranged by Giovanni Dettori. According to the event’s organizers, the piece applies classical music styles to the Lady Gaga dance hit “Bad Romance.”
Each performance will open with “The Star-Spangled Banner” and close with “Stars and Stripes Forever,” as has been the custom for all American Grands events.
Dieffenbach returns to direct the American Grands event for his 18th year. In addition to serving on the music faculty at ECC, Dieffenbach is the founder and director of the St. Charles International Piano Competition, as well as a private piano instructor and the organist and music director at Little Home Church by the Wayside in Wayne.
Joining Dieffenbach once again are conductor Colin Holman and percussionist Jon Mortensen. Holman has conducted 18 American Grands concerts, including the 2014 concert.
In addition to being music director of the Loyola University Orchestra, the Fox Valley Orchestra, the Fox Valley Concert Band and the Chicago Brass Band, Holman also has lectured at Northwestern University, Northern Illinois University, North Park University and Wheaton College.
Mortensen has been participating in the American Grands event since its inception, and is the director of bands at Kenyon Woods Middle School in South Elgin in addition to serving as principal timpanist for the Rockford Symphony Orchestra and the Woodstock Mozart Festival Orchestra.