New Cornell hub for historical keyboards opens Sept. 6

The Cornell Center for Historical Keyboards celebrates a new space for its instrument collection at 726 University Ave. with “New Meets Old: Collaborative Confrontations,” a festival Sept. 6-7, presented by the Department of Music in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Annette Richards is shown playing one of Cornell’s historical organs. She will perform during a festival Sept. 6-7 celebrating the opening of the Cornell Center for Historical Keyboards.

The space will provide a rotating home for some of the center’s concert-ready keyboard instruments. With emeritus professor Malcolm Bilson’s fortepianos as the core, the collection includes a wide range of 18th- to early 20th-century pianos, as well as Cornell’s organs, harpsichords, clavichords and other keyed instruments.

The new location will be a collaborative space for researchers, performers and students, providing an array of programming and resources of interest to specialists and the public. These will include artist and scholar residencies, festivals, workshops, concerts and masterclasses. The programs will explore the history and technology of keyboard instruments from the earliest organs to the Moog synthesizer, their influence in music and the arts, and larger impact on global social history.

“Here we can experience the wonderful variety in keyboard instruments since 1700, especially in fortepianos and pianos between the late 18th century and early 20th, all in top playing condition,” said Bilson, the Frederick J. Whiton Professor Emeritus of Music, who has been in the forefront of the period-instrument movement for more than 40 years.

“All the instruments will be in good tune and concert-ready at all times,” he said. “I could hardly have thought, when I encountered my first ‘Mozart piano’ some 40 years ago, that by today such an impressive variety would be available for teaching, concerts and recording.”

The new center, made possible by an anonymous donation, is an outgrowth of the Department of Music’s long-standing relationship with the Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard Studies.

“The long history of keyboard culture is endlessly fascinating, and hugely productive for interdisciplinary inquiry, with the remarkable instruments themselves not just vehicles for artistic expression but the physical embodiment of technological experimentation and advance,” said Annette Richards, professor of music, university organist and the center’s founding director. “Cornell’s keyboard instruments are an incredible resource for students, faculty, visiting performers and scholars, and the whole community.”

Verity Platt, professor of classics and the history of art and visual studies, and chair of CIVIC (Critical Inquiry into Value Imagination and Culture: The Provost’s Task Force for the Humanities and Arts), said: “The historical keyboard collection is very much part of Cornell’s unique collection of old media-new media materials. It’s exciting to see another addition to Cornell’s wide array of media studies resources available for the ‘Media, Material Cultures and the Senses’ project in the provost’s CIVIC initiative.”

Cornell’s collection of 18th- and 19th-century pianos, such as the fortepiano pictured, is wide-ranging and will be on display during the celebration event launching the Cornell Center for Historical Keyboards.

The Sept. 6-7 celebration will showcase the collection and include concerts, demonstrations, talks and lecture-recitals at multiple locations on campus. All events are free and open to the public. 

The opening concert, “Keyboards in Conversation,” at 8 p.m. Sept. 6 in Sage Chapel, will feature performances by Richards (organ) and piano students of Xak Bjerken including Richard Valitutto, Aditya Deshpande, Andy Sheng, and Thomas Reeves. The finale, “Keyboard Collaborations,” at 8 p.m. Sept. 7 in Barnes Hall, will feature performances on numerous instruments by Cornell music faculty Bilson, Andrew Zhou, Miri Yampolsky, Xak Bjerken and Roger Moseley, as well as Valitutto and Rachel Schutz.

See the Department of Music website for the complete schedule of events.

Linda B. Glaser is the news and media relations manager for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Rebecca Valli