cembalophilia? cembalophilia.

© Tilman Skowroneck 2016

The Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard Studies, in partnership with the 2016 Berkeley Festival & Exhibition, organises “Cembalophilia: Hidden Histories of the Harpsichord”, a mini-festival with concerts and lectures, which will take place in the Berkeley City Club June 6-8, 2016 (see also the poster below for more information; I will participate in the Tribute to Alan Curtis).

I love the title “Cembalophilia.” Is this even a thing, one might wonder, and yes, be assured, it can be a thing. People do love good harpsichords and their repertoire, and good harpsichordists.

Often they don’t even know it, however, which may be why we usually play for smaller audiences than we feel we should. But this is also why – as I may have written before – after a recital audience members always come forward and want to learn more about the harpsichord on stage. “I had no idea there was so much variation in this instrument!” we frequently hear at that point.

Another recent harpsichord mini-festival in Göteborg, Sweden (see this entry)  has convinced me of two things:

First, it is and remains worthwhile to invest energy, time (and money) in live events that showcase harpsichords and their players. A harpsichord is not just a historically appropriate choice for a given repertoire. A good harpsichord offers an astonishingly wide range of expressive possibilities; it can be a friend and ally to the player, and it can move audiences to tears.

Second, all this needs to be said, and not only done by playing. Some people imagine that harpsichord lovers actually feel they need to defend  their instrument. But a fighty attitude is not what I have in mind here. Gone are the angry days, when the historical harpsichord had to battle against the revival harpsichord of a 20th-century design; and also the Bachian conflict between piano lovers and harpsichord lovers has become stale, mostly thanks to the great amount of excellent, serious and unfazed Bach players on both sides. The real “enemy” these days, it seems to me, is the audiences’ increasing loss of interest in live performances, which for our instrument especially is a sad thing: harpsichords do not sound very convincing out of a laptop speaker. So we must keep telling people that it is the laptop speaker that’s bad, not our instrument; that they should come to the next concert instead.


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