Saturday 2 July 2022

A fond farewell to my piano


A fond farewell to my piano

In 1974 I lived in Geneva, Switzerland and I was looking for a cellist to participate in a film for Télévision Suisse Romande featuring my kinetic painting with music and dance. Someone mentioned the American cellist Vivian King, who was then studying with the great Pierre Fournier. We made an appointment. I was about to ring Vivian's doorbell when I heard the sound of the Bach's Cello Suite Nr. 2.  I was enchanted.

In Vivian's apartment I noticed a rather nice Zimmermann piano. Curious, I tried a couple of bars of a Beethoven sonata. Oh, Vivian said - you're also a musician! Well, that's a long story. That was the beginning of twenty-one years of making music together.

In 1978 we settled in Amsterdam, near the Concertgebouw, where Vivian began to play regularly. The piano was hauled up (with ropes!) to our fourth floor apartment and that's where our sons both learned to play the piano.
Vivian and Norman playing Francœur's Adagio for BBC

When in 1993 BBC Television was visiting to make a documentary about my life making kinetic images to music, Director Jonathan Fulford said spontaneously: "Hey, why don't you guys just play something together?" Oh no! I had been so busy working in the UK and Amsterdam on the film "Concerto for Paintbrush and Orchestra" with Simon Rattle that I hadn't touched the piano for months. But Vivian said "Ah, why don't we do the first Movement of the Sonata by François Francœur. She knew it by heart and somehow, with just two takes, I managed to get through it. 

Vivian was already ill with acute leukaemia and tragically, she died three years later at 51. Her cello was acquired by our dear friend, the cellist Edith Neuman (formerly of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra). In 2021 I moved house and had to radically downsize, so I donated my piano to a lovely crowd-funded socio-cultural centre in Amsterdam - Pondok. It was a fond goodbye, watching it going down to street-level with a piano lift, but I knew it had found a good home.
Yesterday, after twenty-six years, my piano and Vivian's cello were finally re-united. They made music together at a little concert by the Meander Trio. And yes, with pianist Jenny Hess, Edith played that Adagio of the Sonata by François Francœur.... in memory of Vivian. It was a deeply emotional occasion for me and my boys.
     Edith Neuman (cello) and Jenny Hess (piano) reuniting my old friends

Here's Pierre Fournier with the Francœur on YouTube.