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Mauro Ffortissimo plays one of the 12 pianos he set up along the San Mateo County Coast in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Wednesday, July 10, 2013. Ffortissimo has set up in various scenic locations along the San Mateo County Coast, open to the public to play. (John Green/Bay Area News Group)

HALF MOON BAY -- An artist who created a sensation in February when he placed a baby grand piano on a coastal bluff then led two weeks of spontaneous concerts is back with a bigger, more ambitious installation.

Mauro Ffortissimo and a team of supporters this month hauled 12 pianos to idyllic oceanside perches on the San Mateo County coast from Waddell Creek on the Santa Cruz County border up to Gray Whale Cove near Devil's Slide. California State Parks rangers have removed five, but seven remained as of Friday, waiting for passers-by to sit down and plink away to the surf's accompaniment.

Ffortissimo, 51, calls the project "Opus Two for Twelve Pianos," and further episodes are already in the works. The city of San Francisco has contacted him about doing an urban installation along Market Street this fall, said Ffortissimo, and there's talk of making the Half Moon Bay phenomenon an annual event.

A small crowd gathered on a foggy Wednesday evening around a baby grand in Miramar just south of Surfer's Beach. Lisa Spector, a classically trained pianist who lives in Half Moon Bay, played Chopin's Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor. Local filmmaker Dean Mermell, Ffortissimo's collaborator, shot footage for a documentary.


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Beatrice Theodorou, 52, and Diane Pimentel, 53, watched with their lap dogs from low-slung chairs. It was the third night in a row the El Granada neighbors and childhood friends from Brooklyn had stopped by. The music and setting were beautiful, Theodorou said. It seemed like a miracle "to see a piano sprout from a field" she passes every day.

"It's food for the soul," she said. "The energy and the time and the love that inspired the act is what's miraculous."

The project is being funded through a Kickstarter campaign that wraps up Monday. The pianos will remain until Friday, followed by a closing celebration on Sunday, July 21, at Francis Beach involving several of the instruments.

Ffortissimo did not get permits for the installation, but he said the city and county have mostly looked the other way. The artist and musician, born Mauro Dinucci in Argentina, said he is careful not to damage the landscape.

Indeed, the fragility of the coastal ecosystem and the impermanence of the shore itself are two themes underpinning the project, mirrored by the weathering of the pianos by the wet, salty air. Ffortissimo imagines the pianos are playing songs for the whales migrating along the coast.

The project also aims to use music for one of its ancient purposes, creating social bonds, as well as remind people of the elegance of acoustic pianos, once staples of American homes but now often supplanted by digital keyboards. Ffortissimo has for years collected unwanted pianos, finding new homes for them or deconstructing them for use in his art pieces.

"It's the idea of taking the music out of the concert halls and bringing it to the outdoors -- to the 99 percent," Ffortissimo said of "Opus Two." "The music is free in nature. It doesn't bounce off any walls."

Moss Beach resident Tom Devine stopped by the Miramar piano Wednesday afternoon to play some classical tunes, then returned in the evening to listen to Spector.

"It's actually creating a little community here," said Devine, 66. "I've been meeting people from the neighborhood that I haven't met, and I've lived here 10 1/2 years. So it's been really nice."

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.

Sunset Pianos
Seven "sunset pianos" remained as of Friday on the coast in the Half Moon Bay area. Here's where you can find them:
Mavericks, Pillar Point Harbor
Surfer's Beach, Miramar
Francis Beach, Half Moon Bay
Poplar Beach, Half Moon Bay (three pianos)
Highway 1, half a mile south of Tunitas Creek Road, between Half Moon Bay and San Gregorio
For details, go to http://sunsetpiano.com.