The Pleshakov Piano Museum
By David Peskin
The Civil War Square grand piano, in the collection of the Pleshakov Piano Museum.
What makes an attraction? Is it visual, sensual or psychological? Whatever the reason, one marvelous attraction, that appeals to all the senses, is located right in the heart of the Catskill Mountains. In Hunterís Doctorow Center for the Arts (map) on Main Street, Route 23A, is the Pleshakov Piano Museum.
Whatís that? A museum? In Hunter? Yes! And it deserves to be prominent in the publicís eye.
Vladimir Pleshakov, the founder and from whom the museum takes its name, is a world-renowned pianist. He has played in many major concert halls around the world, and is still active pursuing his craft to great acclaim. His wife, Elena Winther, is also recognized as world-premier pianist, and the two have often performed together to great acclaim. For us to have in our midst a couple who have reached the pinnacle of their careers is something truly special.
The museum is a result of Vladimirís lifetime of collecting, which has allowed him to share his love of the piano with all of us. Seeing these grandes dames is truly like taking a walk back in time. One can almost imagine hearing Chopin play one of his compelling compositions.
This is not only a viewing museum, but a teaching one, as well. Vladimir is a scholar of music and has earned a doctorate. He has taught and run music programs at Stamford University in California. At the museum, students of music as well as visitors can trace the complexity of how the piano began its development to the marvelous instrument it is today. Visitors from as far away as Japan have come to study them, and the collection also includes over 50,000 first edition and rare books, scores and records. In addition, the museum includes compelling ephemera, such as original tuning and restoring tools, posters, pictures and autographs of some of the pianoís giants. This is a true source for the researcher and it is one of the most complete available.
The piano has required much innovation and ingenuity, using the most sophisticated engineering principles available at the time, and it has evolved into a beautiful mechanism, as well as a graceful and sophisticated piece of cabinetry. In the available guided tours, one can learn its fascinating history as the docent walks you chronologically from instrument to instrument.
For larger groups, if either Vladimir or Elena is available from their busy schedule, you will be treated to something that is not available in almost any other museum, the opportunity to hear these fragile and delicate instruments being played[!], an experience that allows you to travel back to the time of their common usage, as if you were bewigged, in petticoats or brocaded jacket, politely listening to the then, new sounds of the day.
So, the visitor is treated to not only a visual experience, viewing these attractive instruments, or a fantasy, thinking of the great classic composers using these or similar instruments to create some of the most lasting works in our culture, but an aural one, as well!
There is the Tischner piano, one of three known existing instruments. Of the other two, one is a national treasure in St. Petersburg, Russia and the other can be found in another museum in Kent, England. The Tischner in this collection is the only one that is with intact parts that is still in superb playing condition. It was a premier piano of its time and is the same type of piano that was gifted to Beethoven, who created many of his master works on it.
The quite rare Sohmer five foot grand was the first piano ever designed to be produced symmetrically balanced, so that if one were to bisect the case straight down its middle, the left and right parts would be equal. It was one of the first to allow a big sound to come from a compact space.
There is a Screw Stringer piano, which features a type of tuning that defies time by staying in tune for years. The one in the Pleshakov collection has not been tuned in 30 years, and is still in reasonable tune. There are pianos with unacorda action, that allows the player to have a hammer strike one or two of the three available strings; one with a forest of wooden sticks, and a square piano like that in Lincolnís White House, and much, much more.
At present, there are 16 beautiful instruments on display in the provided museum space, with 20 more being held in storage. Vladimir receives offers of others, but available space limits the ability to accommodate them. In the future, the museum hopes to be able to display every piano, to provide an unbroken history.
The Pleshakov Piano Museum can be found at 7971 Route 23A (Main Street), in Hunter, NY. Starting June 2, operating hours, including tours, are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, from 12 to 4 pm. Tours are at 1 and 3 pm. For more information, please call 518 263 2036 or visit www.pleshakov.com.
Donít miss ďThe PianoóKing of InstrumentsĒ series at the Doctorow Center for the Arts (map) starting June 12, played on pianos of the composerís period. For more information, visit www.catskillmtn.org.