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A Day in the City
#1212265 06/05/09 12:29 PM
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A Day in the City
Saturday, April 25, 2009

(Background music: Symphony #40 in g minor by WA Mozart: use your own imagination or plug in your favorite performance)

I had come home Friday night [4/24] from a week away at work and as soon as I arrived my oldest daughter, Elisha (named by her mother in honor of the prophet Elisha who besides the gift of prophecy was also a healer), informed me of a situation that involved a vacancy on a bus to New York City for a day trip scheduled today. For $35 I had an easy round trip from my village directly into Manhattan at Bryant Park, right behind the Public Library, a nice and convenient location. For a while I thought about all the other things I had to be doing on Saturday and knew besides that it was predicted to be hot. What then was of most importance that I could accomplish by going into town on a hot Saturday?

There were only two things I could hope to accomplish within the allotted span of 8 hours; a couple quick visits to two piano stores along New York's piano row, W 58th East of Broadway, and reconnecting in the flesh with my youngest daughter's godfather, who just happens also to be of Italian descent (if you have a godfather, better him to be Italian after all), after at least 20 years, though we have occasionally spoken over the phone and exchanged some correspondence.

As soon as I arrived in town at 10 am, it already being warm and despite my best efforts, again finding myself just that much slightly overdressed and uncomfortable, I made my way 14 blocks uptown arriving at Faust Harrison first. Michael Harrison, one of the partners, met me. It had been a while, as there have been many distractions in my life over the past two and a half years directly related to the economy and current world events. But, as seems a perennial and worthwhile interest of mine, in order to make a return to campaigning for a wider interest in pianos and pianism (specifically the allocation of set periods of time in one's life for nothing but practicing music at the piano, with or without the assistance of a teacher, with the conscious intention of acquiring the ability to build an acceptable repertoire of pieces which you could and would offer to play for others), I had to update what is of interest to these two of my oldest and frankly most beloved organizations; Faust Harrison and Beethoven's.

It has for many years now seemed to me that among the various dealers in the city of New York, that these two have "stuck their necks out" the longest, believing in certain ideals involving the value of the correct restoration of historical instruments and 20th century pianos, from very early on to the present, to the point in many cases of being superior to brand new instruments. Now, not all of the pianos I saw today were essentially old restored or rebuilt pianos, some were new pianos. On display at both stores were also quite a few interesting innovations to report.

At Faust Harrison, one of the brand new pianos I saw and played was a Mason & Hamlin model B, a 5' 4" grand. Now, this piano is closest in scale to an Estonia piano I played years before at Beethoven's. I loved the Estonia right away. Then they stopped making them. I never really knew the reason why, but I had heard rumors it had something to do with a claim Mason & Hamlin might have had on that particular scale design. In any case, I was sad not to be seeing more of them. But now, for those who don't have the space or the budget, but want a big sounding piano, these scales are the best I have encountered to date; the best true baby grand to date! This Mason & Hamlin B if anything had a solistic attribute to it that it's larger sisters almost lack. I say this because to me usually the Mason & Hamlin pianos have a huge sound, almost orchestral in comparison to most others.

But that assumption can depend a lot on how an older Mason & Hamlin grand is rebuilt or restored. I once played a very attractive BB (7' grand) at AC Piano Craft (another very fine institution in New York City which had I had more time I would have included in my visit), the sound of which more closely resembled a very fine Hamburg Steinway B (6'10" grand). In this case, it had been AC's trademark workmanship; the hammers, the preparation work and the action, as well as the BB's unique resonant properties.

Against a background of many other fine pianos, both stores featured classic Steinways. Today Faust Harrison had, as it always has, many unique examples. Today the emphasis seemed to be on cabinetwork as well as sound. The veneers were quite frankly stunning. And again, the restoration jobs are in that highest category of "as good as it gets," to the point of meeting or exceeding the prime objective of offering a piano for sale to the public, a classic piano which has been carefully rebuilt and restored to look, feel, play and sound brand new and in fact better than brand new in many cases.

Faust Harrison's featured pianos were wonderful pieces of furniture as well as fabulous instruments, and many had original ivory in flawless condition. If you've never been impressed by a Steinway S before, try one of theirs. Imagine one in an average sized Manhattan apartment and you will understand the possibilities. Imagine coming home from a hectic day to sit down and play some Choin or Brahms?

Since no piano is ever alike, even among the same maker and scale, when one finds the instrument which speaks with a voice of compelling urgency to the pianist (what I call the ache), there is the possibility of forming a bond similar to a great violinist's with a classic 17th or 18th century instrument by Stradivari (or Amati, Stainer, da Salo, Guarneri, etc).. And just as some violinists have more than one violin (and they almost have to, based on stringing stability requirements alone), some pianists manage to have more than one piano. Yes, imagine another piano rather than another car.

