A Rather Special Piano Recital
A Rather Special Piano Recital.
On a lovely summer’s day in 2016 at least ninety people descended upon Eastham Grange, as host, John Philips, had organised a piano recital in aid of one of his charitable causes, this one being to help raise funds for a new village hall. Unfortunately the current timber framed building is fast succumbing to old age and poverty that urgently needed replacing
The scene was impeccably set with a marquee for afternoon tea erected in John’s beautifully presented gardens, which arguably enjoy Worcestershire’s finest view – the Teme Valley, Sun drenched. and in all it’s verdant glory.
￼Prior to the arrival of the guests, last minute preparations were underway behind the scenes, with a local piano technician, having returned from Cornwall that very morning, giving the final once over to John’s exceptionally fine 1925 Weber Grand Duo Art reproducing piano, thus ensuring it delivered an exceptional performance.
This splendid concert quality instrument bearing the Serial no: 78025, was restored in 2008 ready for the opening of Eastham Grange’s music room. It has since been fitted with an E-Valve system supplied by the late Bob Hunt from the USA. This was only the second such installation in the UK, the first being fitted by MBSGB member Steve Greatrex to his splendid Steinway Model B Duo-Art grand. This system allows performances of scanned copies of Duo Art rolls direct from a computer but still using the original pneumatic system.
Our pianist for the day was internationally acclaimed Italian pianist, Alice Michahelles.
￼Alice studied Piano & Chamber music at the Cherubini Conservatorio in Florence; she graduated in 1985 with honours and has played at some of the worlds greatest venues.
These days, as well as performing and composing, she also teaches piano at the Santa Cecilia Conservatorio. Moreover, she still finds time to fly into England for just one week a year, to give tuition at the nearby Marlborough College summer school.
Only our host could be resourceful enough to enlist the aid of his friend, Brian Roberts, a student of Alice’s, to turn on enough charm and persuade Alice to perform, never having played in the UK .
Collectively we knew a treat of great privilege lay ahead.
With camera in place to stream the action from the keyboard to a large screen for the benefit of all. (With technical support kindly supplied by John Farmer.)
With everyone seated, a hush descended as signora Michahelles entered the music room, whereupon after introduction, she opened her programme with a breathtaking rendition of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. The atmosphere changed in an instant; the audience’s adrenalin release was obvious with a wave of goosebumps and prickling hairs rippling around the auditorium.
Her delivery, interpretation and expression held an ethereal quality that many a concert pianist could but only hope to achieve, and instantly won her the admiration of the audience.
The theme of the first part was Music and Nature and featured compositions by Beethoven, Grieg, Debussy and Ravel.
After a twenty minute break, (during which we enjoyed a splendid afternoon tea in the marquee) we returned to the music room for the second half of the performance, where we were rather taken by surprise: for it was performed on the Yamaha Disklavier Mk II XG.
John had kept this piano draped under a large red cloth to preserve the surprise element as it was presented to us open-fronted for maximum impact. With the piano action displayed boldly upon the screen. Naturally Alice’s gentle hands brought the best out of the instrument.
This rather special piano is based upon the Yamaha U3 upright, it bears the marks ‘HQ 300 SXG with a serial number of 5552566 & dates from 1997. This is not only a reproducing piano but also a recording piano that will repeat a hand-played performance exactly as it was delivered. In addition it can produce and record other electronic voices (those of other instruments) so a musical ensemble can be produced from the one instrument.
The theme of the second half was Romantic Masters, and featured works by Chopin, Elgar and Mendelssohn.
Each piece from the whole recital was terminated in succession with a rapturous and intense applause; such was the appreciation of the audience, with the calls for an encore so robust, they could well have been received at RAF Menwith Hill.
Alice, smiling, agreed to an encore and quite humbly offered to play a piece of her own composition. The excitement rose once more as she took to the keyboard of the Yamaha for a final time, and left us all quite literally stunned as her own work rivalled that of Chopin . . .
After the performance, Alice graciously gave up more of her time, with tips and micro lessons to anyone who played the piano themselves.
To see Alice performing Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso follow:
The music did not stop with her departure. For the audience who remained, pieces from John’s eclectic collection of mechanical instruments were played on demand. The exquisite sound of a particularly nice organocleide cylinder box and the rich tones of a fine Imhoff organ rounded off the event with finesse. For many it was their first introduction to self-playing instruments, and it provided an ideal opportunity to promote mechanical music.
Many thanks were in order to John and Hilda for both their hospitality and hard work. A couple of nights beforehand the weather was very blustery and Hilda had taken a tumble in an endeavour to prevent the marquee becoming airborne. Unfortunately resulting in a cracked her pelvis, being confined to a hospital bed, poor Hilda missed the concert, but gallantly insisted that the show must go on. Both she and John were rewarded by raising £1000 towards the village hall.
A special day indeed.