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WOLTER PEETERS / FAIRFAX MEDIA
| Fine tuning: Harpsichord maker Carey Beebe with the restored 1773 instrument
which will be played in concert on Saturday.
When eminent British harpsichord player and early music specialist Richard Egarr takes to the stage at the City Recital Hall on Saturday night one member of the audience in particular will be on tenterhooks, despite the soothing sounds of baroque masters Handel and Purcell.
The 1773 instrument on which Egarr will perform has been painstakingly restored by harpsichord maker Carey Beebe in a labour of love lasting more than a year.
What will keep Beebe on the edge of his seat is whether the 240-year-old instrument will stand up to the rigours of performance.
“These are fragile and precious instruments that are normally kept in museums,” Mr Beebe says. “What is going to make the concerts in Sydney interesting is that we are actually wheeling it out and putting it in a modern concert situation. It’s a big ask to have an instrument like this out with a full orchestra.”
And just to add to the tension, Mr Beebe has discovered that the concert featuring the Academy of Ancient Music, which Egarr directs, and soprano Sara Macliver, will be broadcast live by ABC radio. “If something does go wrong, everyone in radioland will hear it as well,” he says.
Mr Beebe got wind last year that the harpsichord, built by English makers Jacob and Abraham Kirckman, was coming to auction in London. He snapped it up and had it shipped to his Peakhurst workshop. It was, he says, a real find, despite the dilapidated state in which it arrived.
“There was a lot of dirt and dust and the lid had obviously been left open for 40 years,” he says. “There was candle wax all over the ivory keys and many of the veneers were loose or had fallen off.”
In a lifetime devoted to the harpsichord, Mr Beebe has built more than 50 of the instruments. Their defining characteristic is that the strings are plucked (rather than struck as in a piano).
Traditionally, the plectra that pluck the strings are made from tiny lengths of the flight feathers of the crow. And keeping an adequate supply of feathers is one of the more unusual challenges of Mr Beebe’s craft. Sometimes he lucks on feathers in the park. Most recently he came across 100 or so from moulting crows while visiting California.
Then there is roadkill, but the canny crow rarely falls victim to traffic. “The other problem with roadkill is that if it’s in the middle of the road and other vehicles run over it the feathers get demolished,” Mr Beebe says. “The best roadkill … is where the bird is just sailing along and goes headfirst into the truck windscreen, and five minutes later I come along on my pushbike.”
Happily there were sufficient crow feathers on hand to repair the Kirckman harpsichord that will take centre stage at Angel Place.
It will be a unique musical occasion with the harpsichord perfectly matched to the period instruments played by the academy to produce a sound close to that which Handel would have envisaged.
One aria in particular, from the opera Rinaldo, in which the harpsichord “goes animal”, is likely to test the Kirckman. “I can see Richard really enjoying himself,” Mr Beebe says. “He‘s not going to spare the horses — and this harpsichord is on its original wooden castors so somehow we are going to have to secure it, otherwise I can imagine us seeing it running away on stage!”
The Academy of Ancient Music, City Recital Hall, November 9 and 18.
|Text by Nick Galvin
Photograph by Wolter Peeters
The Sydney Morning Herald November 9, 2013
|Single-manual harpsichord by Jacob and Abraham Kirckman, London 1773
Carey Beebe talks about his restoration of the 1773 Kirckman harpsichord.
Shot by Wolter Peeters for Fairfax Media.
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