The free harpsichord concert can be heard at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15.
Andrew Appel was 16 when he was able to bring a harpsichord into his New York City home while preparing for a career as a musician.
Now, at 69, and with the use of technology, he virtually is able to bring lots of guests into his home, 100 miles outside New York City, to hear him at the instrument that became his favorite as both soloist and member of the Four Nations Ensemble.
Appel’s next concert — free and beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15 — is planned as part of a series by the Chamber Music Society of Detroit (CMSD) as the organization, like so many other music presenters, has moved into the digital sphere because of the pandemic.
Appel will feature five works by 17th- and 18th-century French and German composers and speak about each piece before playing it. The first two pieces, by Louis Couperin and Johann Jakob Froberger, offer varied personal expressions related to a stunning shared experience.
“Couperin and Froberger were at a party, and a famous lutenist fell down a flight of steps and died,” Appel said. “Both composers [separately] wrote elegies in the lutenist’s honor, and both pieces are really beautiful. It’s so interesting to have the pieces side by side.”
The rest of the hourlong program features suites that have their individual stories, which will be conveyed by the harpsichordist. The works are by Georg Böhm, J.C.F. Fischer and J.S. Bach. The performer will delve into how Böhm brings the sweet and lyrical expression of French composers into his writing while Fischer is more contemporary.
“I picked these pieces because I really love them,” said Appel, who explained that he came to love the harpsichord because it has a more complex sound than the piano, which he studied first.
“The harpsichord is more complicated and brain-filling. On the piano, you never feel the string. On the harpsichord, I actually feel the plucking of the string with every note, and my connection to the sound is a little more like a guitarist’s connection to the sound.”
Before being able to have his own harpsichord as a teenager, Appel put thumb tacks on the hammers of his piano to create a metallic sound that brought the effect of the piano closer to the harpsichord.
Appel’s interest in classical music started when he was a preschooler who enjoyed listening to his mother’s record collection. In school, he worked at his grandfather’s garment business for the money to buy records of his own.
Appel, who had formal training at Juilliard, studied in Paris and became familiar with the approaches of French composers.
“Most of these pieces in the upcoming concert are by Germans writing in the French style,” Appel said. “French taste was central in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries so a lot of German composers, including Bach, copied this wonderfully elegant and subtle writing that became the model all over Europe.”
Appel, who has missed stage appearances during the pandemic, can look back on concerts that have reached from Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls in New York to the Spoleto Festival in Italy. He performed the Brandenburg Concerto in an earlier CMSD program.
With technology moving attention away from CDs to digital platforms, Appel is changing his attention to online access, and with live concerts canceled, he is writing articles for music publications. A current performance project is the Bach harpsichord and violin sonatas.
“The music in the CMSD concert benefits from being heard closely,” said Appel, who describes himself as culturally Jewish and is married to photographer David Rodgers. “In my living room, the cameras and the microphones are really close to me so it’s almost as if listeners are sitting with me in the room.
“Listeners will hear more of how I phrase than they would in a concert hall that seats 350 people. They’ll be much closer to the music, and this music wants to be close.”
The free harpsichord concert can be heard at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, by going to chambermusicdetroit.org and selecting the Andrew Appel link.