Australia’s finest pianists unite on stage for 12 Hands 6 Grands


Keep the concept, but replace young aspiring talent with six renowned Australian pianists playing six grands: a rarity anywhere in the world, let alone Australia.

In these #MeToo times, of course, half the pianists should be women.

“Piers asked which three male and two female pianists I’d like to play with,” Cislowska recalled.

“I couldn’t think of three suitable men, so I said, ‘What about four women and two men?’ “

“Piers immediately replied, ‘What about six women? That would be amazing!’ “

Cislowska quickly explained: there are plenty of Australian male concert pianists she loves to work with.

“But this was about picking a team of complementary characters, styles and skills.”

Lane’s eclectic program for 12 Hands 6 Grands is an unusual combination of Bach standards plus Latin American and Caribbean rhythm.

Apart from Cislowska, festival goers will enjoy the talents of Bernadette Harvey, Stephanie McCallum, Natalia Ricci, Sonya Lifschitz and composer Elena Kats-Chernin.

“It’s not often you go from Bach to a Jamaican rumba,” Harvey pointed out. “It’s a journey from the sublime to the swinging, all quite joyous.

“A coming together of six female pianists is an interesting beast in itself, let alone playing on six grand pianos. I can’t imagine the logistics so I’m just going to turn up and play.”

Pianist Piers Lane.Credit:Bianca De Marchi

Lane, stranded in COVID-haunted “tier four” London and unable to see his creation, explained: “You want to do something out of the ordinary for a festival, and there are such wonderful female pianists in Sydney.”

Featuring music by the 18th century Baroque master and four Australian composers, the concert begins with all six women performing individual sections of Bach’s prelude. “A hello from everybody,” Lane said.

Then comes the first two contributions from an Australian composer. “Percy Grainger arranged Bach’s Fugue for two pianos as well as Bach’s Toccata for three pianos,” Lane added.

Four pianists feature in the fourth work, Bach’s Concerto for four keyboards.


Then all six pianists feature in Grainger’s Random Round, influenced by his travels though the Pacific Islands before World War I.

“It;s a bit dangerous to have six grand pianos playing at once for too long,” Lane explained.

“So then, Tamara and Elena will play a soothing centrepiece (from Kats-Chernin’s Lebewohl concerto) which Elena specifically wrote for Tamara.”

What follows is a world premiere: three Latin American-influenced dances from Queensland-based Robert Keane’s Suite for Two Pianos, involving all six women in different pairings.

The grand finale is Jamaican Rumba by Arthur Benjamin, who was born in Sydney in 1893 but cremated in London in 1960.

Though Benjamin wrote well-received operas and several film scores, this 1938 work remains his best-known composition. Composed for two pianos, Benjamin subsequently transformed it into an orchestral work with piano at the fore.

“Our six grand pianos will sound like an orchestra,” Cislowska said.

“We’re thrilled to be involved in this because it is so rare. And it will be so much fun for performers and audience alike.”

12 Hands 6 Grands, Sydney Town Hall, Jan 19:

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