I have a plan to take at least one out-of-town trip every month. It helps with the sanity. In January I went to CT to visit my aunts. Last weekend I made a trip to northeastern MA to visit a few special friends. Both have beautiful pianos. The woman I stayed with has a rebuilt Steinway A and my other friend has a Mason & Hamlim BB, only a few years old.
We've all been to several "piano parties" at various places here on the East Coast. It was at one of those that I met Valentina Lisitsa. Check her out, she's phenomenal!
Rachmaninoff Etude Op. 39 No. 6. She and Martha Argerich are two of my favorite pianists. I was very very very fortunate to hear Valentina and her husband play rachmaninoff duets at the party. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Almost unbelievable. Swoon.
The friend I stayed with arranged a most beautiful day for us in NE Mass with a quick venture into southern NH. I have to mention this because if you are ever in the area, you must, absolutely must visit Pickity Place. She took us there for a 5-course lunch and it was amazing. Seriously out of the way... I haven't travelled a dirt road since I left NH 35 years ago. All I can say is that sometimes out of the way is the best way. The place is a gem. An 18th Century cottage, gardens, woods, animals, herbs and wonderful food. It amazes me that someone thought of opening a restaurant in a remote corner of the woods expecting it to work. And it works! Very, very charming. Put it in your roster of places to keep in mind.
After our magnificent lunch we headed to Ashburnham, MA to visit Fredericks Historial Piano Collection, now housed in what was once the town library. The experience is jaw dropping. What a thrill! The Frederick's (it's a husband and wife operation) have more than a few dozen pianos dating from the late 1700s to 1928. All the pianos are demonstrated and much history is revealed during the 4 hour tour and all the pianos are available for playing.
I have to say that what I call the "middle period" pianos are my favorites, but I am totally charmed by the early pianos. The ones with the very small hammers and all wood construction. In all honesty: they are not the same instrument as what we now call pianos. I tend to think there should be a different name for the modern, repetition action, ultra heavy, high strung instrument. Anything with a metal frame in should have a different name!
The old instruments are very warm and unpretentious. Nothing overwhelming about them, except the glorious music they set forth. A scale so suitable for the home. As biased as I may be, I think my favorite was the Pleyel from 1845. It's impossible to be objective about it after reading that Pleyel was Chopin's favorite piano. The thing is, the one at Frederick's is a wonderful piano. There was also a Streicher from 1868 (or maybe it was the one from 1871) that I liked. Several of the "middle period" pianos (and early ones too) have character beyond what we are accustomed to. I think it's an Erard that sits directly ahead of the entry way, which treble is gorgeously glockenspiel-ish.
I realized--while there--that we don't know what we missed. The tour at Fredericks has given me a glimpse of it and my life is richer for it. My appreciation for period instruments has increased by several factors.
The erudite owners are ever so helpful and generous in their tour. Many, many thanks to the Fredericks for the music (piano and voice) and captivating history.
So next time you're round about northeastern Massachusetts or southern New Hampshire, look up Pickity Place and Frederick's. You won't regret it!
My friend took video while we were at Frederick's then put it together in this lovely recollection:
Friends visiting Frederick's Historic Piano Collection