When David Stanwood was just 19 years old, on a cold, wet day on New York City’s 58th Street, he wandered into a piano showroom and sat down at a shiny, black Bösendorfer. “I started to play, and drew my hands away,” he said. “I was so shocked. I felt like I had put on magic gloves … I felt my feelings coming out in the music so effortlessly.” Mr. Stanwood would go on to become one of the world’s most highly regarded piano technicians and innovators with his patented Stanwood Adjustable Leverage Balance and Stanwood Precision TouchDesign, but his experience playing in that showroom has stayed with him throughout his career. “In that moment when I put those magic gloves on, I knew how good a piano could be,” Mr. Stanwood said. “I had that ideal in my mind and in my work; that was the kind of feeling I wanted to create.” Recently, Mr. Stanwood put on those magic gloves again for a brand-new record titled “Six Meditations.”
Mr. Stanwood’s debut is a deeply moving set of six improvisational performances recorded in September at his workshop in West Tisbury. The album was inspired by an 11-month process restoring a 1905 Mason & Hamlin model A grand piano. Mr. Stanwood initially set up his recorder as a part of his run-of-the-mill procedure to fine-tune the instrument before returning it to the client. This time something was different. He felt the same effortless burst of creativity he had felt when he first touched that Bösendorfer. “I had the magic gloves on, and I had realized completely and fully that dream I had so many years ago,” he said.
For Mr. Stanwood, the improvisational album is the product of experience compounded by the years. “I’m doing the best work of my life now,” he said. “And this piano exemplifies the experience and wisdom that you can only earn from keeping at something you love for decades. When you’re trying not to be anything, that’s when the real magical stuff happens.”
The listener can’t help but observe the inspiration present on tracks such as “Piano Reborn,” in which Mr. Stanwood plays the Mason & Hamlin for the very first time since its complete disassembly and restoration. Mr. Stanwood beautifully balances the curiosity and joy of a student with the confidence and poise of a master throughout “Six Meditations,” and the wonder in his performance is audible as he embarks on what he calls the “initial exploration of the piano’s newly found tone and touch.”
The conclusion of “Six Meditations” is “Take Me Away,” a piece Mr. Stanwood considers among his best. Throughout the 14 minutes and 30 seconds of the arrangement, Mr. Stanwood employs improvisational techniques designed to push the dynamic range of the piece and challenge the performer. Mr. Stanwood frequently calls upon seemingly random notes, yet he somehow never fails to resolve them and dissolve them in the rolling stream of consciousness of his instrument. “It’s a great active space to play what might be considered a wrong note,” he said. “But if you consider that there are no wrong notes, you can turn a wrong note into something that’s more beautiful than you could’ve imagined.” In the same way that Stanwood has proven his ability to restore physical instruments with a wealth of knowledge and depth of compassion, he finds a home and purpose for every note throughout “Six Meditations.”
“Six Meditations” will be welcomed with an official release party on Sunday Jan. 15, at 4 pm at the West Tisbury library. The album is available now online at stanwoodpiano.com and on-Island at Pathways Gallery in Chilmark and the Peter Simon Gallery on Main Street in Vineyard Haven.±