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Saul Seminar - January 2007 at the British Library

The Saul Seminars, named after Patrick Saul, founder of the National Sound Archive.

The Institute has a regular following for its concerts at the Purcell Room on London's South Bank, but the evening lecture at the British Library on "Re-Appraising the Player Piano" brought the Pianola and its music to the attention of quite a different audience. It was good to see so many new faces, and to find the player piano being taken so seriously by the library and archiving community.

The British Library did us proud by hiring in a Steinway grand for the occasion, and Denis Hall and Rex Lawson spoke of the need for the preservation and study of music rolls, in conjunction with practical education for young pianola players and reproducing piano specialists. Our thanks are due to Chris Clark and Jonathan Summers, of the National Sound Archive, and to Chris and Paul Banks, of the British Library and Royal College of Music respectively.

Denis Hall in the British Library Lecture Theatre.
(Photo: Robert Wilson)

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Grieg and Grainger Part 1 - February 2007 in Kristiansand

Percy Grainger in rehearsal with the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra.
(Photo: Norwegian Television)

In February, the Pianola Institute's Duo-Art push-up travelled to Norway, where it allowed Percy Grainger to appear as soloist in the Grieg Piano Concerto, with the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Rolf Gupta. There were two performances, in Kristiansand, on the south coast of Norway, and in Arendal, about fifty miles to the east. Thanks in no small measure to the electrical stepper motor and microprocessor control installed by Anthony Robinson, Percy performed both memorably and accurately, and Rolf Gupta conducted with a real feel for the romantic style of playing.

During the initial rehearsal, on the first morning in Norway, the skies opened, and snow covered the entire landscape. With more luck than planning, Rex Lawson's car just managed to return to the hotel, where it remained for the rest of the trip, and during the evening Denis Hall managed to slip on the ice and break his wrist, subsequently appearing on Norwegian Television with his arm in a sling. Grainger, the Athlete of the Concert Platform, would have been proud of the battle scars incurred on his behalf!

Percy Grainger's Warriors with their War Wounds.
(Photo: Eileen Law)

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Pianola Rendezvous - May and June 2007 in Brussels

Poster for Pianola Rendezvous at the Musical Instrument Museum, Brussels.
(Design: Pablo Diartinez)

The Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels devoted a whole month to an exhibition of player pianos in its purpose-built, 250-seater concert hall, with a selection of instruments, rolls and catalogues attractively laid out on stage, and in the display areas sourrounding the seating. Pianola Rendezvous was the brainchild of Jo Santy, who organises concerts for the Museum, and it combined recitals, lectures and practical demonstrations, scheduled at a time of year to complement the renowned Queen Elizabeth Piano Competition.

The Musical Instrument Museum, near the Royal Palace in Brussels.
(Photo: Bert van den Berg)

The Museum set up a special website for the occasion, which is still active, and can be found at www.pianola.be. There were jazz concerts, classical concerts, Pianola brunches in the Museum restaurant, and as a finale, a concert of Contemporary Music for Pianola, with compositions by Conlon Nancarrow, Wolfgang Heisig, and a newly commissioned work from the Belgian composer, Jacqueline Fontyn.

Wolfgang Heisig and Rex Lawson in Nancarrow's Study no. 40.
(Photo: Jeanette Koch)

George van Dam, violinist of the Ictus Ensemble, gave a quite outstanding performance of Prokofiev's Five Melodies, and symbolised the gratifying way in which the Museum had presented the Pianola, not as a curiosity, but as a normal instrument of music.

George van Dam and Pianola in Prokofiev's Five Melodies.
(Photo: Gerd Flick)

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Grieg and Grainger Part 2 - June 2007 in Bergen

Andrew Litton getting to grips with Grainger.
(Photo: Einar SkarsbÝ)

At the beginning of June, a mad dash from Brussels to Norway, via DFDS Seaways from Amsterdam to Newcastle, Stavanger and Haugesund, resulted in Grainger re-visiting Grieg's home town of Bergen for the closing concert of the 2007 Festspillene. Norwegian Radio broadcast the occasion, which was conducted by Andrew Litton, Musical Director of the Bergen Philharmonic, and it must be said that Grainger was in tip-top form. If his encore of Country Gardens did not quite set the scene for Mahler's Ninth Symphony which followed, the audience nevertheless applauded with considerable vigour and obvious delight.

The Festival office provided a very friendly volunteer, in the shape of Einar SkarsbÝ, who drove Grainger's assistants wherever they were needed, and acted as tourist guide for Grieg's house at Troldhaugen, and for the Royal residence of Gamlehaugen, where there is still a 1907 Hupfeld 73-note Phonola in its original condition. Further concerts, maybe? Watch these pages!

Percy Grainger rehearsing in the stunning Grieghallen Concert Hall.
(Photo: Einar SkarsbÝ)

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Rachmaninov Lives Again - June 2007 in Brussels

Then and Now - Easthope Martin and Artur Nikisch in 1912 ...
... and Rex Lawson and Yoel Levi in 2007.
(Drawing: J. Harris / Photo: Jeanette Koch)

Thanks to a long and trusted friendship with Gunther Broucke, Director of the Flemish Radio Orchestra, the opportunity arose to crown the month in Brussels with a performance of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto, with solo rolls newly made by Rex Lawson from the score. The concert formed part of the Annual Conference of ISPA, the International Society for the Performing Arts, so an audience consisting mainly of orchestral managers and festival directors was not a little surprised to be confronted by a very unusual solo instrument and soloist.

The Flemish Radio Orchestra and Soloist standing to attention.
(Photo: Bert van den Berg)

Around a dozen Friends of the Institute made the trip to Brussels, from London, Devon, the Netherlands, Germany and California, and a rattling good time was had by all. Maestro Yoel Levi accompanied a nervous though committed soloist with sensitivity and panache, and the Concerto seemed to be very well received. The evening after, a select group resorted to the superb Stella d'Italia restaurant in the suburbs of Brussels for pasta and ice cream, as can be seen from the following congenial photograph. Man cannot live by Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto alone!

Friends of the Pianola Institute at play.
(Photo: La Fotocamera del Cameriere)

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Myra Hess - November 2007 at the National Gallery

Dame Myra Hess re-visited the National Gallery.

During the Second World War, Dame Myra Hess instituted regular lunchtime concerts in the Barry Rooms of the National Gallery, which helped to keep morale high during some of the most difficult days of the war. Many musicians were involved in the concerts, not always in a musical capacity, as exemplified by Joyce Grenfell's regular participation in the making of sandwiches! Well, we didn't have sandwiches during the concert on this occasion, but the National Gallery once again made available the Barry Rooms, which resounded to the sound of Dame Myra's piano playing, by means of the Pianola Institute's Duo-Art push-up and a concert grand piano.

Re-introducing Dame Myra to the London public!
(Double photo: Robert Wilson)

The concert was recorded by the BBC, for use in a radio documentary on the player piano during the winter of 2008, and an enthusiastic audience filled the Barry Rooms well above the capacity of the intended seating, so that the atmosphere in the transept behind the photographer felt rather like the Promenade Concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall. We hope that Dame Myra will now re-visit the National Gallery on an annual basis, reviving the wartime spirit, though hopefully not the War!

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