Beethoven Pianos today displayed new innovations in upright pianos. Imagine seeing a classic American upright piano, in again, like new condition. They just don't bother making cases like those anymore. In most cases they don't have the skilled woodworkers and their skills may never come again. These are especially nice when they are good period art-case instruments. Then comes the biggest surprise of all; the cases are not the real pianos. Inside are pianos made in Europe of European parts, a European scale, some of the larger ones quite spectacular in the tenor and bass ranges, and equipped with very accurate and accomplished European actions. Now of course it's all up to you, but for the money, it seemed the furniture premium was being displayed as well as the basic excellence of their instruments.

Beethoven's Carl Demler and I share much in our views of the world and as it turns out, also in our views of the potential for alternative modalities in healing. Those who may be at all interested can discuss it with him on their visits.

Visiting these places is sort of like visiting some famous auto showrooms where nothing but mint condition custom built or restored sedans and sports cars are on display and offered for sale. To anyone who has committed themselves to the pursuit of pianism as previously described, almost, and in my case certainly as a kind of religion, exposure to such exquisite musical treasures can be quite overwhelming.

My visits of necessity had to be cut short because I was also here to try and make contact once again with an old friend, the great composer and pianist, Andrew Violette. Indeed Michael Harrison, one of the principals of Faust Harrison, was a little surprised that I knew Andrew. He had me meet him at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, a place I had never been before. Here we were on the earliest and certainly the hottest day of this late coming spring and the trees and flowers were mostly only budding. Crowds of people from all over the world seemed to be sight-seeing all around a quieter gentler cleaner New York.

Here Andrew and I caught up on a few things, shared a very good lunch of sandwiches and lemonade and leisurely walked about. He challenged me on a number of vital points, which I was glad of actually. No, he thought I was wrong about most people our age (50 somethings) and thought it was both pre-mature and foolish to place too much confidence instead in the young people, most of whom I could tell he had difficulty understanding or appreciating. Then again, Andrew hadn't had a teenager to raise nor indeed had he any children, nor had he been exposed to the same material I had over the intervening time, of some necessity being forced to become a conspiracologist; a conspiracy researcher. (Note the choice of conspiracy and ecology or even oncology; conspiracies being, by far and for the most part, great crimes committed against society as a whole and therefore in their essence and metastasis very similar to a malignant disease like cancer).

The other thing Andrew advised me against is not to disregard the importance of living this life to the full, for the most part disregarding whatever promised to be the spiritual life after (or before) this one. About the first thing he said was, "and you've kept all your hair." For yes, Andrew had lost his and had decided to shave the rest off, just as I would have done were I in his situation. "But I'm losing my teeth," I replied and showed him both sides of my mouth.

Of all things, Andrew was curious to know whether I missed the experience of romantic love. Well that was an interesting question. Andrew as I supposed, had not missed it because he was living with a woman for maybe ten years already, while I had remained alone after my wife died, now fifteen years ago. When people wonder about my still being single after all these years I strongly get the hint that I should be looking for someone to be with, but I have a few reasonable misgivings. The answer I gave Andrew had nothing of any of this, but that I found the question too complicated to answer because the relationship I had with my late wife wasn't really like anything I've experienced before or since and one thing it certainly wasn't, whether she might have liked it better had it been more so or not, was romantic.

You know sometimes you can't have it both ways. Sometimes you will know someone well enough to know whether you can trust them, whether they like you or even love you, with what responsibilities you can get them to assume, etc. etc. Some people you have to resist the temptation to try and know more than you can because everyone has their particular need for personal privacy and space. And of course, nobody comes through this life unscathed by the abuses and otherwise unbelievably bad behavior and treatment from others. Some people you meet may just be interested in finding someplace in and out of the rain for a while, so that to try and find out too much more of what they'd sooner forget is not even smart. Most people need some degree of looking after and it turns out that most really good strong relationships are based on some compromise regarding this concept; who is it that would be willing to tolerate my humanity in exchange for me tolerating hers?

Andrew said he no longer really believed in the institution of marriage, suggested that it probably was a relic of times when people could conceive of their children and spouses as extensions of themselves; their property, etc. He suggested that marriage had something to do with business.

Andrew and I could and did laugh, could cry, could tell each other anything man to man. It was a great reunion. We decided that the next time we meet it will be over several days during which we may pursue music, eating and other things the city has to offer. I have another friend who comes to New York once in a while who I would also plan to see. Perhaps next time, Andrew and I will sample some Indian cuisine, of which we are both very fond. Much like his music, Andrew's food preferences tend to be bold, loud and hot.

Re: A Day in the City
David Burton #1212285 06/05/09 01:05 PM
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David,
Enjoyed your story. Good to hear from you. As you said it's been awhile.

