MUSIC ON A GRAND SCALE

Elmslie House’s refurbished Steinway Grand (A) is an original 1959 model.

Elmslie House is renowned for its musical events. From classical, to folk and everything in between, Elmslie has hosted an impressive array of musicians over the years. Elmslie’s musical jewel in the crown – a Steinway Grand (A) piano – sits in the house’s Concert Hall. Anna Taylor, who owns Elmslie House with her husband Bernard, tells us how this magnificent piano found its way to Elmslie…

We bought what was then known as ‘The Grove’ in 2013. The house’s former owner was a classically trained cellist who had toured with Nigel Kennedy, so it wasn’t really surprising that she had not one piano, but two.

However, after ‘downsizing’ into her new property and taking an upright piano with her, Elmslie’s former owner found that she didn’t really have room for the other – a Bechstein Baby Grand. It was at this point, as we were tentatively thinking about putting on more music at the house, that we struck an accord – we agreed to store the piano and to look after it – and in return we could use it for any recitals that required its use.

Unbeknown to us, the hall, originally built as a Billiard Room, with its curved ceilings, has a fantastic acoustic. And this makes it a fabulous recital hall – for all sorts of music, but especially for Chamber Music.

This arrangement was in place for approximately 5 years, but after taking advice from the MCC (Malvern Concert Club) for whom we had commenced an annual Coffee Concert booking, we learnt that in order to attract more high-profile musicians to play the piano, we would need to upgrade to a better instrument. Coincidentally, Elmslie’s former owner also then asked for the piano to be returned to her, and so we had a few tense weeks agonising over what we were going to do – the only thing being apparent to us was that to conceive of Elmslie without a piano felt distinctly at odds with our vision to transform Elmslie into a cultural small community hub.

The piano is just as elegant inside as it is on the outside.

At this point, fate played a hand. Bernard’s mother, Helen, sadly passed away, and unexpectedly, Bernard came into a small legacy. 

As Helen had always loved music, (and indeed played the piano herself) and had been a regular visitor to our recitals, it seemed a very fitting tribute for Bernard to use his inheritance to help purchase a new instrument for Elmslie. Also – not having anyone in the house who could yet play it, we also decided that the time was right for Bernard to begin to fulfil his ambition to learn how to play himself. 

And so it was, that having sought counsel, that we found ourselves in a showroom in Whitney, looking at refurbished Steinways. We were only supposed to be *looking* – but when we heard what is now ‘our’ piano being played, that was pretty much it! 

The Concert Hall’s acoustics are perfect for such a grand instrument.

Surprisingly, we are now one of the few concert venues within the area with an instrument of such prestige, the one notable exception being Hellen’s in Much Marcle. Our Steinway is not, like theirs, a 9ft concert piano – but for the size of our hall it certainly packs a punch! We were thrilled when Peter Smith of the Autumn in Malvern Festival asked us to play host to Russian pianist Sofya Gulyak last year – and that is a night that we will never forget! Sublime doesn’t go far enough. . . 

The house has been silent for many weeks – but I’ve just taken call from a local musician who is wanting, now the restrictions of lockdown are looking to be eased, to organise a series of small recitals, with a limited capacity – to bring the music back!

Hopefully it won’t be long before the Steinway will be heard in concert again.

To see how Steinway makes its famous grand pianos, take a look at the stunning photographs here.