Tonight I'm giving a concert at a house in Urbana. It has been a while since I have played a concert in someone's house. In fact, I couldn't remember ever doing it before except when I was preparing an audition for graduate school and played two test runs at my parent's house (my piano was staying there at the time!).
Then I remembered a concert from 2000. It was a concert series at a plantation house in North Carolina. I don't know how the connections where established, but apparently the Chair of the voice department at Peabody had sung on what was a yearly concert series there, and she's no slouch (having met most of the important composers of the 20th century and premiered many of their works, I'd say not). A student of hers (also no slouch) was contracted to sing, and I was to play the piano.
There are two things I remember about the event. One was that there were hurricane-force winds on the trip down and driving rain. I was driving, and the several hour trip from Baltimore to what seemed like the middle of nowhere looked at lot like what you see on the news. The trees were bent sideways, visibility was tough--I was a little concerned.
When we got there, to a solitary house in the middle of nothing but rolling fields, I didn't know what to expect. But it's a house, right? Not a concert facility. Upon arrival on the porch of this weather-beaten house which must have been a hundred miles from any large town, I could hear the sound of a piano. I peered in the window and imagine my shock to see a man bent over it tuning a 9-foot Steinway concert grand! Evidently it was on rental from a music store in the area. Wow.
Now you have to realize that when you give a concert in someone's living room it isn't going to be like playing Carnegie Hall. But here's the irony: I had just played Carnegie Hall a couple of months earlier, and I have to say, the piano in that fellow's living room was a better piano! The one in New York was functional, but it didn't have the tonal character that this one did. I should mention that I spent a certain amount of time in New York in those days, and the pianos always seemed like they had seen an awful lot of action (which they did, of course). The piano in North Carolina, by contrast, has to be one of the top five pianos I have ever been privileged to play. And it was in a living room in a rural house. Not where you'd expect!
Tonight's concert does not feature a 9-foot Steinway. In fact, it spent much of its life in a church where it was probably not cared for properly. As a result the dampers do not close around the strings fully in some instances. This makes for a very interesting effect, however, in that, by depressing the pedal part of the way, you can call forth a somewhat metallic, harpsichord-ish sound from the piano, which I intend to exploit, since I'm going to start the concert with a couple of pieces that were written for the harpsichord. There are also some cool overtones that ring prominently when you strike a chord in the bass with some force--I'll see what I can do with that. I predict that the train crash in Joplin's "Crush Collision March"* will sound really awesome!
Each piano has its own character, and its own challenges. Some fight back, others are very light. The action on tonight's piano is of the second variety, which is an advantage for some of the music I've chosen to play. The room also has a high ceiling which gives more reverberation than is typical of a living room setting!
But the best part is the intimacy. I'll be in close quarters (no boundaries between the stage and the audience) with friends and friends of friends who have just enjoyed good food and are settling in for a fine musical conversation. I should do this more often!
(I'll have some pictures from the event on Monday.)
*I'll blog about Mr. Joplin's piece next week.