Hammering out a tune


It’s not your average way of preparing to tour.

Before orchestral duo Hammers & Horsehair can play a gig they have to manoeuvre a fortepiano out of a window.

Not any old piano — a Broadwood square, made in England in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The Wellington pair — Douglas Mews, on said piano, and Robert Ibell on cello — take off the fortepiano’s legs and shimmy it out through the gap.

They’re playing Arrowtown tonight, just one stop on a 21-date, New Zealand-wide tour.
Ibell says it will be an intimate soiree.

“You want the audience to be close and have a really immediate sense of the music. Like being in somebody’s drawing room.”

The gig, including tunes from Beethoven, Mozart, Romberg and Breval, will reflect music from the period — tracks that were considered pop back in the day.

Ibell’s cello also has a backstory.

It was made somewhere in Europe in the late eighteenth century. It came to NZ with Czech refugee Greta Ostova who was escaping the Nazis. She was the founding member of the National Orchestra, now the NZ Symphony Orchestra, and passed it on to student Judith Hyatt who pinged it on to Ibell eight years ago.

He feels pretty privileged to play an instrument with such history and says it is perfect for chamber music, paired with a fortepiano.

“It was designed for this kind of setting. It gives people almost the same impact as an orchestra. You get a very immediate sound and a real sense of the musicians — it is not something you get from a stereo or a big concert hall.”

This is the first time that Ibell and Mews have collaborated and Ibell reckons the formula works.

“People are enjoying being in that kind of intimate atmosphere — it has been a winner.”

Keen concertgoers will come away from the Arrowtown session with a new appreciation of familiar pieces and chamber music, Ibell says.

“Not many people play this kind of music with these old instruments. And even if they are new to music it is a great introduction — we talk to the audience. Douglas pulls the piano apart and shows what is in it. It is a chance for people to learn something and have a wonderful and relaxed evening out.”

His favourite is the finale — Beethoven’s Sonata in F Major.

It’s full of beans and incredibly energetic, while still being lyrical. – LOUISE SCOTT

Hammers & Horsehair perform at Arrowtown’s Athenaeum Hall, tonight, 7.30pm. Tickets, adult $25, child $15, family pass $50