The Chess Piano Makes Its Second U.S. Appearance in St. Louis


When it comes to chess, St. Louis actually does have room for two sheriffs in town. (And a piano.)
  • When it comes to chess, St. Louis actually does have room for two sheriffs in town. (And a piano.)

According to the ticker on its website, the World Chess Hall of Fame is six days from opening in its new home in the Central West End across the street from the Chess Club and Scholastic Center. This news should be accompanied by the same level of enthusiasm you'd assume it lacks. (You'd be wrong.) In addition to showcasing the game's most prized possessions, the World Chess Hall of fame straddles the divide between art and science with its attention to chess. And on September 13, it will focus firmly on music.

In the days around its opening, the World Chess Hall of Fame will cover solid but expected terrain: hors d'oeuvres, ribbon cutting, an induction ceremony and a tour through the art, rare chess sets and other memorabilia on display in the three-floor, 15,000 square foot building. The official activities will transition to experimental on September 13, however, with a visual art performance of the world's only chess piano.

It is exactly what is sounds like: Created by Dutch visual artist Guido van de Werve, the art piece will be recorded during its use, which revolves around two players creating music as they play a game of chess.

The performance promises to be the best thing to combine both music and chess since Murray Head's "One Night in Bangkok." The Chess Piano is itself the most recent work in a twelve-part series van der Werve created and named in numerical order. The Thursday performance will feature nine string members of the St. Louis Symphony playing their instruments while van der Werve plays the piece "Number Twelve: Chess Piano Concert in Three Movements," against Matthew Bengston, who is both a FIDE master and a concert pianist. Completing the performance is an initial introduction by St. Louis Symphony Music Director David Robertson.

"It's all about collaboration," says Susan Barrett, the Hall of Fame's chief executive officer. "We're partnering with both the art museum and the St. Louis Symphony in order to be able to add more to people's understanding and perception of chess. We're really focused on it much more as a symbol than as a game."

The World Chess Hall of Fame, which will bolster the city's reputation as the chess capital of the United States, forms a fitting context for the Chess Piano's second performance in the United States.

"As a hall of fame, we're celebrating the people who contribute to our field," Barrett says. "Many of those people are not grandmasters. Chess is a collective language, something that brings people together and allows us to interpret the way we see things, much like art."

The details here, unsurprisingly, are all still tied to the game, but the Hall of Fame's goal is to serve as a more expansive partner to the strictly focused chess club across the street, through the display of projects like this one, which allows chess to bridge the territories of art and music.

"The success of the chess club alone made St. Louis the chess capital of the world," Barrett says. "Our goal is to solidify that success while making it larger. And we hope to do so with creative projects like this one."

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