One of Madison's unfairly well-kept musical secrets can be penetrated on Sunday, May 2, when the Armenian-born virtuoso Raffi Besalyan plays Gershwin and Rachmaninoff at Farley's House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Rd. Besalyan will play on the magnificent 1870s Steinway restored at Farley's, in this fundraiser for the Madison Symphony Orchestra's outreach programs.
The recital is in a series offered at the Farley's showroom, in which brilliant young musicians are introduced to the Madison audience in intimate conditions. Public and performers interact at concluding receptions.
Farley's House of Pianos was founded by Tim and Renée Farley. Renée, of Clear Lake, Wis., came to Madison in 1968. Tim, from the Minneapolis area, arrived in 1971 after graduating from Indiana's Ball State University. While she studied piano, Tim learned, played and taught guitar (he has lately taken up the lute and viola da gamba). But from high school days, he developed his skills as a piano tuner and technician.
In the early 1980s they opened their first shop, downtown on East Wilson Street. Initially they dealt in secondhand pianos, serviced and lovingly restored. Gradually they developed sales of new pianos. Early on, they thought the pianos they refurbished should have a sendoff, "a graduation party," as they put it, by being played before an audience. The idea of giving both instruments and young pianists public exposure became embedded in their operations.
Eleven years ago they moved their business to the west side. They expanded their presentations of gifted young pianists and other musicians. At first, these were talents lacking big-name status, but they were enthusiastically recommended by colleagues. As Renée notes with pride, "Now artists ask to play here." They're aware of the fine instruments and cultivated public Farley's can offer, and they relish the more direct contact with small-scale audiences in salon conditions. The artists can truly be revelations, as Valentina Lisitsa and Daniel del Pino were in recent months.
Admissions are usually modest. "Our goal is not to make money, just break even," says Tim. The Farleys depend on donors to help with expenses. They just want to share with their audiences "something special for all of us."
While their public events cannot be heavily promoted spectaculars, they deserve to be better known, as one of those dimensions that make Madison's musical scene so remarkable.