The Classical Ideal at Ayr Mount

Simon Adda-Reyss and Robert deMaine perform in the West Music Parlor at Ayr Mount.

On September 20th, Ayr Mount served as the second stop on Classical American Homes’ The Classical Ideal: Music and Architecture in Harmony concert series, bringing live music inside the house for the first time since its Bicentennial celebration in 2015.  Once again, the combination of Ayr Mount’s original pianoforte, classical music, and talented musicians set in an intimate parlor proved sublime.

The evening began with a reception on the back terrace, as the setting late-summer sun provided golden views of the grounds and a pleasant environment for the 50 friends and supporters who joined us to enjoy a cocktail before the concert.

Guests gather on the terrace at dusk.

Golden sun rays illuminated the grounds as Ayr Mount’s David Talley and guests enjoy a drink before the concert.







At the six o’clock hour, the festivities moved inside to the west parlor and DeMaine explained that he would play in the baroque style while performing alongside the pianoforte, holding the instrument between his calves rather than letting it rest on the floor with an end pin.   This technique dampens the cello, preventing the transmission of sound through the floor and allowing for better balance with the quieter, late eighteenth-century, English pianoforte.  The duo performed a set featuring works from Beethoven, Haydn, and Scarlatti, transporting the audience to the 19th century, when the Kirkland family used to enjoy music in the same room.

An eager audience fills Ayr Mount’s West Music Parlor for this sold-out concert!

Simon Adda-Reyss, John Watson, and Robert deMaine in conversation about the original pianoforte and the history of music in the home.








Intermission provided the audience an opportunity to learn about the restoration of Ayr Mount’s pianoforte as the musicians engaged in conversation with John Watson, Associate Curator of Musical Instruments at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.  Watson described his close relationship with the Kirkland’s pianoforte, which has resided at Ayr Mount since the early nineteenth century, except for the three years it spent in Watson’s workshop.  Watson first heard about the piano from a couple of instrument collectors, who said they had seen a late eighteenth-century piano at a house belonging to the Kirkland family in Hillsborough.  Watson dialed information for Hillsborough, asked for the Kirklands, and was fortunate to be connected to the elderly Emily Kirkland.  She offered to show him the piano, and when he arrived insisted he make an offer to purchase the piece, which at the time, was missing all of its keys and hammers.   Mrs. Kirkland said when her husband was a boy he discovered a little ball of lead in each of the key levers and he had figured out a way to knock the piece of lead out, so he could take them down to the river and use them as fishing sinkers.  Despite its poor condition, Watson purchased the piano.  One month later, Dick Jenrette purchased Ayr Mount from the Kirkland family and was soon contacted by Watson, who wanted to let him know that he had the Kirkland’s piano.  The two worked out a plan to restore the instrument and return it to Ayr Mount, where it sits today and continues to be played.

Videos from The Classical Ideal at Ayr Mount
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Sonata in F Major for Pianoforte and Violoncello, Op. 5, No. 1
Adagio Sostenuto – Allegro
Allegro vivace

Joseph Haydn
E Flat Major Variations (extract) Hob. XVII:3

Domenico Scarlatti
Sonata in G Minor


The afternoon prior to the concert, Ayr Mount hosted a group of high school students from the North Carolina School of Science and Math Orchestra for a short concert and presentation.  DeMaine and Adda-Reyss shared a brief history of the cello and piano, detailing the origins of the instruments and their evolution as new technologies and materials were used.  After the history lesson, the musicians performed a couple of pieces, giving the students a sneak-peek at the following night’s concert.   The unique sound of the pianoforte mixed with the powerful cello resonated beautifully in Ayr Mount’s, sun-bathed west parlor.  Before concluding the concert, the musicians offered the pianists from the class an opportunity to play the Kirkland’s pianoforte — reversing the previous roles, the musicians now sat in awe of the talented students. After a brief question and answer session and few pictures, the students boarded their bus and headed back to school, inspired to perform in their own fall concert that evening.

Simon Adda-Reyss looks on as a student plays the 18th-century pianoforte.

A student plays deMaine’s rare cello.









Click here to return to the Autumn 2017 Newsletter.

All photos by John Teague. (

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