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




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.
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
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.
Curtis Berak's harpsichord workshop is located in the basement of this nondescript building in downtown Los Angeles.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
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.
Stairs lead to Curtis Berak's basement workshop where he makes and maintains harpsichords. Berak first opened the workshop here in 1976.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
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.
Most harpsichords heard in concert today were built recently because the instrument does not have a long “shelf life.”
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
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.
When a music ensemble requires more than one harpsichord, it is important that they be of matching styles.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
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.
Curtis Berak hand-crafts his harpsichords using raw wood and researches Baroque artwork for his paintings.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
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.
Harpsichord keyboards rest against a wall inside Curtis Berak's L-shaped basement workshop.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
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.
It took Curtis Berak three years to build this harpsichord, featuring Flemish-inspired artwork.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
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.
On Dec. 11 and 13, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra will put on concerts featuring four harpsichords and a Baroque-size orchestra.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
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.
Harpsichordist Sepand Shahab plays one of Curtis Berak's harpsichords. There are different styles of harpsichords, including French, German and Flemish, each with a unique shape.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


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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.

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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.

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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!