Did you know, music lovers, that one of the country’s and perhaps world’s finest collections of historic pianos lives in an old town building in the small central Massachusetts hamlet of Ashburnham? That’s where you’ll find the Frederick Historic Piano Collection — and where you’ll also frequently find the eponymous Mike and Pat Frederick giving a tour, complete with hands-on demonstrations, of over 130 years of the piano-makers’ art. Check out a 2001 New York Times profile of the Fredericks and their collection.
You might not know your Erard from your Pleyel, and couldn’t tell the difference between a Streicher and a Blüthner. But should you ever be fortunate (or generous) enough to accompany the Fredericks on their journey through their collection, you’ll never hear piano music the same way again. You can take on on-line tour here.
But there’s another way to hear these wonderful old instruments: one at a time, on the concerts the Fredericks put on each spring and fall at the nearby Ashburnham Community Church. That’s when a fine roster of pianists and other musicians, some travelling considerable distance just to make music with these beautiful instruments, perform diverse and delightful programs designed to complement the pianos chosen for the occasion. The wife and I have attended over a dozen such concerts, and have come away each time with an increased appreciation for the symbiosis of instrument and repertoire. And a few count as some of my favorite piano recitals ever.
Unfortunately, we won’t be able to attend the next concert of the Historical Piano Concerts spring season this Sunday, when the excellent Russian-American pianist Constantine Finehouse will play a mouth-watering program of late Chopin and Schumann’s glorious Fantasy on a 1846 Streicher (pictured above). But that’s our tough luck, not yours.
So, let me recommend in the most positive terms a trip out Route 2 and points north some Sunday through June 1. On a nice day, arrive early and take a stroll on the grounds of the nearby Cushing Academy, America’s oldest co-educational boarding school. Then, get a good seat, adjust your ears and sensibilities to an earlier time, and enjoy some wonderful music played on instruments the composer had in mind — and in some cases, might himself have actually played. You’ll be very glad you did.