Under the cover of a thick fog, on the first night in February 2013, Mauro fortissimo rolled an aging piano onto the bluffs of Half Moon Bay setting the stage for Sunset Piano.
His plan was to play the same Schumann Arabesque each night at sunset. Over two months the piano would slowly fall out of tune and succumb to the elements. The next day a few friends, cyclists, and dog walkers gathered along the coastal trail to watch as Mauro propped open the lid, clipped his music to the stand, and brought the hundred year old piano back to life. The evening was surprisingly warm, the sunset deep orange, and the music magnificent.
As word spread between neighbors, photos were sent via cell phones, and updates appeared on social media, each night the audience grew exponentially. From a local blog to the cover of a weekly paper, public radio to the LA Times, the piano, once abandoned, now sparked the curiosity of thousands. Responding to a complaint, a code enforcement officer deemed it an unlawful encroachment on public land and gave ten days for its removal. With the final performance set for Valentine's Day, the piano was the talk of the town and beamed to distant corners of the world as satellite trucks and TV crews reported live updates from each nightly performance.
Mauro never intended the show to last forever and from the outset planned a final performance with the piano set aflame. For thirty years he has transformed discarded pianos into reconfigured harps, sculptures and mobiles, bringing a new lease on life to dusty, warped, and rusted instruments. As the popularity of Sunset Piano grew, critiques were made on-line and in letters to the editor.. . even Mauro had second thoughts as the piano touched so many. Nearly a thousand people gathered for the last sunset on the bluffs, the classical music and crashing waves were the perfect accompaniment for lovers, families, singles, and friends.
An offer arrived for an encore performance at the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club and a fisherman provided the baby grand a final breath of fresh air with a boat ride around the harbor. The piano had fallen further out of tune, the keys needed to be played with greater insistence, and a cremation was planned for the following day. It took an unbelievable amount of chemicals and torching to ignite, but in a solemn ceremony the piano was ablaze. Mauro ducked flames with a final musical improvisation, then everyone stood back to reflect in smoke and silence.
What brought so many to see Sunset Piano? Was this a death with dignity or the desecration of family heirloom? Why were so many compelled to watch through a viewfinder? At what point does neglect and the passage of time render something beyond salvation? For many the Sunset Piano was a serenade to humanity, a requiem on the fragility of life or an interlude for being present in the moment. It shook us out of routine to share a unforgettable experience as family, friends, neighbors, and community. As was true for the piano, our days are also numbered. Realizing that time is fleeting brings a certain sadness, as well as the chance to revel in the true beauty of impermanence.
- Lars Howlett