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Pianola Institute Concerts - the first Twenty Years
The Pianola Institute and its individual directors have organised concerts and other public events of one sort or another in almost every year of its existence. There is not the space to include pictures and memorabilia of all the occasions, but we hope Friends of the Institute will enjoy a little nostalgia on this page, while other music lovers may learn something of the activities that help to keep the world of player pianos on its toes.

1985 - Chicago, London and Warwick

Orchestra Hall in Chicago provides the backdrop for Rudolph Ganz.

In June 1985 we made friends with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, when we helped them, unofficially, to revive Rudolph Ganz at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, as soloist in the Liszt Eb Piano Concerto. In the photograph above, Orcenith Smith is conducting, and Denis Hall is supervising the slightly reluctant Mr Ganz, who died thirteen years earlier, in 1972, having been the Director of the Chicago Conservatoire for many years, as well as having recorded a wide selection of Duo-Art rolls.

En Route to the Pianola Marathon - September 1985, RFH.
(Photo: Tim Bromage)

In September, we staged a 72-hour Pianola Marathon at the Royal Festival Hall in London, thanks notably to Anthony Phillips, the most enterprising Director the Hall has ever had, and a member of the Friends of the Pianola Institute. We played non-stop, by day and by night, even inside the LCC's giant pink 95th birthday cake seen above, with a number of set concerts interspersed with informal playing.

The Power of Music - September 1985, RFH.

Playing through the evening hours was an unpredictable experience, with, inevitably, some passers-by rather dismissive of the pianola. But one of the most moving photographs from all our twenty years was of this homeless man. The pianolist and the music are unidentified, but the expression on the face of the listener needs no description.

The CYSO in rehearsal with two pianolas - Warwick University, December 1985

In December, the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra travelled to Great Britain for its first-ever overseas tour, with concerts in Bath, Warwick and London, and a reception at the London home of Sir Georg Solti, then Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The Warwick University concert provided a dry run for our subsequent programme at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The Pianola Institute Inaugural Concert - December 1985, QEH.

The Pianola Institute's Inaugural Concert was held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, on 4 December 1985, presented by Richard Baker, the well-known BBC television personality. Percy Grainger played the Grieg Piano Concerto, Denis Hall and Rex Lawson tiptoed through Saint-Saëns' Carnival of Animals, and an orchestra of 111 young musicians brought the house down in John Philip Sousa's Stars and Stripes.

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1988 - New York, Paris and The Last Night of the Proms

Louis Cyr and Rex Lawson at Alice Tully Hall - May 1988, New York.

In 1988, through the kindness of Robert Craft, Igor Stravinsky's amanuensis, we were able to take two pianolas to Alice Tully Hall, New York, for the American premières of the Rite of Spring and Petrushka, in the composer's own Pleyela arrangements. Louis Cyr, formerly Chairman of the Music Department at UQAM in Montreal, has been a director of the Pianola Institute since its inception, and has very generously offered many of his Stravinsky Pleyela rolls on extended loan. They have been used in countless concerts.

On the Carrefour Pleyel with John Brawn - May 1988, Paris.

A week later, we were in Paris, at the invitation of Jean-Yves Bras, for the 6th Annual Chopin Festival, and more specifically for a concert occurring on the 75th anniversary (to the day) of the first performance of the Rite of Spring. Since we were to use Pleyela rolls, we took the opportunity to visit the Carrefour Pleyel at St Denis, where the former Pleyel piano factory stood. There we found a Brasserie Pleyel, an Auto-École Pleyel, and a Café-Bar Pleyel. On the left of the photograph is our dear friend, and a former director of the Pianola Institute, John Brawn, who died in 1990 and is sadly missed.

The Posthumous Percy Grainger caught on BBC Television - September 1988, London.

In September, thanks to an invitation some three years before from John Drummond, BBC Controller of Music, Percy Grainger played the Grieg Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra for the Last Night of the Proms at London's Royal Albert Hall. The performance was conducted by Andrew Davis, and was broadcast live on BBC and Swedish television, BBC and European radio, and the BBC World Service. Grainger was therefore playing to the largest audience of his career. The first chord, tantalisingly preserved on private DVD, came in about half a second late, but otherwise Percy performed impeccably. The Duo-Art Pianola in use was owned and restored by Peter Davis of the Player Piano Group, and Institute members variously controlled Grainger's solo entries, and oversaw the two electric suction pumps - one main, one reserve, just in case anything went wrong!

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1989 - Carnegie Hall, the King's Singers and
the AMICA Boston Convention

Carnegie Hall during George Antheil's Ballet Mécanique - July 1989, New York.

Maurice Peress, former right-hand man to Leonard Bernstein, organised a performance of George Antheil's Ballet Mécanique in the humidity of a New York July. Rex Lawson played the solo pianola part, and a number of Friends of the Institute made the journey to the Big Apple, Mike Davies even entering for the New York Marathon. The atmosphere of healthy sweat suits the Ballet Mécanique well; machines in the 1920s were not the silent computer driven affairs that we have come to expect, but depended instead on hot oil and coal, just like the steam engines of a past era. A slightly sanitised flavour of the evening wafts out from the subsequent CD cover.

Summer in the City - August 1989, Barbican Concert Hall, London.

