A weekly look at SoCal life covering news, arts and culture, and more. Hosted by John Rabe

Near downtown LA's Skid Row, a haven for harpsichords

by John Rabe and Maya Sugarman | Off-Ramp®

Curtis Berak makes, maintains and paints harpsichords for every major ensemble in Los Angeles from the Los Angeles Philharmonic to the LA Opera and Los Angeles Master Chorale. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

If the harpsichord is truly the "enfant terrible" of the music world, as Manuel Rosales told us on Off-Ramp the other day, Curtis Berak will need two double strollers for upcoming concerts featuring four of his babies on stage.

On Thursday, Dec. 11, at Zipper Hall, and Saturday, Dec 13, at Valley Performing Arts Center, Northridge, the L.A. Chamber Orchestra will start its Baroque Conversations Series with a rare performance of Bach's Concerto for Four Harpsichords. And that means four times as much work for Curtis Berak, the region's classical harpsichord go-to man.

RELATED: We go INSIDE the Disney Hall organ, celebrating its tenth birthday

Since 1976, in the basement of a a run-down building in the southern part of downtown L.A., Curtis Berak has been building and fixing harpsichords. "I was coming from San Diego as an artist. I did abstract painting and I had the idea that I needed to be in a big city to have an art career. When you're a painter, you have a lot of time to listen to music."

And that's where harpsichords come in. Berak listened to baroque music, which often features the harpsichord, and liked it. Then he learned that you can make a harpsichord at home from a kit, "and that's what got me started," he said.

RELATED: Four free/cheap holiday events far from shopping malls

As you can hear in the audio (make sure to click and listen), we sampled a number of Berak-built harpsichords — from a small Italian; to a double-manual French; to one modeled on harpsichords made by the Stradivarius of antique harpsichords, Ruckers, in the Flemish style.

As important as their sound is the look, and Berak painstakingly decorates his instruments to appear as if they were hundreds of years old, with authentic woodwork and delicate brushwork, so make sure to look through the photos above!

blog comments powered by Disqus

Enjoy Off-Ramp®? Try KPCC’s other programs.

What's popular now on KPCC