Roll over Beethoven, tell the neighbours the news.
During Angela Hewitt’s quarantine in her hometown this past fall, the apartment-bound pianist spent her isolation, no surprise, practising her instrument. Hewitt is one of the world’s greatest at her chosen craft, and yet her Ottawa neighbours were not happy with the free recitals.
“They told me that they weren’t impressed with the noise,” Hewitt told The Globe and Mail this week, speaking from her flat in London. “I said, ‘It’s not noise, it’s Beethoven.’”
It’s been a long time – if ever – since the virtuoso has received such a poor review. Not that she’s getting many reviews at all, these days. Her international concert calendar has been wrecked by COVID-19, and what few performances she’s been able to give are often accompanied by required quarantine periods as she travels to different countries.
“I’m claustrophobic,” says the 62-year-old musician, who also maintains a residence in Italy. “It’s just awful being alone. I was in a bit of a funk over the holidays, but I’ve pulled out of it now.”
Despite her healthy mood, one thing does have her a little blue: She’s separated from beloved her new piano, a Fazioli grand that she left behind in the music room of a friend who lives in Germany’s Black Forest. “I miss it,” she says. “I wish I could practise on it and bond with it.”
The piano is a replacement for the Italian-made Fazioli that made the news last spring when a Berlin moving company dropped the 590-kilogram instrument while lifting in onto a trolley. The piano’s iron frame was busted. Hewitt, who described the instrument as an “old friend,” was devastated.
In a Facebook post then, Hewitt said her F278 Fazioli, the only one of that particular model in the world fitted with four pedals, was “kaputt.” The $200,000 piano that served Hewitt famously for recordings and European concerts was damaged beyond repair. “I hope my piano will be happy in piano heaven,” she wrote.
She also speculated at the time that replacing the instrument would be an “insurance saga.” Thankfully, that was not the case.
“The insurers handled it with dignity and without any problems,” Hewitt reports.
Still, finding a new one was an extended, exacting process. Namesake piano maker Paolo Fazioli presented Hewitt with five models in July. The audition happened in Venice, with Hewitt’s German tuner-technician Gerd Finkenstein on hand.
“They were all good pianos,” says Hewitt, a Bach specialist who tested the options with bits of Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann and Liszt, in addition to sonatas by Johann. “But the one I selected stood out. It really had it all.”
More so than the dearly departed Fazioli she once said gave her “the possibility to do anything I wanted,” and that she considered a companion?
“I think the new one has even more power and even more depth,” Hewitt says. “In a big hall, it will really project. I would have no difficulty playing this piano in the Royal Albert Hall in London.”
Or at the Leipzig Bach Festival in Germany, where the piano made its debut in November and where she became the first female recipient of the Bach Medal, an honour given in recognition of efforts to promote the composer’s work.
“I played the Goldberg Variations at St. Thomas Church, right in front of Bach’s grave,” Hewitt says. “I felt so at home with the piano. It was in my voice. I knew it would give me everything I wanted, which is an absolutely wonderful feeling to have.”
Hewitt’s new Fazioli, like her old one, is custom-fitted with a fourth pedal, one that allows her to play rapidly and lightly with greater ease. “I love that mechanism,” she says. “I use it quite a bit.”
Given that she treasured her old piano as her best friend or even a lover, what would we call the replacement at this point: A new acquaintance? A fling? A business associate?
“Oh, no. it’s not a business associate,” Hewitt says with a laugh. “I mean, I do use it for business. But, no, it’s a new friend – a new best friend, I think.”
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