Malibu’s piano man

Malibu resident Carter Larsen has been collecting vintage pianos for 20 years. He will perform on one from his collection at Pepperdine University on Jan. 24.

Local resident’s obession proves he is this town’s “piano man.”

By Mollie Vandor/Special to The Malibu Times

Not only is local resident Carter Larsen an internationally acclaimed pianist and composer, he’s also a collector.

Of what?

Pianos, of course.

Larsen will perform at Pepperdine University, Jan 24, on a Bechstein, one of a large private collection of vintage pianos he owns. “This piano has a long legacy of film provenance and was used in classic British films,” Larsen says.

The piano was also featured in the film “Awakening Elegie,” starring Larsen, and in his new video “Appassionato.” Larsen adds, “This piano is ideally suited for the environment at Pepperdine and the program of my original music as it is a Bechstein and most of my music and the music of several other composers have been written on Bechsteins.”

Larsen specializes in Bechsteins, Bosendorfers and Steinways, but he loves all of his pianos for more than their brand names.

“Each piano has its own special qualities and this is especially true for vintage pianos,” he says. “Each has its own soul and its own character.”

Larsen has played to sold-out crowds in Europe and soloed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. He has also scored original music for Fox, Paramount, PBS, BBC and Discovery, and is currently composing music for Martin Scorsese’s “Something To Believe In,” directed by Bonnie Palef and featuring the Dalai Lama. Larsen looks forward to performing in Raitt Hall at Pepperdine, which he calls “one of the best halls I’ve played in worldwide, acoustically, and especially because of its intimate atmosphere.”

Malibu audiences will get to reap the benefits of the unique venue, says Larsen, who is planning a program that includes “a few premieres of music for concert originally for piano as well as transcriptions of soundtrack albums and myself talking about the music and its origins and significance, and I will probably also explain a bit about the compositional process.” Larsen also emphasizes that the performance is slated to spearhead the sale of his 20-year-old collection of vintage pianos, which are being sold all year and are currently on view at the Pacific Design Center. The proceeds from the sale are going to benefit a series of recordings and concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Larsen believes very strongly in supporting the newly opened concert hall. “The cultural life of Southern California and, to a large extent, the magnet for a lot of talent, is being drawn to the Disney Hall and I’d like to see a wave of support for it. And, I see this as an opportunity to lead that support in this direction” he says.

Larsen also has a unique connection to Walt Disney Concert Hall. “Most people wouldn’t know that I come from a long performance and concert lineage of classical training that includes Mozart, Beethoven, Ravel and others. I worked in Paris with Ravel’s assistant and I studied in San Francisco as a John Adams protégé. And, a John Adams piece for the electric violin was the piece that opened Disney Hall” proclaims Larsen.

Larsen’s assistant, Karen Meler, calls him “a true Renaissance Man,” with plans to play something special for the intimate audience at his upcoming concert. In addition to his promised compositional premieres and transcriptions, Larsen is also planning to play some original compositions from the score of “Something To Believe In” and the piece “Elegie,” which, he says, “was dedicated to Princess Diana upon her death and was featured in the film ‘Awakening Elegie.'” Larsen is most excited about “a section of the concert where I am experimenting with improvising live as I feel this is an important part of composing.”

All the pieces will be played on the Bechstein from his collection.

Larsen’s protégé, Malibu High School student Tracey Meler, who often performs Larsen’s own original compositions, has seen the collection and gushes that it is “massive. There are always pianos coming in and out and there are always at least four in the living room. These are beautiful pianos. They are classical and old and you can tell that they have that class and a definitely superior sound.”

Larsen himself is the first to concede that his collection is unusually large. “I can’t help collecting pianos. It is normal for a musician to collect the instruments he performs on, but I’ve definitely taken it to the extreme” admits Larsen with a laugh.

Larsen and his piano collection reside in Malibu and Larsen says he loves it here. “Malibu is at the forefront of worldwide creativity at the moment. Everyday I am amazed at the amount of talent within Malibu and I am only too honored to be a part of that,” he says.