Some ideas are so obviously great, it’s hard to imagine they were ever a little bit illegal. Like piano-playing on the coastal bluffs in Half Moon Bay. Actually, that’s still against the rules, but an impromptu performance there of Schumann’s Arabesque on a dilapidated grand piano by artist Mauro ffortissimo over 14 evenings in 2013 seeded an idea that has grown into one of San Francisco’s most beloved summer spectacles.
When ffortissimo began to serenade the setting sun, his intent was to bring people together, to shake us out of our routines, and to revel in the past and the now. ffortissimo and his artistic accomplice Dean Mermell have since spread the outdoor piano-playing idea up and down the San Mateo Coast and to the streets of San Francisco and documented it on film, and for the fourth summer in a row they will bring it, fully sanctioned, to the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park.
Flower Piano, a 12-day nature-meets-music extravaganza, situates a dozen pianos throughout the 55-acre garden and invites everyone—the public and scheduled professionals—to come and play anything, from their favorite Schubert to the blues to calypso to chopsticks. There’s a piano set amid the buckeye trees in the California natives section and another near the garden’s century-old redwood grove. Miniature grand pianos are a perennial favorite in the Children’s Garden. The treasure hunt for the 12 pianos inspires people to explore the full extent of the garden’s collection, says botanical garden spokeswoman Nina Sazevich, and pianists are “surprised by the interaction with the wind and hummingbirds, the nature soundscape, and playing in concert with that.”
Flower Piano runs from July 5 to 16, sfbotanicalgarden.org/flowerpiano; ffortissimo and Mermell’s collaboration and their various happenings can be followed at sunsetpiano.com.