Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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A tale of two pianos. Or to be more accurate, fortepianos…

Tue Jun 28 2011

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Now time for some music by Felix Mendelssohn's good friend, Prince Albert (i.e. Queen Victoria's husband).… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…

The two fortepianos for the Labeque sisters concert

Every time a project involving fortepianos appears on our advance schedule, my heart sinks a little – not because I don’t like the sound of them, or enjoy hearing some of the fantastic repertoire that was written for them, but fortepianos usually = logistical nightmare.   And this time there were 2 of them…

The quest to source two matching pianos started a couple of years ago.  We spoke to our usual suppliers and had sussed that there were a couple of pianos based in the UK – a copy of an Anton Walter piano (a piano maker based in Vienna around Mozart’s time), made by Paul McNulty, and also a copy of a Michael Rosenberger which might be a good match.  Katia Labèque was going to be in London at the end of January 2011 and so we arranged a session up at Craxton studios for her to trial them.  Perfect, we thought, the pianos could be used in the UK for the rehearsals, then we’d take them on tour to Luxembourg, Paris, Dublin and bring them back to London for our final concert at the RFH, then they could return to their owners. Simples. Except the pianos weren’t ideally matched in tone and timbre and so the quest continued.

Some months later we were notified that there was another piano based outside of Paris, which was also a Paul McNulty Walter copy, which could be an excellent match for one the one that Katia had already trialled.  Katia and Marielle knew this piano and so helped us get in contact with the owner to organise this (whilst wrestling with the fact that he did not speak English).

Superb, we now had 2 pianos for the tour, just shame that they are not in the same country, and that they both need to come to London or a 3 hour rehearsal with the orchestra before going to Luxembourg for the first concert… Oh well, all part of the joys of striving for top quality period instrument performance!

So… the eventual schedule for the pianos went as follows:

14th June – Driver leaves London with truck to head to Paris to pick up piano

15th June – French piano arrives at the Warehouse rehearsal venue in London so the sisters can have some private practice time, joined by the UK piano – united for the first time at last!

16th June – Pianos taken up to Kings Place for the OAE’s ‘tutti’ rehearsal.  After the rehearsal the pianos are loaded into the truck (with numerous double basses, cellos and timpani) and head off to Luxembourg.

17th June – Pianos arrive in Luxembourg in time for the rehearsal at the venue.

18th June – Quick hop across to Paris for a concert at the Champs Elysees.

19th June – Longer and rougher journey to Dublin, crossing the English Channel, most of the UK’s road network, followed by the Irish Sea.  Just as well there is no concert today (well the OAE are performing in Glyndebourne today but that’s a story for another blog).

20th June – Truck arrives in Dublin

21st June – Truck departs Dublin on first Ferry of the day back over to Anglesey, then starts the epic journey back to London.  Rehearsal is meant to start at 5pm, which incidentally is already far later than we would have really preferred – safeguarding for any delays, we planned this later rehearsal in advance and also moved the pre-concert event to the ballroom, whereas it would usually have taken place in the hall. The Pianos need to arrive, settle, and be tuned before 5pm, but due to traffic and the lovely June showery weather the truck is delayed and eventually arrives at 5.15pm.  Relief all round; I thought for a minute we’d have had to change the programme!  After the concert the pianos were packed up and part company as the UK piano is returned to its owner and the French piano is taken back to France (along with the Labèque’s concert clothes!)

A shiny black Steinway neatly stored, tuned and ready to go at each venue?  Pah, what fun would that be?

Ceri Jones, Projects Director

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