Leaving one pianola in America, in the home of Institute Friends, April and Mort Lipman of Framingham, Massachusetts, members of the Institute coped with a London concert in August with the co-operation of a number of pianola owners. Four further Pianola push-ups were involved, plus three pianolists, the London Concert Orchestra, the King's Singers, and a posthumous appearance from George Gershwin. Bramwell Tovey kept the motley band together.

Two Pianolists in Action - September 1989, AMICA Convention, Boston, USA.

Back in the US in September, there was the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors' Association (AMICA for short) Convention in Boston, where the premiere of Ingolf Dahl's Quodlibet on American Folk Tunes (Two-Pianola Version) prefaced the Annual Pumper Contest, in which John Grant won "Footsie", AMICA's boot-shaped trophy, for his pizzazz in pedalling while wearing a T-shirt printed with evening dress, and providing his own Liberace-style chandelier.

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The Early 1990s - Paderewski's Poland, Rachmaninov's Russia and
Grieg and Grainger

Paderewski's Poland - June 1992, London.

Through the early 1990s we brought back many famous pianists from their resting-places, including Paderewski, Rachmaninov, and the duo of Grieg and Grainger, frequently interspersed with music for two foot-pedalled pianolas. Adrian Thomas, Professor of Music at the University of Cardiff, and a noted Polish music specialist, presented Ignace Jan Paderewski.

Rachmaninov's Russia - July 1993, London.

Rachmaninov's Russia was revived a year later by Lionel Salter, formerly Deputy Controller of Music at the BBC, and a long term supporter of the Pianola Institute. We mourned Lionel's passing a few years back - he always came to our London concerts, and his comments and criticisms were very kind, very sharp and unerringly to the point.

Grieg and Grainger - April 1994, London.

The third concert of the trilogy brought together Edvard Grieg and his young friend, Percy Grainger; not for the Piano Concerto this time, but for solo pieces, while the Suite of Folksongs for Pianola by the Australian composer, David Stanhope, received its world premiere.

1995 - The Year of the AMICA London Convention

The AMICA Convention Photograph - August 1995, Dulwich College, London.

The Pianola Institute played a major part in organising the first overseas convention held by AMICA, the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors' Association. With Dorothy Bromage of AMICA pulling the strings from Maine, Denis Hall and Rex Lawson, together with Jo Jongen of the NPV (Nederlandse Pianola Vereniging), supervised the arrangements in Europe, which took just over a year of full-time work to accomplish, with Eileen Law supporting them as European Treasurer, and an army of international volunteers.

AMICA Convention Leaflet - August 1995, London and Oirschot.

The week's events included pianolas on board North Sea ferries and Thames riverboats, a concert at the Purcell Room, five pianolas dotted about Dulwich College for a day of lectures and competitions, a pianola reception at the Town Hall of Oirschot in Holland, hosted by the Mayor, Frits Speetjens, who is also one of the founders of the NPV, and a visit to the Museum van Speelklok tot Pierement in Utrecht. At the beginning and end of the week, British and Dutch pianola owners, chiefly from the Institute, the Player Piano Group and the NPV, joined in the "pumper" contest and street organ rally.

A Pianola Prom - August 1995, London.

As part of the week's festivities, the Institute presented a Purcell Room concert, in which Alfred Cortot played the César Franck Symphonic Variations, accompanied at a second piano by one of his former pupils, Guthrie Luke, and the previous evening's winner of the "pumper" contest, Earl Scheelar, played a slow rag on the cornet, simultaneously accompanying himself on the pianola - he brought the house down! The outside world sometimes sees pianolas as allied to one type of music or another, jazz, ragtime, contemporary, classical, but they are not, and it is good to have a wide variety of musical tastes brought together on such occasions.

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The Late 1990s - The Centenary of the Pianola, and
the Passing of Conlon Nancarrow

Chicago's Tribute to the 100-year old Pianola - April 1997, Illinois, USA.

The Institute promoted the idea of holding the Centenary of the Pianola in 1997, and this was taken up by a number of organisations and individuals, including John Adams, who named his piano concerto of that year Century Rolls. Finding Edwin Votey's family and papers around the same time, it became clear that 1995 would have been the correct date, but by then everything had been organised. One of the high spots was a trip to Chicago by Dan Wilson and Rex Lawson, for a series of concerts in western Illinois with the Fox Valley Symphony, put together by James Edwards of AMICA.

Rolling Down to Rio - September 1997, London.

Our late patron, Conlon Nancarrow, died on 10 August 1997, and we gave our September concert in his memory, not only with some of his studies, but also with a wide range of South American and Spanish music. Nancarrow's pianola works are often heard on their own, giving the idea that they somehow represent the gamut of the pianola. We did our best not to follow that course, and included Granados playing his own compositions, José Iturbi, Claudio Arrau and Guiomar Novaes on recorded piano rolls, and the Cinco Canciones Negras of Xaver Montsalvatge, delightfully sung by Sylvia Clarke.

More Recent Concerts
If you have worked your way down to the bottom of this webpage, you can read about our twenty-first century concerts by clicking on the appropriate links at the top of the page. To be placed on our concerts and recordings mailing list, please email concerts@pianola.org.

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