Ansel Adams' Piano

July 26, 2020

Mozart’s Come Scoglio, from Cosi fan tutte, with Rebecca Basilio, soprano

As a music major in College majoring in piano, one gets called on to do lots of accompanying. This means playing the piano part for various instrumentalists, singers, and others. Later, at Eastman, I played with a string quartet, and other ensembles. But, one of the best singers I ever accompanied was Rebecca Basilio.

Now, a diversion to explain what follows....

Attending the Ansel Adams Yosemite workshop in 1977, I got to know Ansel a tiny bit. I’m a little shy, but through the help of one of the people also attending this workshop (Ron Bentley, from Australia), I got to know Ansel much better. Ron was already a friend of Ansel’s. When Ron later visited this country, he usually also went to Carmel to see Ansel, and he started inviting me for such visits. Ansel learned that I was also a pianist, and for his Birthday in 1984, his staff asked the famous Russian pianist, Vladimir Ashkenazy to play for the party (and he did previously in 1982). There were only about 75 seats for this, so seating was at a premium. Amazingly, I was invited! I later learned that his staff was very upset about this, as there were many more important people that got bumped! But, I think Ansel figured I was a pianist, and so I should come and hear this incredible pianist.

It was an amazing experience, in many ways. When I arrived (April 22, 1984), they announced that Ansel was actually in the hospital. But Ansel wanted the party to continue, he was feeling much better, and Ashkenazy did perform. I was on cloud nine! But, when I woke up the next morning, the news shows announced that Ansel had died late the previous night. What a terrible shock!

On reflection, I think that was just like Ansel. He thought of all of us first, and held on to not spoil the party.

About a year later, I rather audaciously offered Virginia, his widow, to do a piano recital for her. Amazingly—she accepted, and said that this would be the first social event she had hosted since Ansel died. It was thrilling to play on this incredible Mason & Hamlin piano. Mason & Hamlin is not a big name now, but back when Ansel was planning on devoting his life to the piano, his family bought one in 1925—because it was considered one of the very best. That is the piano I got to play. Unfortunately, I did not record this recital. But, I did get a photo!

Back to the originally scheduled post....

After this, I told Virginia that I knew an incredible soprano, and that we could do a Mother’s Day recital for her (Virginia was a singer in her youth). And what you’ll hear is one of the pieces from that recital.

Fortunately, I did record this recital, but there are no photos, of course! I set the recorder back in Ansel’s office, and put the mics in what turned out to be a decent position. With a soprano like Rebecca, she can produce a big sound, and the balance with the piano can be a problem. But, this recording is not too bad sound-wise. And you get to hear Ansel’s beloved Mason & Hamlin.