Mahan Esfahani discovers why the harpsichord is an often misunderstood instrument, sometimes dividing audiences, and how its ancient keyboard also has a modern face.
From the "skeletons copulating on a tin roof" jibes of conductor Sir Thomas Beecham to its unfavourable characterisation as the ideal instrument of the Addams Family, the harpsichord is an often misunderstood instrument - sometimes dividing audiences. Harpsichord virtuoso Mahan Esfahani heads off on a personal journey to uncover the instrument's chequered history, why the people who play it are not always its best advocates, and how this ancient instrument has a very modern face too.
He heads to Prague to meet his mentor, 88 year old Czech harpsichord maestro Zuzana Ružicková and visits the workshop of young Finnish harpsichord builder Jukka Olikka. En route he quizzes pianist Igor Levit on the harpsichord-piano rivalry and speaks to composer Michael Nyman about modern harpsichord music. To complete the picture he drops in at the Rudolfinum to talk to harpsichord expert Petr Sefl, and in London meets Barbican director, Sir Nicholas Kenyon.