It's pure happenstance that Lambert Orkis plays the fortepiano -- the ancestor of the modern piano and the instrument such composers as Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin actually used.
But let Orkis, who will play Beethoven's B-flat Concerto with the Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra Monday at Peabody, tell the story:
"Up until 1982, I was known only as a new-music man and as a chamber pianist," says Orkis who is now one of the best-known fortepianists in the nation. "A friend of mine at the Smithsonian was telling me how difficult he was finding it to persuade a famous European pianist to record the music of Gottschalk on an 1865 Chickering. Old instruments are notoriously difficult to play and the pianist had told my friend that he had a reputation to
uphold. I said, 'I have no reputation to uphold -- give me the project!' "
The record, released on the museum's own label, earned sensational reviews and opened up a new career for Orkis. In the last two years alone, he has made nine recordings on the fortepiano for the Virgin label. Next fall he begins the formidable task every pianist fears and desires: Recording -- on the fortepiano -- all 32 of Beethoven's piano sonatas.