VIDEO: Connecticut Early Music Society and New London Maritime Society partner for benefit concert on 1814 piano
New London — Almost immediately after Guy Fishman played the last note of the prelude from Bach's Suite No. 1 for unaccompanied cello, the bell of an Amtrak train coming through New London sounded.
This was the small downside to filming a concert at the Custom House Maritime Museum.
The upside was the background and natural light of the second-floor Lucille M. Showalter Lecture Gallery, which is dedicated to the story of the Amistad and has windows facing the Thames River.
The Connecticut Early Music Society began its filming with the solo cello performance, but the raison d'être for the concert — which will be available for viewing as a virtual benefit for $65 — was the 1814 square piano in the middle of the room.
The piano isn't actually square, but has a rectangular case with a shorter keyboard than seen on modern pianos.
It's the fifth and newest one at the Maritime Museum, and the process of finding a permanent home for the piano was a few years in the making.
Aymeric Dupré la Tour, music director at the museum and a pianist, explained how he became aware of this particular piano. He got a call from a woman named Mary Keith, who had attended concerts he had given in North Stonington, where the historical society has two square pianos.
This square piano belonged to Keith's sister, who tasked Keith with finding the piano a home at a nonprofit that could use it for fundraising. Dupré la Tour said Keith called several universities looking to donate the piano and they all declined.
He noted that the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments, for example, already has a collection of square pianos in original condition, whereas this one had been restored. The issue was that "the restoration that had been done was not historically respectful," he said: Someone had put in modern piano pins and thick strings.
Dupré la Tour said he convinced Keith to have the estate donate money toward a new restoration, "because I was convinced without that, no one would accept that." He suggested master piano technician Ken Huebner, whom he had worked with before.
Huebner did research to find proper strings and he features this piano on his website, huebnerpianoservice.com.
Susan Tamulevich, executive direction of the Custom House Maritime Museum, was delighted when Huebner found writing underneath one of the keys. She posted pictures on the New London Maritime Society Facebook page, facebook.com/nlmaritime, asking for input from scriveners on what the names say.
Tamulevich said the Connecticut Early Music Society originally was supposed to have a concert at the museum last June. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was canceled.
But when the society officials heard about the piano, "they could not contain themselves with excitement," Tamulevich said.
Ian Watson, artistic director for the Connecticut Early Music Society, said the aim of the group is to present old music using the instruments of the period, "that if the composer walked into the room, they would recognize the instrument and the sound."
"We want to make the music come alive in that way, become a living entity, and I think Susan feels the same way about the museum, that it needs to be a living, breathing place," Watson said.
He played the square piano on Saturday, while Renee Hemsing played the viola and Susanna Ogata played the violin. The society brought in three videographers who were filming with four cameras.
Those interested in watching the performance, and a conversation between Watson and Tamulevich, can purchase tickets at ctearlymusic.org for $65 per household. The proceeds will be split between the Connecticut Early Music Society and the New London Maritime Society, which operates the museum.
A link will be provided to ticketholders prior to the virtual event time, which is 3 p.m. April 18, and the video will be available for viewing until May 10.
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