Photo: Maestro Goodman University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra, Bernard M. Goodman, Director
1964 South American Tour, “Virtual 40th Anniversary Reunion”

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Date: Wed, January 18, 2006 2:03 am
From: Robert Ward
Subject: Piano stories

Let me add some addenda to Bill Skidmore's reminiscence re Curitiba:

I remember the town well because it was the only place on the tour that I could speak semi-fluently with many of the townspeople because so many spoke German! I recall a wonderful Konditorei with great pastries. Playing the Barber Concerto that night was a pleasure because of a particularly fine grand piano, an Essenfelder (a brand unknown to me) that was supplied. I also remember being startled during the performance when a cameraman came swooping in on a boom with bright lights while I was playing. Following the performance a tiny old lady dressed entirely in black was ushered up with great deference to see me back stage. A well-dressed and solicitous young man declared in uneasy English "This is Frau Essenfelder. She wanted to meet you and asks how you liked her piano." She didn't speak English and I no Portuguese, but when she found I could speak some German she got quite excited and told me her life story. It seems her family had a piano factory in Germany prior to World War II. However, being Jewish her family was forced to flee in the late 30s and amazingly they succeeded in taking their entire factory and master craftsmen with them to Brazil. I thought it was a fine piano, similar in style to the more famous Bechstein pianos of Leipzig. When I expressed my admiration, she offered to sell me the piano for the ridiculously low price of $2000. A steal really, but as a student, still impossible. Over the years, I've thought a number of times about "the piano that got away."

Speaking of a "piano that got away"...almost. In our first concert in Mexico we took a wild bus ride up to Toluca and played in an old opera house. I seem to remember funky old round red velvet settees in the lobby area. But the stage gave true meaning to "up stage" and "down stage" because the floor was quite tilted. The piano had no locks on the wheels (few did in those days) and so the piano rolled a bit every time I played. The more fortissimo the octaves I played, the more it moved. At every orchestra tutti I had to scoot the piano bench over to my peripatetic keyboard. By the end of the Barber, the piano had meandered a good 3 or 4 feet "down stage" from its original position. Had we played the 50-minute Brahms Second Concerto that piano would have ended in the lap of a very surprised patron in the front row!

Then there was the "piano that DID get away." This was in Tegucigalpa. The quite nice concert grand was being pushed onto stage for our first rehearsal and the front caster caught on the metal strip between backstage and the stage. The front leg buckled under and a poor stagehand had the entire front end of the 800-pound piano collapse down onto his knees. He managed to keep it from crashing to the floor and they quickly slid a chair underneath. We played the rehearsal with the piano tilted at a very odd angle downwards. Shortly afterwards I saw someone from the consulate with a welder's tools repairing the broken bracket. I imagine that poor stagehand had some mighty bruised knees for a while.


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