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Pianos will pop up all over Orange County

January 14, 2011 | 11:55 am

LadyGagaAnnHirstPianoAnnJohannson It has been said that one of the keys to becoming an accomplished artist is knowing how to steal well.

If that’s so, the Pacific Symphony is poised for quite an artistic accomplishment starting Sunday, when it will roll out a promotion called “OC Can You Play?” that involves dotting the Orange County landscape with 20 painted pianos. The kickoff event is 3 to 5 p.m. in the Jewel Court at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.

As you’ll recall, L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art did quite nicely in 2009 when it got Damien Hirst to paint a piano pink and festoon it with butterflies, then recruited Lady Gaga to play it at its 30th anniversary gala. Before the night was over, MOCA had auctioned the instrument, pocketing $450,000.

The Pacific Symphony doesn’t have Hirst, and it doesn’t have Gaga. But it does have the 20 pianos, donated by instrument-makers Yamaha and Kawai, and painted by 19 different artists, most of them O.C. locals. During the coming three weeks, the orchestra will plant them in 20 public places, from downtown Brea in the north to a Mission Viejo community center in the south. The point is for the public to come and play them. To make sure the notes ring true, the Piano Technicians Guild, which certifies piano tuners, is donating its services as well.

Carolyn Yarnell The idea is to get folks to fall in love with piano playing in general and these pianos in particular, so that they’ll be eager to bid and bid high when the instruments are auctioned for the Pacific Symphony’s benefit, Jan. 30 to Feb. 5, on the charity site.

As an additional incentive, folks who send in pictures of themselves at all 20 pianos via the orchestra’s Facebook page will be entered in a drawing for season tickets; those who can prove they’ve made it to at least three pianos will get a 20% discount on their next ticket purchase.

Did we mention that the Pacific Symphony designated its current 2010-11 season “The Year of the Piano?” Or that it’s also running a companion contest, “OC Can You Sing?” that’s a spin on “American Idol” (would-be amateur contestants have until Jan. 31 to submit a performance video; three finalists will perform March 17-19 on a Pacific Symphony Pops bill headlined by 2006 “Idol” finalist Katharine McPhee)?  Or that a third promotion, “OC Can You Play With Us?,” invites all comers 24 and over who are able to read music and willing to pay a $50 participation fee to sit in with the orchestra on May 16 for a nonpublic hourlong rehearsal and performance? Any orchestral instrument is welcome; first-come online signups begin Feb. 15.

If the Pacific’s bid for cash, hoopla and community participation goes swimmingly, we’re confident that other arts groups will be lining up to follow. MOCA should be proud, too.

-- Mike Boehm

Photos: Lady Gaga plays piano painted by Damien Hirst; artist Carolyn Yarnell paints piano for Pacific Symphony's "OC Can You Play?" promotion. Credits: Ann Johanssen/Los Angeles Times (Lady Gaga); Pacific Symphony.


A fashionable turnout to MOCA's 30th

Philip Glass, Lang Lang among Pacific Symphony's 2010-11 season highlights

-- Mike Boehm

Photo (top): Lady Gaga performs on a piano painted by Damien Hirst. Credit: Ann Johanssen / Los Angeles Times

Photo (bottom): Artist Carolyn Yarnell paints a piano for the Pacific Symphony's "OC Can You Play?" promotion. Credit: Pacific Symphony