Rich


Retired at the beach

Anton Rubinstein said about the piano: "You think it is one instrument? It is a hundred instruments!"
Re: A Day in the City
Rich D. #1212318 06/05/09 01:55 PM
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Background music:
Poulence Novelette #3 in e minor
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XR3W_9ciXm4&feature=related

David,

What a nice rambling of your NYC visit. With old acquiantances both in businesses and friendships what more could one ask?

I so enjoyed both Beethoven's and Faust/Harrison's when I was in hot pursuit of my piano purchase.

And the botanical gardens are also my joy as well as vocation.

Carl certainly freely gives of his health advice (which I truly appreciated) and it sounds like your friend Andrew also advocates a healthy life style.

I was interested in learning more about your notes on old uprights being refurbished with new innards. When I was there (2-3 yrs ago now) he had a couple of unique cases but with the old innards. Powerful, but not up to par with the new top of the line offers. I truly love the old workmanship in some of them and if room and money allowed would probably own several. BTW, have you seen some of those remakes that Rod V shares with us? Gorgeous to look at and I would love to be allowed a few hours on them!

My next NY adventure will surely be the new studio that Ori will be opening before long.

Top of the line and exquisite presentation without any doubt, and I am anxious for its opening.

Maybe I will be meeting you there?

LL





"Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything."
Re: A Day in the City
lilylady #1212335 06/05/09 02:40 PM
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What an entertaining post to read on a late Friday afternoon! Thanks for sharing, David.

Re: A Day in the City
Monica K. #1212346 06/05/09 02:52 PM
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I don't know you, nor you me, David, but I really like you after reading that post. It's funny to come to a piano forum and then to unexpectedly have one's world view refreshed.

Thanks for sharing.


Recordings of my recent solo piano and piano/keyboard trio jazz standards.


Re: A Day in the City
scepticalforumguy #1212360 06/05/09 03:19 PM
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David,

I was led here by my friend lilylady, who left a trail of crumbs and a tantalizing clue. Imagine my surprise when, on picking up the last crumb, I find I am still logged in after how many years.

I enjoyed your tale and thought it only polite to tell you before I snuck away.

Do come visit some time....

http://well-temperedforum.groupee.n...mp;m=995109861&r=391100961#391100961

jf


"Make the pie higher." GWB
Re: A Day in the City
Monica K. #1212361 06/05/09 03:22 PM
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yes indeedy...

David, if you have one fault - it is that you post too infrequently. in fact, i think i will sign up for email notification when you do post, if that is a feature in this new format.

so... thanks for opening that window. i often think of you and hope things are going well.

(no doubt that you have been following the Grand Obsession buzz)... there is even a facebook page now.


accompanist/organist.. a non-MTNA teacher to a few

love and peace, Õun (apple in Estonian)
Re: A Day in the City
apple* #1212381 06/05/09 04:18 PM
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david, david, david! where have you been?

we all miss you. thanks for posting that lovely account of your trip.

xo


piqué

now in paperback:
[Linked Image]

Grand Obsession: A Piano Odyssey
Re: A Day in the City
piqué #1212526 06/05/09 10:16 PM
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Very nice narrative.

The world now knows a lot of intimate details about Andrew Violette's personal and social beliefs now than it did four hours ago though.


Click HERE for two years of music theory and history training in 3 min. 5 seconds.
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Re: A Day in the City
John Anthony #1212787 06/06/09 12:33 PM
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DAVID!!

What a nice surprise to hear from you here. There is just a little bit of intellectual distinction missing on PW without your input.

BTW, I still remember agreeing to meet somewhere in The Village at an outdoor table, chat over a bottle of fine wine, and watch the beautiful women pass us by (probably more me than you ;)).

Thank you - and don't be a stranger here - please.



Rich Galassini
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Re: A Day in the City
Rich Galassini #1213111 06/06/09 10:56 PM
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David, I hope you went to the Bechstein showroom as well. They have some great instruments.

Re: A Day in the City
Phlebas #1213129 06/06/09 11:38 PM
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Dear David,

I have not yet met you, but based on your writing style and comments, I would be pleased to get to know you better over a glass of wine, or do some 58th St. piano-crashing, the next time you are in town.

Yeah, they know me on that street too.

Doogs

Re: A Day in the City
Doogs #1213276 06/07/09 10:49 AM
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For those who don't know, Mr. Burton is "old board", having been around this place since who flung the chunk.

When David writes about pianos, it s worth your time to read...


TNCR. Over 20 years. Over 2,000,000 posts. And a new site...

https://nodebb.the-new-coffee-room.club

Where pianists and others talk about everything. And nothing.
Re: A Day in the City
Jolly #1213455 06/07/09 04:21 PM
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David B, it is sure nice to hear from you. I miss your company.


Michael

====

He is so solemn, detached and uninvolved he makes Mr. Spock look like Hunter S. Thompson at closing time.'

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