Last Friday evening in the Silliman College common room, four student pianists took a bow, wearing plastic Viking helmets and brandishing foam swords, before they performed Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” arranged for eight hands over two pianos.

The concert was the academic year’s opening performance by the Yale Undergraduate Piano Collective, an extracurricular group founded last spring by math major and pianist Rishi Mirchandani ’19 to “create a sense of community among undergraduate pianists at Yale,” according to the group’s website.

The concert “Macabre Melodies” — which took place in front of a packed audience — featured seven works of the classical, romantic and 20th-century periods in the spirit of Halloween for piano duet and quartet, ranging from Grieg’s mysterious “In the Hall of the Mountain King” to Shostakovich’s dark “Concertino for Two Pianos.” Performers played four-hand pieces for one or two pianos and eight-hand pieces for two pianos on two baby grand pianos facing each other, so pianists on either side could make eye contact and play off one another mid-performance. Some audience members came for leisure and others had connections to the performers.

“Ilayda [Orhan ’21] and I are here to support our friend who is playing tonight,” said Renee Ong ’21.

Ong and Orhan’s across-the-hall neighbor Zeynep Karacan ’21 finished the Bakirkoy Music Conservatory in Turkey at age 10 and performed a striking and expressive “In the Hall of the Mountain King” during the concert with Allison Chen ’21, who has played piano since she was 7 years old.

In addition to the virtuosic performances and well-programmed repertoire, some pianists took to their benches in costume during the concert, like Ece Bozkurt ’20 and Mahima Kumara ’20. Both presented Holst’s “Neptune, The Mystic” from The Planets, a spooky and contemplative piece, while sporting Minnie Mouse and devil-horns headbands.

James Carrabino ’20 and Anthony Ratinov ’20 performed Shostakovich’s intense and laborious “Concertino for Two Pianos,” three short movements that transition from ominous to agitated and grotesque in color, while donning appropriately picked sweatbands.

Performers in the finale “Ride of the Valkyries” entered as Vikings, inspired by the context of “Ride of the Valkyries” in the opera “Die Walkure,” during which the theme serves as the battle cry of the Valkyries — female figures in Norse mythology who decide the fates of soldiers in battle.

According to audience members, the music, space and creative touches to the event, such as performance in costume, made for an interesting and enjoyable concert.

“I really liked all the pieces,” said Tanya Yhanik, a student in the Yale School of Public Health. “I particularly enjoyed how they did some on two pianos and some on one piano.”

In addition to concerts, the Yale Undergraduate Piano Collective organizes studio classes for friendly peer musical critique, nighttime sight-reading parties and masterclasses: opportunities for undergraduates to perform for and learn from concert pianists in a public setting. The organization also advertises gig opportunities to its members.

Mirchandani said “Macabre Melodies” was the largest performance the collective has done in its short existence; asked if he expected the impressive attendance, he said he was “unsure, but we really push hard for publicity.”

The collective’s next scheduled event is a study break for members on Nov. 8, while the next concert will be held on either Feb. 9 or 10, according to the group’s website. The upcoming February concert will have Valentine’s Day themes and take the title “Suites and Sweets,” a pun on “suites” as a structure of a musical work and “of course candy,” Mirchandani said.

“Continuing this tradition of doing concerts that create community among pianists,” Mirchandani said, “we’re going to do another four-hand, eight-hand sort of thing.”

The entire program for “Macabre Melodies” featured works by Bach, Saint-Saens, Grieg, Shostakovich, Holst, Khachaturian and Wagner.

Emily Schussheim |