Markel Auditorium was a blur of color, sound, and obscure facts this weekend.
Debbi Wyse and Kristi Gautsche’s 35th annual piano concert, “The Allure of the Obscure”, featured music from little-known artists, trivia about their lives, and customized lighting that reflected the mood of each piece.
Gautsche said that she and Wyse, an Artist-Teacher at Hillsdale, first met at a Bible study but came up with the idea for their duo performances after going to a concert together. Their first performance was in 1985 in Phillips Auditorium, where Plaster Auditorium now stands.
According to Gautsche, the duo strives to make each performance a fun, interesting, and relaxing experience for the audience. Last year, for their concert “Child’s Play,” they performed Mozart’s Symphony No.40 on tiny toy pianos. Wyse said that during another performance, they turned their pianos into stringed instruments through an unusual technique.
“Donald Fox, our scenic design guy, made tube socks with sand in them,” Wyse said. “We laid them across the strings and the piano was made to sound like playing pizzicato on stringed instruments.”
Gautsche said that they came up with the theme for this year’s performance while trying to find music that they hadn’t already played.
“We started looking at works that we haven’t done and I was like ‘Well, that guy’s name is really funny,’” Gautsche said. “That gave us the momentum to look for obscure composers, and as we looked into them, we found cutesy little stories and interesting facts.”
These “cutesy little stories” were presented by Debbi Wyse’s husband, Ned Wyse, and Hillsdale alumna Gianna Marchese. Between songs, the pair revealed that Russian composer Alexander Borodin has an asteroid named after him, American composer Ned Rorem accepted cookies as payment from his students, French composer Louis Aubert had an ostentatious moustache — and much more.
The concert’s lighting was designed by Hillsdale Junior Tyler Sechrist, the mind behind the lighting for several Hillsdale shows, including “Arsenic and Old Lace” last semester. He said that his favorite look from “The Allure of the Obscure” was the colorful design that appeared onstage at the beginning, intermission, and end of the concert.
“It was really an attempt to communicate a cohesive vibe between the program for the show and the initial look at the show that people got when they walked in the door and were finding their seats,” he said. “The look tries to capture the idea of the obscure in a colorful and exciting way.”
According to Gautsche and Wyse, Sechrist worked with them to design lighting that captured the essence of the music.
“We gave him suggestions and he ran with it,” Wyse said. “For the Midnight Jazz Suite, we told him that we wanted something dark blue, maybe with a moon or stars, and he had it all set up.”
The selection of music itself was diverse and featured artists from all over the world, including famed Tango composer Astor Piazzolla and Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino, known as “the Schubert of the Pampas.” Liechtensteiner composer Josef Rheinberger, quoted by Ned Wyse, left the audience with food for thought:
“Music is above words; it begins where words no longer suffice.”