When was the last time you, as an amateur pianist, were showered with a standing ovation by a dozen young students from around the world who are studying English at the city’s International Language School? Well, it happened to Sasha Broydo, who tickled the ivories with a beautiful medley of popular Russian songs on a grand piano tucked away among the gazebo surrounded by flowers at the stunning setting of San Francisco’s Botanical Garden.
With twelve pianos spread out within the 55 acres of beautiful gardens, a creative partnership of music and nature is the theme of this year’s Botanical Garden’s 75th Anniversary Celebration. And you can rejoice with them on a happy note. Located in the heart of Golden Gate Park, it is one of the country’s most significant botanical collections, a place of beauty, conservation, inspiration and now – the sounds of music.
This musical interlude is being called Flower Piano and it is the latest project by artists Mauro Ffortissimo (how is that for a creative and very apropos name?) and Dean Mermell, who together conceptualized and launched Sunset Piano in 2013 when Ffortissimo delivered an old grand piano onto the hills overlooking Half Moon Bay. According to the Botanical Garden’s press release, ‘’The Sunset Piano has expanded this impromptu musical and social experiment, temporarily placing pianos in a wide variety of unexpected natural and urban settings around the Bay Area every year, from the top of Montara Mountain to Market Street.’’
‘’By simply changing the context of a musical instrument, issues of environmental sustainability, the loss of fine hand craft to a digital future, music in schools and public places, all become very important to people,’’ says Mermell. ‘’San Francisco Botanical Garden is the perfect venue to discover and enjoy piano music out of doors. We’ve found that music enjoyed in a beautiful setting under the sky builds an instant camaraderie even among perfect strangers. And everyone who enters the Garden can’t help but feel the sense of community that has developed around maintaining this special place in the city. Flower Piano is going to bring people together under the best possible circumstances. It’s going to be very social, possibly even romantic.’’
‘’We are thrilled to welcome Sunset Piano to the Garden in this special 75th Anniversary year,’’ says Sue Ann Schiff, San Francisco Botanical Garden Society Executive Director. ‘’Filling the Garden with music for twelve days will be a moving way to celebrate this special place. Music and nature are both powerful motivators to leave distractions behind and get lost in the surroundings. We invite the community to share in this unique experience with us.’’
It is not too late for you to discover your claim to fame each day from 9AM to 6PM. From Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach to boogie-woogie, the Beatles and the Ragtime, anything goes. Simply grab a map or follow your ears to locate one or all of the twelve pianos hiding away in the gorgeous and tranquil oasis of nature’s newest outdoor concert hall. You may even hum something wonderful or whistle a lovely tune on your way out of the Botanical Garden.
All twelve pianos are available for the public to play during regular Garden hours. First come, first serve. But due to the enormous popularity for these performing opportunities, 15 minutes is your playing time limit, if other prospective talented musicians are waiting in line and are quite eager to showcase their virtuosity. On select days, professional pianists, including acclaimed Steinway Concert and Recording Artist Lara Downes, are scheduled to perform, and the public is welcome to watch the performances. On Saturday, July 18, Sunset Piano musicians, including Mermell and Ffortissimo, will play on multiple pianos throughout the day.
All events are free with regular admission, with a special bonus of free admission for San Francisco residents. For detailed information about the events as well as the schedule of the special performances, visit www.sfbotanicalgarden.org. Sunset Piano will also post a schedule of events on their website: www.sunsetpiano.com. Established in 1940 originally as Strybing Arboretum, San Francisco Botanical Garden is a partnership of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and the non-profit San Francisco Botanical Garden Society.
Lina Broydo immigrated from Russia, then the Soviet Union, to Israel where she was educated and got married. After working at the University in Birmingham, England she and her husband immigrated to the United States. She lives in Los Altos Hills, CA and writes about travel, art, style, entertainment, and sports. She hardly cooks or bakes, with no borsch or piroshky on her home cooking menu. Therefore, she makes reservations and enjoys dining out, mostly sushi.
By Lina Broydo