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David Winston - from California to Kent

PUBLISHED: 17:46 22 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:12 20 February 2013

David Winston - from California to Kent

David Winston - from California to Kent

Kent-based Californian David Winston restores some of the most famous piano in the world from his converted barn in Biddenden

David Winston - from California to Kent

Kent-based Californian David Winston restores some of the most famous piano in the world from his converted barn in Biddenden

For a man who has restored some of the most beautiful pianos in the world, David Winston has a surprisingly modest collection of classical records. But then he doesnt really need them, because the Kent-based Californian has had the rare privilege of restoring and hearing pianos played by Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt, exactly as the great composers did in the 19th century.

Much of the restoration has been carried out at Davids workshop, a converted farm barn in Biddenden. Together with a small team of local craftsmen and women, he lovingly restores antique pianos and keyboard instruments dating back to the late 1700s, as well as hand-making reproductions of late 18th and early 19th century pianos, each of which can take up two years to complete.

These peaceful, rural surroundings are all a very long way from the noise and bustle of Los Angeles where David was born and brought up.

After leaving High School, he arrived in Britain in 1970 with a set of bagpipes, a fishing rod, a tent and a sleeping bag. He hitchhiked his way to Islay, where he became a lobster fisherman, before returning to the United States where he was apprenticed first to a violinmaker, and then a maker and restorer of harpsichords in Boston.

In 1976, he was invited to Finchcocks museum of antique instruments at Goudhurst, where he worked on the restoration of pianos and harpsichords. Eight years later, and with a 50 investment, David set up The Period Piano Company, working on piano restorations in his spare bedroom.

The people who buy my instruments are buying a bit of history

Today, he has an international reputation, and has restored some of the worlds rarest and most beautiful instruments, including the 1846 Pleyel piano, owned and played by Chopin at his rooms in Dover Street, London, and Beethovens piano (see panel).

Earlier this year, David was invited to a concert at Lancaster House, London, where distinguished pianist Nikolai Demidenko played the Chopin instrument to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the great Polish composer.

David has also restored an 1870s Bechstein piano, with a note signed by Franz Liszt who was described by contemporaries as the greatest pianist who ever lived - listing the compositions that he had played on it.

And he was also responsible for bringing Queen Victorias piano, which has been on show at The Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace as part of the Victoria & Albert Art & Love exhibition, back to its full, ornate splendour.

Currently, he is working on a piano owned by Ignaz Moscheles, the Bohemian musician who was at the centre of London musical life in the 19th century, mentored some of the great composers and pianists of the age, and was a particularly great friend of Felix Mendelssohn.

He says: Restoring these beautiful instruments is something that combines all my passions music, design and history and I have been fortunate enough to have worked for the past 20 years with Kentish craftsmen and women who share those passions.

I have an incredibly loyal workforce, and two of them, Kirk Hogben and Phil Burrows have been with me almost since the beginning. Adding, with a smiile: Weve been growing old together like fine wine!

We describe our work asre-creative rather than creative, bringing back to life something that has been lost, the sound and beauty of an antique instrument.

For me, its not about making money. The really important element of what we do is maintaining the integrity of an instrument and preserving its historical value and appearance.

Im fortunate that my apprenticeship taught me techniques passed down the centuries on how to get the best musical result, and that means working on a very detailed level.

Its not acceptable to me to replace, say, part of a pianos framework with a modern substitute. Restoring the original fabric the felts and leathers, polishes and timbers - and using historically correct materials is more difficult, but properly maintains the heritage.

The people who buy my instruments are buying a bit of history, and I will do everything I can to restore the original fabric.

While not every instrument restored by The Period Piano Company has been played by one of the classical music greats, others have equally intriguing histories.

Two among the current collection have interesting maritime histories one from the first class lounge of the RMS Mauretania, one of the classic pre-war Cunard White Star liners, and another from the Magdalena, a passenger ship which sank in Rio de Janeiro harbour on its maiden voyage in 1948. Says David: Fortunately, the piano was rescued along with the passengers!

Sitting in his Wealden workshop, David expresses particular satisfaction that many of his clients, including some of the worlds great musicians and collectors, have become friends.

They appreciate that these pianos have an extraordinary history, and yet will almost certainly cost less than a new Steinway concert grand. These instruments have been part of my life, and they become part of their lives as well.


The Period Piano Company

Park Farm Oast

Hareplain Road, Biddenden

Ashford TN278LJ

01580 291393

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