Why Angela Hewitt’s piano moved the world

Why Angela Hewitt’s piano moved the world


norman lebrecht

February 12, 2020

London taxi drivers took part in an hour-long call-in yesterday on LBC, discussing the way Angela Hewitt’s piano was smashed in transit.

The story, broken on Slipped Disc on Sunday with Angela’s express permission, was picked up by newspapers and broadcasters all over the world – from CNN to Sky News to the BBC, to the Telegraph, Guardian, Stern and dozens more.

What made this item so heartfelt and universal is that we have all, somehow, been there.

Each of us has smashed the thing s/he loves, be it an instrument, a portrait, a vintage car, a parental heirloom.

Each of us has been smacked several times by disasters.

Some collapse in dismay.

Others emerge stronger.

Angela Hewitt has taught the world a moral lesson.



  • Patrick says:

    It’s a piano, people! It’s not like it was someone’s pet cat or something.

    • NoCatZone says:

      People mourn the loss of cats? It’s not like it’s a dog…or a piano! LOL

      And yes…instruments have longevity and history. Or do you not recognize the importance of a Stradivarius, an Erard, an Amati…

      You also fail to realize that Hewitt is the kind of pianist that TRAVELS with HER piano. Some pianists expect to use what is available to them at the venue, or go in advance and try several instruments to choose the one they prefer for the performance. Pianos are not equal, and the way they fall under a given pianists hands is infinitely variable. For an artist like Hewitt who plays ALWAYS on the SAME instrument for ALL her projects…this is a huge tragedy, both personal and professional.

      None of us are in a position to criticize her, her motives for having done so, or her current, albeit painful and difficult, decision she is faced with as she continues to prepare for her next engagements and recordings.

      And you want to equate the destruction of an instrument upon which she has made thousands of hours of sublime music to the loss of a cat? I have empathy for pianos, virtually none for felines, you’ll excuse me.

      (And just to avoid any nonsense that might follow in response to this, take the satire as it is. Geeze, you cat people are so overly sensitive all the time.)

      • Paul Joschak says:


      • SVM says:

        NoCatZone’s analysis is not quite purrfect. As Bruce’s comment observes, Hewitt did not transport her pianoforte to every *concert*, but *did* transport it to “all her recordings in Europe over the next 17 years” (source: NY Times article cited by Bruce).

    • David K. Nelson says:

      It’s true a piano is just a “thing,” albeit an expensive thing. It is also true that I would mourn the death of our cat, just as I have mourned the deaths of the prior 4 cats. However …

      Not being a pianist perhaps I cannot entirely relate, but I am (just barely) enough of an instrumentalist to know that when you focus on and get to really know a particular instrument, and practice on it, learn and perform your repertoire on it, to suddenly lose it is to lose so much more than the investment in the “thing.” Nuances, changes in dynamic, voicing, fingerings — all were investments in time and effort and belief suited to THAT instrument. Tempos might have to be adjusted; entire interpretations might need rethinking. And for a touring soloist it means that until you adjust to the new reality, your audiences might not be hearing what you can really do with the piece.

      My involvement with the piano consists of playing an A to tune to. But even from that meager contact I know the enormous differences in touch and resistance. The first time I needed to tune to a concert Steinway no A came out!

      I just gave a small concert with a pianist friend who has a lovely Steinway in her home. We had worked hard so that nuance and rubato were in perfect synch (if I do say so myself), and I knew exactly how loudly to play during our quiet unisons. Our concert was at a church and while they, too, had a Steinway, it was battered and defeated perhaps by years of pounding out “Abide With Me.” The piano did not speak evenly. So many things had to change at the drop of a hat – tempos, dynamics, rubato. The concert went OK but our hardest work went for naught. Might as well have been sight reading. Even my wife in the audience, who had not heard us rehearse, could tell things were not right. If we musical peons suffered I can only imagine what someone like Ms. Hewitt — who, remember, was grossing a considerably smaller end fee due to the willingly paid costs of shipping the piano she wanted and knew best) feels and will continue to feel until the next piano that suits her can be found. And it might never be quite the same.

      I know touring piano soloists learn to adjust (although the piano technicians and tuners I know relate plenty of stories about temper tantrums by the great and not-so-great, and I have seen a few tantrums play out on stage), but that also means a sort of perpetual dissatisfaction compared to an ideal which is not just imagined, but could actually be achieved.

      And perhaps it also explains a certain generic quality to interpretations — if you play on the house piano then it has to be an interpretation that works on just about anything with 88 keys.

    • Paul Carlile says:

      Patrick obviously has no feline for mew-sick.

    • Lydia Wahlnerg says:


  • Brettermeier says:

    “The story, broken on Slipped Disc on Sunday”

    Wrong link.

  • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

    ==London taxi drivers took part in an hour-long call-in yesterday on LBC,

    “Ow’right mate. Kings Cross you say, that’ll be fifty quid. You ‘ear about that tasty bird Angela sumfink and they dropped her pianna ? There’s only one language these people understand, string ’em up wiv piano wire.

    I ‘ad that Vladimir Ash-can in the back of the cab once. Very nice chap”.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The Piano taking-on the symbol of Fate.

    In former times, it was a symbol of culture, of art, of human achievement and refinement.

    The real fatality of life is that the meaning of symbols change through time:






  • Bruce says:

    New York Times article on the subject:


    A possibly interesting quote:

    “She used it for all her recordings in Europe over the next 17 years, mostly in Germany and Italy, and in the occasional concert in Umbria, Florence, Rome and London. At other venues, she relied on dealers to provide pianos.

    ‘Contrary to what some people think, this piano did not travel the world with me,’ she said. ‘I had to have a very good reason to move this piano out of my house!’ “

  • fflambeau says:

    Great story.

  • Marg says:

    Im sure she didnt ship it to Australia the time or two I heard her here – probably way too expensive to ship so far.

  • Joel Sennesh says:

    We attended a recital given by Angela Hewitt a few years back at the Kennedy Center in Washington. At the interval mt wife and I lined up to buy a CD of the Goldberg Variations with an autograph of pianist. When it was our turn I asked Ms. Hewitt to inscribe the album cover to “Louise and Joel”. I also asked when she’d be recording more Scar;atti as she’d just done her first album which we enjoyed immensely.
    “Both of you or just you?”
    I assured her that the former was the case.
    “Two Scarlatti fans in the same family, how nice!”

    What a lovely and engaging lady, what an easy smile and warm demeanor.
    The second Scarlatti album, along with her complete solo Bach, soon joined our collection.

    We will always remember AH.