On April 16, at the Carriage Barn at Park-McCullough House, there will be an extraordinary concert. Andrew Willis will play three of Bach’s six keyboard partitas on the piano—but this is not just any piano. Certainly it is not the large black Steinway we are used to seeing at the Carriage Barn. Indeed, it looks more like an Italian harpsichord, but the action is that of a piano: the keyboard activates hammers rather than plectra. Willis will play three of Bach’s keyboard partitas on the baroque fortepiano, a replica of an early eighteenth-century instrument built in Florence in the tradition of Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731), the inventor of the first successful piano action. Cristofori began building pianos late in the seventeenth century, and was ready to announce his invention to the world by 1711; after his death his assistant and successor, Giovanni Ferrini, continued making pianos in the same tradition. Built by David Sutherland of Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2005, the piano we will hear is very similar to those with which Johann Sebastian Bach was familiar from the 1730s onward.
For several decades, pianist Andrew Willis has explored the historical development of keyboard instruments and their performance practice while committing himself to the study, performance, and teaching of the widest possible range of repertoire. After studies at the Curtis Institute and Temple University, Willis worked with Malcolm Bilson at Cornell University, where he discovered the joy of musical performance realized on historical instruments using practices native to each stylistic era. Willis’s broad range as a performer has produced a varied discography. As a participant in the first complete recording of the Beethoven sonata cycle on period instruments, his performance of Op. 106 was hailed by The New York Times as “a ‘Hammerklavier’ of rare stature.” As a modern pianist interested in contemporary repertoire, he commissioned, premiered, and recorded Martin Amlin’s Sonata No. 7 (2000) as part of a program including other works by Amlin, Fine, and Copland. Equally at home as a collaborative pianist, he has partnered soprano Julianne Baird in recordings of Schubert Lieder and Rossini songs, soprano Georgine Resick in early-Romantic song cycles, flutist Sue Ann Kahn in music of Rochberg, Schickele, Luening, Kraft, and Ibert, and cellist Brent Wissick in music of Chopin, played on a Pleyel grand of the composer’s era. Most recently, he recorded Bach’s Six Partitas on a replica of an early eighteenth-century Florentine fortepiano with the type of keyboard action familiar to Bach. That recording will be available for purchase at the Carriage Barn concert.
A Professor of Music at UNC Greensboro, Willis teaches piano, fortepiano, and harpsichord performance and leads courses on keyboard literature and performance practice. Willis has appeared as soloist with such period-instrument chamber orchestras as the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, the Apollo Ensemble, the Magnolia Baroque Festival, and the Philadelphia Classical Symphony. Recent recitals have taken place at the National Music Museum, the Bloomington Early Music Festival, the Boston Early Music Festival, the Strathmore Arts Center, and for early music societies in San Diego, San José, and Los Angeles. A past president of the Southeastern Historical Keyboard Society, he serves on the Board of the Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard Studies and was a finals juror of the first Westfield International Fortepiano Competition in 2011.
Tickets by donation.