Several Quad Cities students and a Chilean duo will get to perform on a rare double grand piano in a free concert Saturday, April 9.

The inaugural QC Piano Ensemble Festival — originally planned to start in 2020 — will be at 3 p.m. Saturday at Asbury United Methodist Church, 1809 Mississippi Ave., Bettendorf.

A rare 1904 double grand piano in Bettendorf will be featured in a free concert Saturday at 3 p.m.

The festival aims to encourage students of all levels of FMTA teachers to play duets, duos, trios, quartets, and concertos and to expose students and their families to the rare and historic Pleyel double grand piano. The program should be an hour, with no intermission.

The first half will be all local students, and second half from Duo Mistral, pianists from Chile. Dùo Mistral’s pianists Paulina Zamora and Karina Glasinovic are piano and chamber music professors at the University of Chile. They focus on three main objectives: development of four-hand piano repertoire and/or two pianos; premiering of Chilean contemporary new works; and accomplishing a strong and effective dialogue with the audience.

The Chilean pianists Duo Mistral will perform Saturday at the Asbury concert, and do a master class in the morning.

The duo also will give a master class Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Asbury.

“I thought this would be perfect,” Marian Lee, St. Ambrose University piano professor, said recently, noting one of the pianists is finishing doctoral studies at University of Iowa. “Even though, they’re exotic from Chile, right now they’re local and they could come. It worked out nicely.”

Duo Mistral will perform a short Samuel Barber piece and a suite by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

“I think they’re very excited; they have never played on a double piano,” Lee said.

Among students (most ages 7-18 and a 23-year-old), they will include duos and quartets on piano. There is a father-son pairing and a mother-daughter.

Rare double grand from Paris

The Pleyel Double Grand Piano at Asbury United Methodist Church is among just seven Pleyel double grand pianos known to remain in the world, and the only playable Pleyel double grand in the Western Hemisphere. It has two separate, facing keyboards with two complete and separate sets of strings, on one shared soundboard.

Marilyn Mitchem, left, and Laura Crumbleholme at each end of the Pleyel double grand piano.

Pleyel and Company of Paris invented the double grand piano. The instrument combined two grand pianos into one – with two facing keyboards, and a new frame on which two sets of identical strings were mounted head-to-tail with their own bridges, but with a shared soundboard. 

Pleyel began manufacturing in 1897 and continued until 1946. It is believed that 74 Pleyel double grands were manufactured during this period.

The Pleyel double grand owned by FMTA came to the Quad Cities by way of its last, previous owner, Joe and Thea Leclair. They acquired the piano while Joe was commissioned by the U.S. military in Paris. Upon her passing, Thea, a lifelong member of IFMC (Iowa Federation of Music Clubs), wished that the piano would stay in the QC and be played. 

In 2010, FMTA began fundraising to restore Thea’s piano. In the fall of 2017, FMTA acquired full ownership of the piano. On Nov. 21, 2017, the piano was moved to Premier Piano Service of Walker, Iowa, for complete restoration.

On Oct. 26, 2018, the fully restored piano returned to the QC, at Asbury United Methodist where Thea was a member for 50 years. Research indicated this is the only Pleyel double grand piano in the Western Hemisphere on which performances are possible, allowed and welcomed. 

“A unique experience”

“It’s such a unique experience for pianists, because everybody’s usually playing by themselves,” QC piano teacher Laura Crumbleholme said. “Especially a student pianist, to collaborate with anyone. To give them this opportunity to collaborate with one, especially with three other students, there’s a lot of learning that can happen.

“Even if a kid is in an ensemble – band, choir or orchestra – it’s just a lot different with a piano versus another type of ensemble,” she said. “It’s a beneficial experience for these kids.”

“For some of them, it’s their first opportunity to play chamber music,” Lee said. “Most of them, if they are in a group, they’re in a band or orchestra. They’re not really heard as individuals. But here, you’re not alone, but you can be heard.”

Eight of Marian Lee’s piano students will play on Saturday.

“Getting together for a collaborative event, rather than a competitive event, is very important,” Crumbleholme said.

Federated Music Teachers Association is affiliated with the National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC). Founded in 1898, now one of the world’s largest music organizations, NFMC consists of 6,500 music clubs with over 200,000 members.

FMTA has a membership of approximately 40 independent and collegiate music teachers in the QC area. The Quad City Music Teachers Association (QCMTA), established in 1989, is one of several local chapters of Iowa Music Teachers Association (IMTA) and Music Teachers National Association (MTNA).

QCMTA is dedicated to the promotion of music through teaching, performance, composition, and scholarly research, and has a membership of approximately 15 independent and college music teachers in the area.

“This is just a great way to utilize this very unique, wonderful instrument we have here in the Quad Cities,” Crumbleholme said of the Pleyel at Asbury.

The Pleyel was built in Paris in 1904 and came to Bettendorf in 2018.

“It’s a real gift from Thea Leclair that she left us,” Lee said.

While Saturday’s concert is free, it’s also meant as a fundraiser for the continued upkeep of the Pleyel.

“It’s an old instrument and it requires maintenance,” Lee said. “Any donation to the Pleyel fund is greatly appreciated.”

“When you tune it, there are two sets of strings, so it’s twice the cost of tuning a normal piano,” Crumbleholme said.

For more information on the Pleyel, visit pleyelqc.com. For more on QC piano teachers, visit qcmusicteachers.org.