It began with a piano in London and ended with a string quartet in Boston.
It’s 8 am in London. My next door neighbor starts practising promptly. I have only met his wife who explained yesterday that he had a concert that evening. They moved into this neighborhood, what, 4 ? 5 years ago. Yet I never bothered to get to know them because one of them smokes, perhaps even both, albeit outside. The cigarette smoke drifts into my garden. And for that, I did not bother to get to meet, much less, know this virtuoso Russian concert pianist.
As the “Flight of the Bumble Bee” wears on, I find myself as the beneficiary of live background music. Ten years ago, I housed a young pianist who practised this exact piece every day while I made my move to the Netherlands. I could only imagine what my neighbors experienced through the brick walls.
Just last week, I unpacked my suitcase to the live background music of the classical guitar — Robert practising for his 3 gigs.
The third guitar concert culminated in Mauro Giuliani’s Theme & Variations. It was a piece I knew like the back of my hand. We went through it many times, the guitar struggling to be heard, the piano unresponsive and unsympathetic. After many years of tug and war, I finally relented.
The guitar cannot sound well if the guitarist has to force it to sound louder than the grand piano. Although it is absolutely possible, as Amsterdam-based composer Allan Segall proved in his first piece for piano and guitar, in most other cases the guitar has to struggle and the piano has to give in. The traditional way in which the duo is written assumes the piano is a fortepiano or some other subservient predecessor of today’s modern piano.
So Robert upgraded to a “concert guitar” — built to match the concert grand piano.
But I still had work to do. I had to constantly adjust to the volume and quality of the guitar sound.
There in Williams Hall at the New England Conservatory, on Tuesday 8th May, at approximately 9 pm, Robert performed Giuliani’s work with a string quartet. The four string players, by sheer nature of their instruments, brought out infinitely more color and texture than I could produce with 88 keys. Each of their four strings was a different instrument. They had the bows to help produce sound at different parts of the strings. They could pull, pluck, strum, hit, and more.
I sat back, resigned to my fate.
I had been replaced by a string quartet.
In the simplest case, my right hand was replaced by two violins and the left hand by the viola and cello. Thinking like this, every piano guitar duo piece can result in guitar and a string quartet or wind quartet or other combinations.
My eyes moistened as I thought of the years of preparation that led to this day. The guitarist can go on — playing solo with other instruments.
I’ve sold my Gerhard Adam grand piano in this Victorian cottage where I experimented with chamber music, house concerts, and eventually decided to pursue a degree in music. My Steinway Grand is sitting in a piano shop in Zeist, the Netherlands, waiting to be noticed, tried, and bought.
I have returned to where it all began. No piano. No audience. No house concert, but neighbor to a concert pianist who practises all day long.
C’est la vie.