Amstelstation, Amsterdam


Of course it’s wonderful to see old unwanted pianos rehabilitated in public spaces. A local one in Herne Hill even has its own twitter account, and is looked after so well that some local people took it away temporarily to have repairs done; that must be a first. A lovely radio programme about people who pay the pianos in St Pancras, and their personal motivations for doing so, has been mentioned to me more than once.

But my piano karma can’t be very good, because whenever I pass public pianos, someone, or a team of people, is ‘beating the carp out of it’; and the poor instrument hardly sounds its best when dumped outdoors or in a super-resonant space. It all tends to confirm my composer-led prejudice that the piano is a dangerously noisy instrument unless you're very careful.

So, what a reforming experience to enter Amstelstation, Amsterdam recently and encounter the scene pictured, almost a musical Twilight Zone. A soulful gent in long mac and beret was contemplating the keyboard in a delicate, Fauré-like way, while the few passers-by (the lady with the crutches, the folding-bike woman) stopped to listen and think. To make matters more amazing, the station is presently surrounded by numerous colossal cranes and diggers, creating an energetic ambient hum, to put it mildly. But all external noise vanished as we tuned in to this gifted musician, whoever he was. Also lending an ear in the distance (LH side) are a statue of a woman, named Retrospection; and (on the side wall) pioneers of the railway, including George Stephenson.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer