Recently a very dear friend told me a story about watching a family piano that was beyond repair come to its end in a blaze of glory in his backyard. He described to me how at one point flames were crawling out from behind the fall-board and licking the keys; he said it was like someone or something was reaching out from another world and touching the keys for the last time.
Well, do they? It's a question that can't be answered, of course, but it's often occurred to me that pianos can and do often exhibit strong personalities. Sometimes they like you - and sometimes they don't. Some are difficult, like a stubborn old man, and some are warm, caring, and kind. And some, inevitably, are just bland and lifeless. Of course, it's a pianist's job to bring out the most attractive qualities of an instrument as best he can - but sometimes it feels like you're attempting something that the instrument just does not want. Fighting a losing battle.
Recently during a concert (actually, in the middle of performing a Chopin Sonata - dangerous, I know) I was thinking about the piano I was performing on. It had been donated to the venue and lived out a previous life in a music lover's home. I wondered what kind of a life it had - was it loved? Was it played often? Was it just a piece of furniture? These instruments sometimes have more to say than the performers do, and it's always wonderful to let an unfamiliar piano tell YOU a story. Sometimes instead of feeling like you have to control the instrument for an hour and a half, you can let the piano take the reins during a recital; that's a truly special experience. As long as, of course, the piano likes you!