In my quest to find the lost love letter left in a piano chair more than 50 years ago, I have so far had the pleasure of performing in 7 different cities in South Africa. The letter is still at large but my delight in performing for different audiences and experiencing their appreciation for classical music has been overwhelming. As my colleague and master Steinway technician Ian Burgess-Simpson explained to me as we drove back from a concert in Kroonstad late one evening: “this tour has given me new hope for piano and for classical music”. Seeing audiences come out in big numbers to support piano music and show their interest and appreciation for these magnificent instruments have inspired me more than I could have anticipated.
One of the biggest learning experiences has been touring with my own piano technician – a dream come true and a first for me. The amount of insight into the making of a Steinway piano has been huge. Being able to compare various instruments of different ages to one another has given me an overview of the sound possibilities on instruments from each era of piano building. Ask any pianist worth their salt and they will tell you each piano is different, even if they are built by the same factory in the same year. I would go even further and say that each piano has its own soul. When I play on a piano I get the same sensation, as when I meet another person. I can immediately sense if it has some mischief in its personality, shyness, buoyancy, bravado or underlying issues. Is this an old lady, a young stud or a long-distance runner? So far on the tour I have had a bit of everything: the youngest piano was at the Musaion concert (2013) and the oldest in Kroonstad (1942).
Ian Burgess-Simpson has managed in each case to dramatically improve the piano within a matter of hours. This reiterated the point of regular servicing – with his expert knowledge he could tune, voice and regulate as much as each piano needed to ensure ultimate effectiveness and longevity of the instrument. Performing the same repertoire in each city has enabled me to really compare the instruments on and even level. I was sometimes overwhelmed with how the instrument responded to the day’s service and in some cases lucky enough to assist Ian. My heartfelt thanks to him for his huge and generous contribution.
There are only three concerts remaining: Port Elizabeth (7 Oct), East London (8 Oct) and Johannesburg (12 Oct). I look forward to seeing some familiar faces at each one of these concerts and will keep my fingers crossed in hope of finding the missing letter.