Duncan Cumming

As a graduate student in Boston, Assistant Professor Duncan Cumming (Music) was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to meet Christopher Hogwood, conductor, musicologist, and professor at Cambridge University, England.  Maestro Hogwood is also the founder of the Academy of Ancient Music in London and in 2008 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Cambridge University.  Dr. Cumming attended a 1995 concert at Symphony Hall in Boston at which Mr. Hogwood was the conductor.  After the concert, Dr. Cumming was at the end of a long line of people waiting to meet the conductor, but that turned out to be the right place, for Mr. Hogwood entered through a different door and Dr. Cumming was first rather than last.  Their conversation centered on their mutual interest in Prague – Dr. Cumming had spent the previous year there and Mr. Hogwood had conducted in Prague many times.  That chance conversation got Dr. Cumming an invitation from Mr. Hogwood to visit his keyboard “museum” in his home in Cambridge, England.

Timing again found Dr. Cumming the following spring (1996) on a concert tour that took him to England and he went to Cambridge to see and play the instruments.  Dr. Cumming could hardly believe his eyes or his ears.  Before him were clavichords, an English harpsichord from the 18th century, an Italian harpsichord from the 17th century, and many other “gems”.  Dr. Cumming said the crown jewel was Carl Maria von Weber’s very own Brodmann Fortepiano, built between 1810 and 1812 and acquired by Weber in 1812.  So in awe was he that it was difficult for him to sit at the velvet-covered stool.  He began the dramatic opening to the Weber Sonata in C major, Op. 24, and as he experienced the sound of the fortepiano he wondered about the birth of the piano and its changes through the centuries.

Fast forward to 2009, when Mr. Hogwood encouraged Dr. Cumming to make a recording of the music of Weber and Mozart on the Brodmann fortepiano.  In October, Hilary Cumming (violin) and Duncan Cumming (piano) traveled to Europe for a concert tour based on a program called “Family Trees” from the Youth Movements Festival here at the University at Albany.  The review following the excellent recital at the University at Aberdeen concert in Scotland noted that “Duncan Cumming made the piano sing out beautifully without ever getting in the way of the violin (Hilary Cumming).”  The reviewer continues “Duncan Cumming’s piano playing had a wonderful liquid fluency while the richness of tone in Hilary Cumming’s playing matched him perfectly.”  After a concert at Cambridge University on the same tour, Dr. Cumming rehearsed on the fortepiano to prepare for the recording, which he will make on his return visit to Britain this November.  In addition to the solo piano works the recording will include works for four hands performed by Duncan Cumming and Christopher Hogwood.

All of this was possible, because the University was able to award a FRAP (Faculty Research Award Program) to Dr. Cumming so that he could make this successful trip to England to play the fortepiano and the modern piano as well.