Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Clockwise from top right: Mauro Ffortissimo plays piano on the bluffs at Kelly Beach in Half Moon Bay Thursday. He’s been playing there at sunset every night for the past two weeks. Mauro Ffortissimo plays one of his Sunset Pianos while ballet dancer Samantha Corsiglia performs at Thursday night’s performance. Aerialist Cola Claret dances while suspended from cypress trees.
Dozens of people gathered under coastal cypress trees in the obscured moonlight Thursday to watch as a group of musicians, poets, singers and dancers put on one of the most unique shows to ever grace the California coast.
For the past two weeks, the soothing sounds of the shore break have been accompanied by a surprising tone, a piano. Twelve once-abandoned pianos have been given a second life as they were exhaustingly hauled to various locations along the Half Moon Bay coast.
Sunset Piano was established by Half Moon Bay artist Mauro Ffortissimo. In February, he was inspired to install a grand piano on the bluffs near his Kelly Beach Park home where he played at sunset every night for two weeks and titled his recital Opus One.
The public’s overwhelming attendance and support encouraged Ffortissimo to host an encore performance, Opus Two. This time, he chose to install 12, because that’s how many notes a piano has, Ffortissimo said.
Ffortissimo co-owns a yoga studio in Half Moon Bay and is a painter, sculptor, musician and composer. His sincere love of the coast and marine animals inspired him to transcend his art by playing for, and with, the whales, Ffortissimo said.
“Whales, through sonar, they communicate with each other ... they sing, they talk, they even have songs,” Ffortissimo said.
Opus Two encourages social interactions by bringing music out of the confinement of a concert hall. The pianos are there as something for people to gather around, Ffortissimo said. Passersby can leisurely play the pianos and sunset audiences witness a free concert at a truly unique venue.
Ffortissimo assisted 6-year-old Penelope Keep as she played a newly learned song. Her parents traveled from Los Altos after hearing of Sunset Piano. Penelope Keep, who started playing the piano a year ago, said she was thrilled to be accompanied by the sound of the wind, the waves and the whales.
Why the piano?
Ffortissimo is often given abandoned pianos to fix, many of which require excessive time and money. His old-world values of the traditional instrument and concern about their decreasing fabrication, encouraged him to spotlight pianos against the serene ocean views.
“To me, pianos have souls and to play outdoors and let it be free and travel to the coast and the water, I thought it was a nice romantic thing to do,” Ffortissimo said.
Ffortissimo develops a bond between pianos and the ocean as their harmonious sounds reel in the most appreciative of audiences. He hopes by bringing people to the coast with the media attention his phenomenon has received, Sunset Piano will encourage preservation of the pristine and priceless San Mateo County coast.
Ffortissimo has paired up with a kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the costs associated with Sunset Pianos. As of July 15, Sunset Pianos has raised more than $27,000.
Hauling the weighty pianos up hills and through winding trails was a nightmare, Ffortissimo said. Penelope Keep’s father Pliny Keep was moved by this effort and applauded the talented Ffortissimo.
“That’s a major investment, to get a piano down to the beach. It has a kind of majesty, as if this were a concert hall and the waves were the audience,” Pliny Keep said.
The costs associated with Sunset Pianos will be offset by the funds, as will a documentary he’s producing in conjunction with filmmakers and photographers, Ffortissimo said. The remaining funds will be used to assist in repairing pianos, which can often cost thousands of dollars, for those who wouldn’t be able to afford the repairs. He also plans on donating money to the California State Parks, San Mateo County division.
Sunset Pianos has caused controversy among some residents and California State Park officials. For his grand finale of Opus One, Ffortissimo set fire to his outdoor piano to give it a spectacular cremation. Although Ffortissimo believes his short-term installations of the pianos are harmless, a lack of proper permitting has caused several to be removed. Only five pianos remain.
But Ffortissimo said he is grateful to the cordial officials who returned his pianos with prospects of future permits.
San Francisco’s Office of Economic Development has solicited Ffortissimo’s beatnik performances. He’s been asked to take his outdoor recitals to the streets and, in mid-October, he will install several pianos on Market Street between Octavia Boulevard and The Embarcadero.
Regardless of relocations, the Sunset Piano experience will extend past their installation. Filmmakers have begun the Sunset Piano documentary and a photo book from Opus One is already in print. Lars Howlett captured exquisite photos from the original performance and are displayed alongside some of Ffortissimo’s paintings.
Thursday night’s performance will be spotlighted in the upcoming documentary. The old wooden piano stood still as a standup bass player, drummer and various singers swayed alongside. Samantha Corsiglia, a ballet dancer in a pristine white dress, twirled around Ffortissimo as he and others played into the dark. People took turns reading poems, singing opera and an impromptu piano player led the entire audience in singing The Foundations’ infamous song “Build Me Up Buttercup.” Aerial dancer Cola Claret was suspended by cypress tree branches as the astonished spectators applauded.
“It was an amazing night. It’s such a wonderful thing to hear acoustic instruments outside in the trees. Not in a room, not on a stage, but in a beautiful surrounding next to the ocean. Hearing that in the background, it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing,” said resident Len Holmboe.
Sunset Piano performances will continue through the weekend and will be culminated in a closing celebration Sunday on the bluffs just south of Kelly Beach in Half Moon Bay around 6:30 p.m. For more information about Ffortissimo and Sunset Piano visit sunsetpiano.com