Sunderland Pianoforté Society celebrates seven decades

Members of Sunderland Pianoforte Society celebrating their 70th anniversary
Members of Sunderland Pianoforte Society celebrating their 70th anniversary
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SUNDERLAND Pianoforté Society has been hitting the right note with world-renowned pianists for seven decades.

On February 5, the society will celebrate its platinum anniversary with a recital, its 423rd.

Established pianist William Fong will perform, carrying on the tradition of bringing world-class classical music to Sunderland.

It’s a proud milestone for society members who have emerged from loss of funding, changes of location and even a dropped piano, to keep the society going.

“There are piano societies, but we are the only pianoforté society that is known of in the world,” said publicity officer Brenda Graham.

“We had discussed changing the name, but decided to carry on with the tradition.”

Society secretary Lily Scot has been attending the group’s recitals since she was a little girl. Over the years, its venues have changed from Bede Tower in Ryhope Road, the art gallery in the old museum in Burdon Road, Crowtree Leisure Centre, St Peter’s Campus and now in the Pottery Room at the Museum and Winter Gardens.

But one thing has remained the same: the society’s passion for piano.

“The society was started by a group of amateur pianists to encourage people to take up piano,” explained Lily. “Back in those days, a member would play for around 15-20 minutes before the professional recital.

“I remember one of the first recitals I went to, a lady played Chopin. She hit all sorts of wrong notes, but everyone encouraged her.”

Today, the recitals are dedicated to professional performances and the charity has attracted a host of celebrated pianists to play on its grand piano over the years including Benno Moiseiwitsch, Joseph Weingarten, Sarah Beth Briggs and Eileen Joyce.

Recitals are open to members of the public and the society actively encourages people to come along and hear pianists at the top of their game live.

“You don’t necessarily have to play the piano to be interested and appreciate the music,” explained Lily. “We’re an enthusiastic, warm and attentive audience.”

Brenda added: “We try to encourage young people to come along. A few years ago, we used to have a few students from the university who would come along and it was lovely to have young people in the audience.”

Though guest performers come and go, the permanent star of the show is the society’s grand piano.

Built in 1901, it was bought by the group in the late 1960s and has stood the test of time. While it was moved between venues in 2001 it was dropped, breaking the soundboard.

“Steinway sent its best man and he came and really looked after us,” recalls Lily. “It was taken to Hamburg where they treated it with great love and care. They rebuilt the inside in the old case.”

Today the piano is insured for £120,000 but its worth in keeping alive a musical tradition is priceless.

¶•William Fong, a world famous figure in the world of classical piano who hails from the North East, will be performing at the Anniversary Recital, at 7.15pm on Tuesday February 5, in the Pottery Room at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.

•Remaining recitals this season are Christopher Guild on March 5 and Jayson Gillham on April 9.

•The admission fee is £12 per recital, free for accompanied children under 16 or £6 concessions. The price of a full subscription (six recitals a season) is £55. Visitors can pay on the door.

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