Woodman, Spare That Piano!
Did you read Daniel J. Wakin's article about the glut of thrown-out pianos in today's New York Times? Pianists and those who love them may not want to know this, but apparently, an alarming number of pianos, no longer welcome at home, are ending up in landfills or fireplaces. Now, I'm not the sentimental sort when it comes to objects. When it comes to people, yes; to music, absolutely. But stuff? Not so much. You won't hear me getting on the case of those who, for whatever reason, find no better alternative to dumping their old upright or baby grand, just as I'm not given to gassing on about our disposable society, or as Times columnist Nicholas Kristof put it in his most recent preach-fest, "our post-industrial self-absorption." Who is being self-absorbed here, buddy?
Yet there was bittersweet irony in Wakin's piece appearing one day after, in the company of The Wife and three young friends, I heard Chinese pianist Yuan Sheng's dazzling and spellbinding recital of Debussy and Ravel on an 1877 Érard piano, a concert that benefited the Frederick Historic Piano Collection of Ashburnham, Mass. You've probably heard me gush on-air about the Frederick Collection and its Historical Piano Concerts. Anyhow, if you need a pick-me-up after reading Wakin's "For More Pianos, Last Note is Thud in the Dump," check out the 2001 NY Times piece about "Where Old Pianos Go to Live." And please, do consider a drive to Ashburnham for one of this fall's concerts. How about, for instance, an afternoon of great Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven on the Fredericks' 1802 Brodmann? Wow, does that look great! You can arrive early and stroll the lovely grounds of the nearby Cushing Academy (America's first coeducational boarding school). Or actually, lest I become too much like Nicholas Kristof, you can do whatever you'd like with your time — and your piano. Fortunately, there are some amazingly dedicated folks nearby whose time is devoted to some magnificent pianos that, who knows, they may have spared from a fiery grave. They pair their instruments up with appropriate repertoire and splendid musicians, and we, for not too much money, get to partake. Now that's something to shed tears over — tears of joy!
Photo: Yuan Sheng standing in front of the Frederick Collection's 1845 Pleyel upon which, in May of 2011, he performed one of the best Chopin recitals I ever heard.